World Cup Memories: Italia ’90
The biggest news in the build-up to the 1990 World Cup was the installation of a second television in my house up in my parent’s bedroom. It was miniscule in comparison to the vast one downstairs, which must have been at least 18 inches in width. We invited the neighbours over to celebrate the switching on of the new set as we perched on the end of the bed to squint at the opening game between the champions Argentina and Cameroon, the most memorable moment of which was a concerted and vicious attack on Claudio Caniggia, the violence of which still contaminates my nightmares:
The Argentinians muscled their way into the knockout stages despite their African tribulations with a victory over the Soviet Union, who were a limp spectre of the side that had helped knock out England of the group stages of last European Championships.
The English and the other two members of that Euro ’88 group, Ireland and the Netherlands, were re-united out in the Mediterranean. England had lost to both in 1988, including defeat to the Irish on the same afternoon as my sister fell out of a tree. That was a bad day.
I remember that the chat was that England and their belligerent fans had been expelled out to Sardinia as if it was footballing penal colony. I was irrationally terrified of hooligans, like monsters in the cupboard. It wasn’t as if they were bashing down the front door to come in and throw the dining room chairs about. In order not to agitate the hooligan faction it seemed that the four teams of the group had agreed to play out insipid stalemates, England progressing as winners by default when they accidently beat Egypt.
Elsewhere Scotland yet again flirted coquettishly with the knockout phase before rejecting the opportunity to advance, performing their regular party piece of slipping on a banana skin, this time Costa Rica. It never fails to entertain, even on a tiny television.
David Platt sent me out of the French windows and skidding onto the lawn when he volleyed England past the Belgians in the second round. I spent a lot of the England games out on that lawn, not having the emotional faculties to cope with the tension, particularly in the quarter-final against Cameroon. In fact I can’t remember any of that game, just the half-time assessment by Jimmy Hill who maniacally repeated ‘shut up shop’ as England were ahead, his grotesque chin oscillating wildly like a terrifying ventriloquist’s dummy. And ventriloquist’s dummies are terrifying at the best of times.
I didn’t see much of the semi-final against the West Germans. I was continuing my vigil on the lawn. I covered every blade of grass that night, collecting myself to watch us blow it in the shoot-out. After which I went back through the French windows this time to sink my knees into the turf and cry.
Most of the more colourful memories of that World Cup are of the squalor: the defensive tactics, Frank Rijkaard’s flob clutching to Rudi Voller’s perm, and the Argentinians skipping and barging bizarrely into the referee during the latter minutes of the final.
There is one aspect of the tournament that will never be bettered in terms of artistic integrity though. The accompanying graphics supplied by the Italians were all cascading full-stops and sliding text. It was beautiful. Home broadcast graphics seem to have been dispensed in favour of more homogenised BBC and ITV versions since. It’s a crying shame.