Category: World Cup Archive

World Cup memories- Italia ’90 part 1 England’s dark age

It was fitting in 2016 that Claudio Ranieri invited opera tenor Andrea Bocelli to sing Nessun Dorma at Leicester City’s title party, here was English footballs ultimate feel good story and for a moment Bocelli transported us back to the scene of English footballs renaissance at Italia 1990.

Pavarotti’s version of the song had been the BBC’s soundtrack to their 1990 World Cup coverage that had started with images of Marco Tardelli’s goal celebration from 8 years previous and ended with Gazza’s tears in Turin.

Dark Days

English Football was in a very dark place in the spring of 1990, it was only one year on from the Hillsborough disaster. Looking back the most shocking thing about that awful day in 1989 was how unshocking it seemed as events unfolded.

In May 1985 a fire at Bradford City’s dilapidated Valley Parade ground had resulted in 56 deaths.

In the same month a decade of hooliganism had climaxed in a deadly charge in at the Heysel Stadium as a result. At Euro ’88 England fans had gone on a rampage through Düsseldorf. Whether it was through hooliganism, decrepit old grounds or incompetent policing it seemed simply attending a football match could put you in mortal danger, the later 2 of these 3 hazards had left 96 people dead that day in Sheffield.

In wider British society this was the era of Pipa Alpha, The Herald of Free Enterprise and British Airtours- large scale disasters were a part of life in late 80s Britain, usually followed by a charity record reaching number one.

But as the hours and days passed it was clear that we were living through footballs darkest hour, that The Sun’s explanation for tragedy was bullshit and this time things needed to change. Hillsborough and the subsequent Taylor Report provided the dark side of the formation of the Premier League in 1992, Italia 90 provided the light.

England didn’t expect

English Football desperately needed a huge injection of cash to rebuild its stadiums in line with the Taylor Report. The problem was doubts had crept in over whether or not Football was still an attractive product. A study in the Daily Telegraph published in May 1990 had found more English teenagers were interested in American Football than Association Football.

The NFL had become a TV hit when Channel 4 started broadcasting it in 1982, by 1989 live games were been shown on a weekly basis, the British amateur game was thriving and NFL merchandise shops had sprung up it every city centre selling everything from keychains to replica helmets. The games were played in huge atmospheric stadiums with passionate fans who rather than get into fisticuffs outside the grounds simply held tailgate parties, superstar players Marino,Montana, Elway and The Refrigerator were now stars on both sides of the Atlantic. We were light years behind and it’s not hard to see where Sky would later look for ideas (where do you think Monday Bight Football came from?)

Back home football was having to share the spotlight with other domestic sports with Athletics and Snooker becoming huge TV events- the 1985 World Snooker final attracted 18.5 million viewers, way more than any football match.

Football made a counter strike in May 1989 when the final game of the season (delayed due to Hillsborough) saw Arsenal travel to Anfield needing a 2 goal win to rest the league title from Liverpool. It was 1-0 to Arsenal in injury time when Michael Thomas latched onto Alan Smith’s through ball and snatched the title- forget Aguerrroooooo! This was the most dramatic title win ever. It seemed there was life in English Football but what of their national team?


Beleaguered Bobby

England achieved a relative success in reaching the quarter finals of the 1986 World Cup, particularly in the light of Bryan Robson’s early exit. But it served to confirm the suspicion that England were a second tier football nation, lacking players of the technique of the best in the world.

The intervening years hadn’t gone particularly well for England. They’d qualified impressively for Euro ’88 and arrived with high hopes. But things went wrong from the start- the first game was against Ireland making their first appearance in a major finals. Ireland were managed by England legend Jack Charlton who’d previously applied for the England managers job in 1977- but didn’t even receive a reply to his letter.

In the sixth minutes of the game a botched clearance in the England penalty area fell to Ray Houghton to nod home 0-1. In the second half England created a hatful of chances but failed to score going down to defeat- Big Jack had exacted his revenge on the FA.

