The England team leave for Italy under a cloud of controversy
That was Italia 90 – the last World Cup I covered before this one.
I was actually serving my notice at the Coventry Evening Telegraph before joining the Daily Mirror, so I was fortunate the sports editor still agreed to send me. Little did I know what was ahead of me.
There is a myth that has grown up around that tournament 28 years ago.
Those watching at home always recall Gazza’s tears, the penalty shoot out defeat to Germany in the semi- final and the BBC’s use of Pavarotti’s ‘Nessun Dorma’ as their theme music. But it really wasn’t quite like that.
All the excitement of covering a World Cup and staying at the plush Forte beach village complex in Sardinia – England were based up the road – was soon eroded by the total disconnect between Robson, who had announced before the tournament that he was ending his turbulent eight years in charge, his squad and the media.
A wet opening game between England and the Republic of Ireland ended in a disappointing draw
A turgid opening 1-1 draw with Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland on a rain-lashed night Cagliari didn’t help the mood. The thunder and lightning was certainly more spectacular than the game.
The criticism that followed that performance plus lurid alllegations about some of the England players and an Italia 90 hostess only deepened the hostility. It went from bad to worse.
‘Player power’ stories emerged Robson had been forced to change to a back three system by his stars, fuelling the sense he was a lame duck boss just seeing out his time.
A second successive World Cup ended prematurely for ‘Captain Marvel’ Bryan Robson who flew home after suffering a torn hamstring in the second game – a goal-less draw with a Holland team distracted and divided by their own in-fighting.
With players refusing to speak to the media for the first week and England in danger of making an early exit, Robson called the media into a behind closed doors, off the record crisis meeting at the team hotel to air his grievances at the coverage and what he perceived were personal attacks on him.
This was to be Bobby Robson’s last tournament in charge of the Three Lions
The five evening newspaper reporters covering the tournament were not in the firing line in quite the same way as the national papers, so I remember sitting at the back of the room, keeping my head down, as the angry exchanges went on.
But the highly-charged showdown succeeded in clearing the air to a certain extent and the 1-0 win over Egypt in the final game – courtesy of Mark Wright’s glancing header – ensured England finished top of their so-called ‘group of death’.
It was certainly that: the six group games produced only seven goals in what proved to be the lowest-scoring finals tournament in World Cup history.
But it all changed on a balmy night in Bologna when David Platt’s unforgettable last-gasp volley secured a last 16 victory over an Enzo Scifo-inspired Belgium, who had been the better team for much of the 120 minutes and had struck the woodwork three times.
David Platt’s memorable volley sends his country through to the quarter-finals
On orders from my news desk, I had spent match day at the city’s hospital because an England fan from Coventry was in intensive car after being struck by a car.
Sadly, he died and I had to file the grim story from a call box in hospital reception – no mobiles and internet back then.
It put all the trials and tribulations over England and the media ‘war’ into some proper perspective.
At least the mood was more positive after the Belgium win with the players talking to the media again.
The 3-2 win over Cameroon in the quarter-finals in Naples, coupled by the fact the other teams left were hardly setting the tournament alight, even sparked optimism it could be England’s year.
The last England semi-final line-up, captained by Terry Butcher
Then came the semi-final with the Germans in Turin’s Stadio Della Alpi when England actually produced their best performance of the tournament as a record 26m television audience tuned in back home.
The Germans took a lucky lead, Andreas Brehme’s free-kick deflecting off Paul Parker and up and over a stranded Peter Shilton who had come slightly off his line to narrow the angle.
Shilts was 40 at that World Cup and you wondered if he had been a few years younger whether he would have tipped it over.
Gary Lineker’s 80th minute equaliser forced extra- time then came Gazza’s tears after he picked up a harsh booking which would have ruled him out of the final.
Lady Luck certainly was not smiling on England that night with Chris Waddle’s shot striking a post in the extra 30 minutes which ended with the teams locked at 1-1.
Captain, Lothar Matthaus, holds the World Cup trophy aloft after beating Argentina 1-0 in the final
Everyone of a certain age can remember the heart-breaking shoot-out – it was the first time England had been involved in one.
They scored their first three but then Stuart Pearce’s shot was saved, Waddle blazed his over the bar, Germany, inevitably, netted all four of their pens and England went out in tears but with pride restored.
Franz Beckenbauer’s side went on to beat Argentina in an entirely forgettable and bad tempered final – Brehme’s spot kick settled it – while England lost the third place play-off 2-1 to Italy in Bari.
On landing back at Luton airport they were saluted by thousands of fans as they embarked on an open top bus ride.
After a grim decade of disasters, falling gates, hooliganism and expulsion from Europe, the public had fallen in live with football again.
Read more here: Daily Express :: Sport Feedhappy wheels
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