For me, 1990 was the Summer football came back.
In the bleak mid to late 80s, football had become mired in tragedy, violence and controversy and in those years post-Heysel & Hillsborough, football was lost to me – the game had quite literally gone. My team, West Brom had been cast out from the top flight for four long years and were entering the lowest point in the club’s history. Bad times.
In general, football fans had become pariahs, with blood on their hands – all hooligans or would be hooligans- suffering from “the English disease.” It’s true that in the 80s, football violence was widespread , dogged matches and kept many away from the game. The Government even threatened to prevent England’s participation in international football competitions and the national team’s participation in Italia ’90 had been under real threat.
The pre-World Cup build-up in England had been unpleasant, the England team labelled “donkeys” by the press, Bobby Robson hounded. God knows how he didn’t resign. Gazza was deemed a risk. Robson fought on, showing immense character as he did throughout the campaign.
England’s World Cup started slowly. The Italian press took the pish, “No football please, we’re English.” ran the Gazzetta dello Sport headline, after England had played particularly badly against Ireland in their opening game. It was all a bit lack-lustre.
However, as the group games progressed and as the team started to perform, the nation increasingly turned its focus across the Med. By the time, England had won their group, the fever of Italia ’90 was sweeping the nation, by July 1st and the Quarter Final v Cameroon, it was full blown frenzy.
The BBC had helped.
Through a brilliant piece of TV production, they had chosen the opera aria ‘Nessun Dorma’ sung by the gigantic tenor Luciano Pavarotti as their intro music to their TV coverage and that was that. The evening sun of the stadium backdrops, the stunning blue class of Italy’s shirts, we had fallen back in love with football and Italy was our seducer….
That Summer although I loved England, I was also having a thing with the Azzuri – who could resist? That Italian squad of 1990 was simply unforgettable. Toto Schillaci, Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Guiseppe Giannini, Roberto Baggio, Gianfranco Vialli – a squad that also included those two gentlemen of Verona or thereabouts, Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Mancini.
If you thought the 1990 World Cup was all about Gazza’s tears and English heart break, think again. To the Italians, this was their World Cup, their soil, their trophy – before a ball was even kicked. This was the time when Serie A was King of Europe. The Azzuri’s eventual defeat to Maradona’s Argentina in the semi-final on penalties brought the country to its knees. Both of those semi-finals were heartbreaking. Thank God for Pavarotti.
For Italy, that Summer was all about Salvatore ‘Toto’ Schillaci and super sub Roberto Baggio.
Schillaci, then a recently signed Juventus player, had helped propel the Turin based club to the Italian Cup and UEFA Cup that season, a fact not unnoticed by Italian coach Vicini who named the uncapped Palermo born player in his Italia ’90 squad. Schillaci earned his first cap in Italy’s opening game against Austria, controversially bumping the fuming Andrea Carnevale out of his normal spot. Schillaci scored within minutes, the first of the six goals which were to earn him the Golden Boot for the competition as well as Italian national hero status.
Italy sailed through the group stages in style, with Baggio & Schillaci’s link up play a joy to watch…
Baggio or “The Divine Ponytail” as he was to become known in Italy, had a wonderful World Cup and was to go on to become one of the greatest Serie A legends of all time, notching 488 appearances for 7 Italian clubs and scoring 221 goals.
Baggio’s goal against Czechoslovakia was toto bellisimo – it even has its own commemorative mug.
Grazie Italia. We will always have that Summer and our night in Turin. X
©LRM 2013 for @awaycolours