Europameisterschaft EM 1988

In the second game it was do or die against Holland and England died by a stunning Marco Van Basten hat trick 1-3. England were out and were blown away 1-3 by the USSR in the final game.

It’s hard to believe any England manager since would have survived such a disaster, but the FA stuck by Robson. There were some mitigating factors- key defender Terry Butcher missed the tournament through injury whilst star striker Gary Lineker played despite suffering from hepatitis.

The qualifiers for Italia 90 had been a drab affair, England qualified unbeaten but were only runners up in their group to Sweden and required a nervy 0-0 in Poland to make it. In the dying minutes of that game Poland had struck the England crossbar- that’s how close England came to completely missing out on Italia 90.

But they’d made it and were seeded 6th conveniently giving England matches on the island of Sardinia and keeping their troublesome fans away from the mainland. When the full draw was made England got rematches with their Euro ’88 nemesis Ireland & Holland together with surprise package Egypt- making their first post war Workd Cup.

It was also announced Robson’s contract would not be renewed after the tournament in an acrimonious split with the FA following untrue tabloid stories about his private life. His 8 years in charge of England would end after the World Cup when he would join PSV Eindhoven then a powerhouse of European football. The tabloids reacted with a customary self righteous tone and The Sun ultimately sent England on their way with the encouraging headline ‘WORLD CUP WALLIES- we’ve got no chance.,’ seriously what other nation does that! But Robson was upbeat and with good reason.

England Assemble

National teams as a general rule run in cycles, Robson began England’s in 1982 and quickly moved on from veterans Keegan, Trevor’s Francis & Brooking & Phil Thompson and by Mexico ’86 had established a core of players most of whom were still around in 1990.

In goal England still had Peter Shilton who the previous year had broken the England appearances record. His longstanding understudy and heir apparent was Chris Woods 1 of 4 Rangers’ players in the squad, ’88 Cup Final hero Dave Beasant was the number 3 replacing the injured David Seaman.

In defence Terry Butcher was back from injury and his aerial presence was now complemented by the pace of Notts Forest’s Des Walker. Butcher’s Rangers teammate Gary Stevens was the longstanding right back and powerful Forest left back Stuart Pearce provided an upgrade on Kenny Samson. Robson’s other options were pacey young left back Tony Dorigo, Derby centre half Mark Wright whose passing range meant he could play as a sweeper and QPR’s powerful young right back Paul Parker.

The midfield was still anchored by Bryan Robson although doubts persisted over captain marvels tendency to pick up major injuries. There was Liverpool hard man Steve McMahon who’d replaced Peter Reid and Manchester United playmaker Neil Webb.

On the right wing Chris Waddle was now dribbling past defenders at Marseille having left Spurs for £4.5 million- at the tine the third highest transfer fee ever paid. On the left was footballer of the year John Barnes who remained an enigmatic talent with England. Backing them up were Trevor Steven & Steve Hodge who’d successfully come into the starting 11 midway through Mexico 86.

Upfront ’86 golden boot winner Lineker was back in form having left Barcelona for Tottenham and regular strike partner Peter Beardsley had just won another league title with Liverpool. As an option off the bench Robson surprised many by going for Wolves’ Steve Bull. Bull was a direct forward with a phenomenal goal scoring record in the lower divisions but had never played first division football, winning his first cap from the third tier but scoring on debut and keeping his strike rate going in friendly matches.

But it was two new players who caused the most excitement. The first was Aston Villa’s David Platt. The midfielder had cone to prominence that season scoring 29 goals and picking up the PFA player of the year gong. His box to box style had lead to comparisons with a young Bryan Robson but the 23 old was a risk having only gained 5 caps and coming into the squad in November 1989.

The other was of course Paul Gascoigne. Gazza was a maverick talent, capable of drifting past players in central midfield and taking them outdo the game and less reported a footballing intelligence to see clever passes quicker than most and possessed a deft array of free kick skills. He was also capable of losing the ball in dangerous situations and on pitch self destruction but he was a rare talent. So much so that Alex Ferguson desperately tried to sign him in for Manchester United only to be beaten to the punch by Tottenham with whom he won his first England cap in 1988.

