Italy. September 1992.
Paul Gascoigne is just about to make his debut for Lazio in a league game v Genoa following a protracted £5.5 million transfer from Spurs.
David Platt had hung up his boots at Bari and was now in Turin at star-studded Juventus; alongside Fabrizio Ravenelli, Roberto Baggio, Gianluca Vialli and a certain, Paolo di Canio amongst others.
Another fellow England player, Des Walker had recently signed for that year’s European Cup finalists, UC Sampdoria.
All three were joining the likes of international players such as Marco Van Basten, Ruben Sosa, Gabriel Batistuta and Dennis Bergkamp; all playing on the pitches of Italy’s Serie A teams. After the World Cup final in Rome in July 1990, it was as if football never made the flight back. Italy had remained the place to be and Serie A was recognised as the best league in the world.
Meanwhile, back in England – football was in a state of flux.
1990 had seen the publication of the Taylor report into the Hillsborough Stadium disaster, signalling death to the old terraces and marking the beginning of massive cultural change to the game. 1991 had seen the post-Heysel ban on English participation in European club competition end; and in February 1992 – the English Premier League had been brought kicking and screaming into the world.
Nothing was ever going to be the same again – the class of ’92 were united; the big English football makeover had begun.
The Premier League had been formed for one main reason, to maximise revenue; both from sponsorship deals and selling broadcast rights – it was all about the money; Murdoch’s money to be precise. BSkyB blew the rival ITV offer out of the water and snapped up the rights to show the Premier League live on its satellite channels. Football had done one.
As we fumed over the unthinkable that was the loss of ‘free to air’ live football in our lounges and front rooms, something unusual happened; we switched to Channel 4.
And there he was. Cashmere sweater. Swept back Euro hair. Button down collar shirt. Gazzetta dello Sport in hand. Presenter James Richardson was bringing Serie A into your home, delivered over an Espresso and a small continental pastry.
Launched in September 1992, ‘Gazzetta Football Italia’ was originally aimed as a presenting vehicle for Gazza himself (it had been his idea) but that was clearly not going to work…. Roma fan and TV Producer Richardson had then been brought in and instantly won viewers over, with a quickfire intelligent presenting style that was light years away from anything we were used to.
On a late Saturday morning, Richardson fed us Italian club news, interviews and paper gossip, satisfying an appetite for all things Calcio Italiano that had been whetted by the Italia ’90 love affair – all served in a new definitive style, from across a small café table in some high end Italian city piazza.
We started drinking Cappuccino. Men began shopping for suede Blouson jackets. We were hooked.
Channel 4 had played a blinder.
The players, the crowds and colours of the Italian League poured into the TV vacuum left by the old Division 1. And so Richardson became our travel guide as we set off through the world of the Serie A 1992/93 and that season was all about the Rossoneri. Again.
AC Milan were a side that had won the 1991/92 Serie A Championship without loss of a single match. Italy’s Invincibles. They were also a side intent on European domination, backed by the flash, the cash and the perma-tan of club President, Silvio Berlusconi.
Managed by Fabio Capello and with players such as 1991 Ballon d’Or winner Jean-Pierre Papin, Marco Van Basten, Paolo Maldini, Frank Rikjaard, Ruud Gullit and Marco Simeone, all wearing the iconic red and black stripes. Milan were also to win that year’s Serie A league title, finishing 4 points above city rivals Internazionale. Gazza’s Lazio finished in 5th place whilst, Fiorentina, Ancona and Pescara were relegated to Serie B. Batistuta’s Fiorentina facing their first relegation for 55 years (which must have had something to do with their hideous purple ‘swastika’ away kit.)
There were some incredible games along the way. Here’s a clip from Milan’s 5-3 victory over Lazio as part of that 1992/93 campaign, including some vintage Van Basten.
Gazzetta Football Italia ran until 2002 with Richardson at the helm and continued on other channels until 2008 and is remembered gushingly by Euro football fans of a certain age.
Today James Richardson has a very busy schedule working for BT Sport, ESPN, BBC amongst others but still thankfully finds time to present the European Football Papers Review on The Guardian web site, which is a big favourite at @awaycolours Towers. Its like GFI never really properly went away and we are grateful for that Signor @acjimbo
Campionato di Calcio Italiano etc etc. Ciao….
©LRM for @awaycolours 2013