England’s Unique Nostalgia with Italia ‘90

Written by Shahan Petrossian
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As a fan of the game, I have always found it intriguing how different Nations view the same Tournament or event through a different lens. A prime example is the romanticism the English hold with the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

This view has been exemplified in much of the English-based Football Literature of this World Cup, as well as the many England Football (Soccer) podcasts since. These views are in clear contrast to much of the (non-English) critics, observers and fans alike who, at the time, largely regarded this World Cup in negative terms. The common reasons voiced by the critics’ included: the general defensive nature of the matches including some dreadful matches (Uruguay v. South Korea, Republic of Ireland v. Egypt, Argentina v. Yugoslavia, to name a few), the number of penalty kick shoot-outs (including both semifinals), the hard physical displays by some teams (Bilardo’s Argentina) and all topped off with a Final match that was resolved (appropriately by its critics) with a penalty kick.

It is fair to counter that the Public and Press of Nations such as Brazil, Soviet Union and Holland would view this World Cup in negative terms due to their own disappointing performances, while the Italian hosts will always remember the heartbreak of losing in a semifinal on home soil (not to mention France who did not even qualify). As for Argentina, they often point (rightly or wrongly) to the injustice suffered at the hands of an alleged biased Referee in the Final.

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However, none of the above are the first things that come to mind for the average English fan. The English remember it as the summer of ‘Gazza’ (Paul Gascoigne). They remember it as the introduction of David Platt and Des Walker on the global stage. They remember the heroic displays as the English had to fight through one overtime over another in the knock-out stages. They remember Platt’s overhead kick in the last minute vs. Belgium. They remember Gary Lineker’s resurgence as England’s goalscorer when it mattered. They see it as an honorable conclusion for the much-maligned England Manager and Gentleman of the Game Bobby Robson, as well as a fitting end for older heroes such as Shilton, Butcher and Bryan Robson.

The stark contrasts listed require further analysis as to why the English have an indelible memory of this Tournament. The first player that comes to mind who symbolized this team’s journey is Gascoigne. He was already tabloid fodder in England, but largely unknown to the rest of the World. Tottenham Hotspur’s Gascoigne would bring much needed energy and youthful exuberance to the side. His humor and upbeat personality seemed to infect the squad as well as the public. Unbelievable to think, that his mere presence at the World Cup was not a guarantee until late on. He had famously earned his ticket for the World Cup after his virtuoso performance in the friendly vs. Czechoslovakia (4-2 win on April 25th) after he had a hand in three of the goals and scored the fourth himself.

italia 90 tottenham hotspur paul gascoigne england 1990

There are moments that encapsulate the event for the English and Paul Gascoigne’s tears was the most memorable one. Upon being booked in the semifinal match vs. West Germany, he knew instantly that he would be suspended should England reach the Final. His tears brought out the human element in the game that still lives in any England’s fan’s memories. Along with Gascoigne another young player would make the most of his opportunity. Aston Villa’s David Platt would step in with great effect after an injury to Captain Bryan Robson early in the Tournament. In addition to Gascoigne’s tears, Platt’s overhead kick goal vs. Belgium was another unforgettable moment that is referenced to this day. Nottingham Forest defender Des Walker was also another relative unknown to the World stage, who also made everyone notice with his displays in defense. After the World Cup, all three would be on top of the wanted list of most top clubs (especially in Italy).

The English fans of today also look back with pride in the fight-back element in England’s performances. Their matches in the knockout rounds all went into overtime and England had to grind their way to victories. Platt’s aforementioned goal vs. Belgium was followed by a memorable come from behind win over underdogs Cameroon. Some pundits listed that encounter as the match of the Tournament. In another memorable moment in that match, England defender Mark Wright played the match with his head bandaged up reminiscent of Terry Butcher’s performance vs. Sweden in a World Cup qualifier just in the previous September. In the semifinals, objectively the West Germans were a better side but once more England gave a fair account of themselves and clawed their way back to force a tie with a wonderful strike from Gary Lineker. The drama of the loss in a penalty kick shoot-out (in addition to Gazza’s tears) only made the English fan to back this team even more. It must be remembered that this had been England’s best performance in a World Cup since the victory in 1966.

Another reason that this World Cup is set apart in the English memories is that this performance by an English side appeared to signal a sense of renewal for the fortunes of the National Team on the World stage as well as English Football in general after previous disappointments. To put in context the state of England’s Football prior to this World Cup, we must go back to the 80s and the negativity surrounding the game on and off the pitch. The tragedies of Heysel and Bradford and finally Hillsborough (just a year before the World Cup) had seriously tarnished the image of the English game. The English clubs were still banned from European Competitions and the only connection with foreign football, were the handful of players who were plying their trade in foreign leagues (as well as those who had resorted to join Rangers Glasgow just to be able to face European competition).The matters on the field were no better.

The 1988 Euros had been a complete fiasco with England losing all its matches. This English side’s displays and the support shown on the terraces brought much goodwill and made much headway to dispel the image of the English Hooligan. The sense of optimism was furthered as the European ban on English clubs was to end in that Fall (except for Liverpool) and they could now compete in the European club competitions.

Coincidentally, this World Cup took place just two years before the launch of the English Premier League. The proximity of these events also gives a sense of rebirth and Nostalgia to the fans. While many in the World lamented at the lack of quality and entertainment, those in the British Isles saw a new star(s) being born, old heroes ending their run on a high and an honourable defeat against a worthy opponent. They could hold their head high and dream of future glories. Most fans’ favourite World Cup usually tends to be the first one they followed. This World Cup captured the hearts of many English fans that were adolescent and/or in their early teens at the time. These same fans are now in their 30s, 40s and 50s  and can only look back with Nostalgia to this World Cup. Some have even joined the ranks of Journalism and punditry class and their memories are reflected in print and in today’s podcasts.

italia 90 england fans italy

Many in the press were predicting a “Brave New Dawn” for the National Team after this World Cup. Gascoigne and Platt were to be leading the charge towards this bright future. Graham Taylor was appointed to lead this mission, but that is another story……



Read 2813 times Last modified on Monday, 21 October 2019 19:01
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Shahan Petrossian

Shahan Petrossian

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