A stunning solo display a year later against Czechoslovakia confirmed him in Robson’s plans, although he initially only wanted to take one of Platt & Gascoigne. He relented and selected both at the expense of David Rocastle, it was as unfortunate for the Arsenal man who’d been a regular starter in qualifying but was left on stand by with Arsenal teammates Tony Adams & Alan Smith.


As England departed Luton Airport the team probably had the words of New Order’s latest single rather than The Sun’s verdict in their heads, they were about to ride a rollercoaster of a tournament.


The Worst World Cup Qualification Cock-ups

With the likes of Argentina, Italy & Holland facing a battle to qualify here’s some blasts from the past that prove no team is too big to fail…

England 1974

Seven years on from the 1966 World Cup triumph Sir Alf Ramsey was still in charge of England, but an embarrassing Wembley loss in the 1972 European Champioships to West Germany hinted at darker times to come. In 1966 Ramsey was a management genius, there again in 1966 Paul McCartney was the pop genius behind Revolver & Sgt Pepper in 1973 he was in Wings, but these warning signs were ignored.

England’s group looked easy enough- Wales & Poland but a 1-1 against the Welsh at Wembley had England in trouble. Then things got far worse in Poland when a regressing Bobby Moore deflected a free kick into his own net and England went down 2-0.

And so to Wembley, England would qualify with a win anything less and the visiting Poles would go to the World Cup. In the build up Polish goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski was trash talked by a typically understated Brian Clough. Confidence was high and England set a blistering pace and quickly set up camp in the Polish half, a side featuring Alan Clarke, Mick Channon, Colin Bell and Martin Peters laid siege to the box  surely it was just a matter of time…until Poland scored. They broke in the 57th minute Norman Hunter missed a tackle he’d make 99 times out of a hundred and Jan Domarski’s scuffed effort evaded Peter Shilton who’d have saved it 99 times out of 100.

But 6 minutes later England looked set for victory after Clarke despatched a penalty 1-1 and with Tomaszewski finally beaten England would surely pull it out of the bag. The shots kept raining in but Tomaszewski saved everything thrown at him including a Banks-esque saved from Clarke. England had 36 shots on goal to Poland’s 2 but it finished 1-1, In the post match analysis Clough continued calling Tomaszewski a clown with Brian Moore struggling not to tell him to just shut up and it would 9 years until England graced the World Cup finals again.


France 1994

France don’t do average World Cups, they’re either in the final or squabbling before they disembark the plane. No tournament sums up France’s ability to cock it up better than USA ’94 or more specifically the qualifiers.

France had been the powerhouse of European football in the mid ’80s bookending the 1984 European Championship triumph with 2 World Cup semi finals. But by the late 80s Platini had retired and the team was in transition- footballspeak for ‘The new players are   pants.’ But by 1993 things were looking up again, under the management of Gerard Houllier they had 2 creative genius players in David Ginola & Eric Cantona, a prolific striker in Jean-Pierre Papin and a solid backbone based around Didier Deschamps & Laurent Blanc.

This was a side destined to make a major impact at the finals and with 2 qualifiers to go everything looked set, the team was purring, French officials were scouting US hotels to check on the quality of the cheese board, what could wrong? Well they could lose at home to unfancied Israel!

Still this was a minor set back the next game was against Bulgaria in Paris. A draw would be enough for France whilst Bulgaria needed to win. It was 1-1 deep into the second half and Houllier felt the need to send on a substitute to see the game out, someone sensible, dependable and unlikely to do anything stupid, naturally he chose Ginola. With the game heading into injury time Ginola had the ball at the corner flag needing to just hold onto the ball and see the game out, but Ginola went for glory and sent in a woefully overhit cross which the Bulgarians retrieved, sent up the other end and Emil Kostadinov smashed home 1-2 and the French were out.


Houllier lambasted Ginola post match and the 2 entered a long running feud with the future Liverpool manager accusing Ginola of ‘murdering his team,’ the ever tactful Hristo Stoichkov said the French simply bottled.

The Bulgarians proved a handful at the finals, energised by Stoichkov they knocked out Germany on their way to an unlikely 4th place. Meanwhile in Paris Houllier was replaced by the tough Aimee Jacquet who wasted little time in identifying the players killing the team- Cantona & Ginola were booted back across the English Channel for good.

On arriving in England at Euro’96 a critical English press claimed the French Manager needed a ‘straight Jacquet’ get it! According to The Sun Jacquet was clueless because he omitted the 2 English based players (perhaps because they were the only 2 French players they’d heard of) and this new Zidane bloke wasn’t in the same class. Another winner from Fleet Street!

Holland 2002

Holland started out amongst the favourites to win the 2002 World Cup. The team of Bergkamp, Davids, Kluivert, Seedorf, Van Der Sar & the De Boer brothers had come agonisingly close to lifting the 1998 World Cup & 2000 Euros the later held in their own backyard.

But for all their individual brilliance the Dutch are often Europe’s most divided side. It’s  a mystery why these cool headed superstars from the low countries turn into the Gallagher brothers on international duty, whatever the reasons the Dutch national team often resemble a dog barking at its own reflection.

The Qualifying group would include the dangerous Portuguese but with 2 qualifying spots this wasn’t going to be a problem, given the third best team in the group were Mick McCarthy’s Ireland.

The Irish fired an early warning shot with a hard fought 2-2 draw in Amsterdam. Things got worse in Rotterdam a month later with the Dutch going down 2-0 to the Portuguese. But the Dutch got back on track in the return match in Porto. Holland raced into a 2-0 lead thanks to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink & Kluivert, with 7 minutes to go the Dutch were in control but managed to let one in. Then in injury time they gave away a daft penalty and Luis Figo dispatched 2-2 opportunity missed.

The top 3 continued to push past the lesser lights of the group aside although the Dutch almost messed it up in Talin needing a Van Nistelrooy a late double to overcome the mighty Estonia. The crunch clash would come in Dublin in September 2001, Holland needed the win and Roy Keane went his usual way about testing Dutch resolve. What followed was endless Dutch pressure, some resolute Irish defending before Jason ‘Trigger’ McAteer broke and scored the decisive goal 1-0 Ireland.


Ireland negotiated the last few hurdles and qualified via a playoff win over Iran, although Roy through a strop and was sent home before a ball had been kicked in Japan. Meanwhile Holland stayed home, not that it stopped Pepsi using Davids for their World Cup commercials, did nobody tell them?

Russia 2010

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union it’s fair to say Russian teams hadn’t exactly lit up major tournaments, never escaping the group, until Euro 2008. Qualifying at the expense of Steve McClaren’s England the Russians confounded expectations in Austria. Andrei Arshavin was magical and the Russians knocked out tournament favourites Holland en-route to the semi finals- their best tournament showing since 1988.

Despite their high world ranking the Russians were in pot 2 of the draw and got a stinker- Germany.  Still this was the functional pre Ozil Germany and Russia’s dynamic little playmaker was good enough for Barcelona (in his head at least) but alas joined the equally good Arsenal.

They met in October 2008, the Germans wisely moved the game to intimidating Dortmund and got off to a flyer with early goals from Podolski & Ballack and despite a second half repost from Arshavin held on 2-1.

The Russians undeterred continued an impressive qualification run, comfortably despatching the likes of Wales & Finland until the rematch with the Germans. That came in October 2009 when the Germans entered the hostile Luzhniki stadium in Moscow. But the Germans didn’t wilt and a Miroslav Klose goal saw Germany through.

Confined to the playoffs Russia were still supremely confident, especially when the draw through up the World’s 49th best team- Slovenia. Surely tiny Slovenia would cower in the Luzhniki right? Well for an hour it worked with Dinyar Bilyaletdinov scoring twice. At 2-0 with an away leg to come most would shut up shop, however the Russians decided on a Kevin Keegan style approached and pushed for more, inevitably letting in a 88th minute goal, 2-1 and Slovenia had a lifeline.

So it came down to a came to the return leg in Maribor, where before a huge crowd of 12,000 a side lead by West Brom’s Robert Koren scored a goal on the stroke of half time and a side featuring Arshavin, Zhirkov & Pavlyuchenko couldn’t find a goal and went out on away goals. Slovenia went to South Africa where they became the only team England managed to beat whilst the Russians stayed home and Mrs Arshavin moaned about the shabbiness of London shopping.


World Cup Memories- Mexico ’86

For me the summer of 1986 was about 2 things; finishing Primary School and watching my first World Cup.

In the pre Premier League era live football on TV was pretty much limited to the FA Cup final so for football mad kids the World Cup was heaven sent.  My last days of primary school were largely spent trading swaps from the Panini Mexico 86 sticker album; I vividly remember trying to trade endless duplicates of Pat Jennings in a futile attempt to acquire Brazilian superstar Zico.

The constant flicking through the sticker book also meant the image of World Cup mascot Pique remains indelibly printed on in my mind.

When the action kicked off I was quickly disappointed by holders Italy- much talked up by older kids who remembered Spain ’82, Paolo Rossi and all that, in 1986 it was the same players just 4 years past it. But two surprise teams bolted out of the traps in Mexico. First there was the now defunct Soviet Union who pummelled Hungary 6-0 in their opener, then midfielder Vasily Rats scored a stunning long range goal against France, and then came Denmark.

Unlike their victorious Euro ’92 side the Danes of 1986 were spellbinding to watch with star strikers Preben Elkjaer & Michael Laudraup rampaging through defences in the early days of the tournament. They also sported the perfect mid 80s pinstripe and chevron jersey.

Strangely both the Danes & Soviets crashed and burned in the last 16 against unfancied sides as I learned a great World Cup cliche: don’t peak too soon! Both clearly did but provided some great memories along the way.

Denmark’s rise was particularly surprising given they were drawn in a group with Germany, Uruguay & Scotland introducing me to yet another cliche ‘the group of death!’ It was from here the Scots introduced me to a further wellwarn cliche: Scotland will always find the unluckiest possible way to miss out.

It’s often forgotten the Scotland team of 1986 was managed by a certain Alex Ferguson, who’d taken temporary charge after the tragic death of Jock Stein in their final qualifier. Defensively they were strong enough for Ferguson to omit Liverpool captain Alan Hansen, the midfield featured a wonderfully moustached Greane Souness and the creativity of Gordon Strachan whilst the forward line of Steve Archibald, Frank McAvennie & Charlie Nicholas didn’t lack firepower.

As it turned out, the Scots first ran into the Danish juggernaut and then faced West Germany, Strachan scored early to put them ahead but the Germans proved too strong and the Scots went down 2-1.

But still qualification could still be achieved with a win over Uruguay who’d just shipped six against Denmark, it couldn’t have started much better with Uruguay defender Jose Batista red carded in the first minute for an appalling foul on Strachan. What followed was 89 minutes of Scottish attacking and agricultural Uruguayan defending with Uruguay kicking their way to a 0-0 draw and a second round berth.

But my enduring memory of that game came in the aftermath when the BBC tried to get some post match reaction from the Tartan Army outside the ground and one angry fan barked “I hate Uruguay! I hate ’em so much I hope they get through and play England and I hope England win! That’s how much I hate Uruguay!!”

And so to England, drawn in Group F the tournament was a week old before we got started and it wasn’t a great start, England began against Portugal with high hopes and they dominated possession for long spells, looked in control but conceded on the break 15 minutes from time, 0-1 on dear.

If the first game was bad the second was a disaster. Against Morocco England should have eased to victory but Captain Marvel Robson succumbed to a shoulder injury and midfield partner Ray Wilkins was bizarrely sent off for throwing the ball (accidentally) at the referee. The game ended 0-0.

The knives were out for Bobby Robson, it was England’s worst start to a World Cup since the 50’s and he needed to rework his entire midfield and attack. His solution was to bring in Peter Reid, Steve Hodge, Trevor Steven & Peter Beardsley, dropping Mark Hateley & Chris Waddle. The reshaped team was a gamble but it took only 8 minutes to pay off with Gary Lineker turning home Gary Stevens’ cross, by half time Lineker had a hat trick and England were through.

Suddenly England had a star in Lineker and a team set up perfectly to maximise his poachers instinct with Hodge and Steven providing width and Beardsley able to provide clever through balls from his deeper forward role. 

Sadly for me we’d gone on a family holiday and I only saw the game next day (due to the late kick off times In Mexico) and found out the result from Derek Jamieson’s breakfast show. 

Onto the last 16 and I was still in Cornwall, most expected England to sneak a win and despite a shaky start England again won 3-0. Lineker now had 5 goals and was set for the Golden Boot.

And so to the quarter final and the most infamous moment in English Football history. In footballs ‘where were you when Kennedy was shot’ moment I was watching it on the telly with my dad. It wasn’t until full time that I realised it was handball, watching it live in realtime was very different to looking at the photo everyone remembers- he was devilishly quick!

Everyone knows what followed; Maradona scored a brilliant second, Lineker pulled one back and almost equalised. England were out whilst Maradona went on to lift the trophy.

I think the main reason the infamy of that goal has endured for so long is Maradona’s obvious pleasure in it, he’s never shown any regret at what he did, it’s hard to believe Pele or Cruyff would have reacted with such glee, nor was it Maradona’s only handball moment playing for Argentina (he would later handle the ball whilst clearing off his own line).

When Thierry Henry later handled against Ireland in a 2009 World Cup playoff, it was clear even on the night Henry was embarrassed and whilst never actually apologising for it he clearly would like to expunge the incident from his career, Maradona by contrast has often revelled in his.

The day before England played Argentina I witnessed my first great World Cup match; Michel Platini’s France against the Brazilian Samba boys. 1986 was probably the last chance to see the Brazil at their beautiful best, Brazilian sides since have concentrated on string defence combined with pace and power, back in ’86 it was all flair, tricks and samba soccer. Facing them The European champions and their dynamic midfield quartet of Platini, Giresse, Tigana & Fernandes.

The game ebbed and flowed, the crowd a sea of yellow & blue- Argentina may have had the best player but these were the two best teams. Amazingly only one goal apiece was scored with the French triumphing on penalties. 

Everyone expected a Platini/ Maradona final, Argentina made it but the French fell foul of another great World Cup cliche: German efficiency. West Germany made it almost unnoticed into the last four, perhaps France underestimated them or maybe they were exhausted from the epic win over Brazil, whatever the reason France were subdued in the semi and went down 2-0.

The final proved entertaining but slightly underwhelming (the second part of that assessment could be applied to every World Cup final since.) Jorge Burruchaga scored the winner 6 minutes from time after the Germans had fought back from a 2 goal deficit, Argentina were champions and my first World Cup experience was over.

Mexico ’86 had everything, great games, brilliant players, colour, atmosphere and controversy. It was a heady cocktail that cemented my love of the beautiful game and it’s biggest event.

A year later my local library got a Mexico ’86 book recapping the  tournament in A3 size prints of the matches, the book spent much of the following year on loan to me. I remember very clearly the last picture in the book- of 2 fans in the Azteca stadium after the final whistle of the tournament, both stripped to the waist with their backs printed, on the first fan ‘Adios Mexico ’86’ on the other ‘Ciao Italia ’90’. The summer of 1990 couldn’t come around fast enough.