Twenty-five years ago today, a nation watched as England crashed out of Italia ’90 on penalties and Paul Gascoigne’s tears made him a household name.
Paul Gascoigne achieved great things during his career, but perhaps his biggest accomplishment was helping to unify a divided and angry nation for one summer 25 years ago.
In 1990, England was, in many senses, in turmoil.
Six years after police had brutally cracked down on an angry miners’ protest at Orgreave, 250,000 people were on the streets of London, violently protesting against the Poll Tax.
Football was in chaos too. Four years after the Heysel tragedy, 96 people died at Hillsborough.
There was also open warfare between sections of the media and the England manager.
After a disappointing European Championship in 1988 and World Cup qualification campaign, Sir Bobby Robson was branded a “plonker”, his team “rubbish” and there were calls for him to resign, especially when it emerged he had signed a contract to join PSV Eindhoven after Italia ’90.
“Go, in the name of God, go!” yelled one publication.
But, as England progressed through the finals, the country came together and Gascoigne was their hero.
Gazza played a key role in helping England reach the World Cup semi-finals with a number of dazzling displays.
But Gascoigne was much more than a talented midfielder with great vision, dribbling ability and power – he was the darling of the nation.
He was a working-class footballer who enjoyed a laugh and wore his heart on his sleeve, a joker who also did not shy away from showing his emotions.
That is why we fell in love with Gascoigne 25 years ago and that is why we shared his pain on July 4, 1990, when he broke down in tears after his childhood dreams were destroyed.
On that balmy day, Nelson Mandela was visiting 10 Downing Street, the Rolling Stones played in front of a sell-out crowd at Wembley, but the nation only had one thing on their mind – England’s World Cup semi-final against West Germany in Turin.
Like England, Gascoigne’s form had improved as the tournament progressed.
Despite having just turned 23, he was not fazed by the prospect of facing Germany star Lothar Matthaus.
“It was a bit of a worry for me so I said to him: ‘One of the key issues is you and Matthaus’,” Robson would recall in the documentary Italia ’90 – Gascoigne’s Glory.
“But before I could say anything else, he said: ‘Boss, no problem. Leave him to me. Go and smoke your cigar.’”
Gascoigne was not bluffing. Matthaus struggled to keep up with him and England dominated the first half.
But after the break, the Germans took a lucky lead when Andreas Brehme’s free-kick struck Paul Parker and looped over Peter Shilton.
It was a bitter blow, but Gascoigne would not accept defeat. England got their reward 10 minutes from time when Gary Lineker netted a low drive.
Gascoigne jumped for joy, but at the start of extra-time he was reduced to tears as the 62,628 people inside the Stadio Delle Alpi and the 30 million people watching at home witnessed.
Gascoigne collected the ball from Peter Beardsley, but lost it while dribbling forwards. In an attempt to retrieve the ball, Gascoigne clattered into Thomas Berthold from behind.
Having been booked for a foul on Enzo Scifo in the last-16 tie against Belgium, Gascoigne knew another yellow card would rule him out of the final if England got there.
He could not bring himself to look at referee Jose Ramiz Wright, and instead went to comfort the German, who was writhing around in apparent pain.
But the Brazilian official, perhaps influenced by the angry German bench, who had risen to their feet, plucked a yellow card from his pocket and thrust it in Gascoigne’s direction.
“I realised: I’m going to miss the final, and I cried,” Gascoigne said in an interview to mark the 25th anniversary of the semi-final.
“I cried because I thought: I’m going to miss the most important games of my career.
“There were lots of emotions. I was thinking about the support we had, my family back home, the squad, and what I wanted to achieve from a young age.” The England supporters rallied behind their sobbing hero. “We love you Gazza,” they yelled.
Lineker turned to the bench and told Robson he needed to “have a word” with the weeping midfielder.
But the player who Robson called “daft as a brush” prior to the tournament responded in the most professional manner.
“It was hard, the crying side of it,” said Gascoigne, now 48. “But because I’m not selfish, I thought, ‘Come on, if I’m not going to make it, I want the other players to get there’ and I worked my nuts off the last 20 minutes.”
He did just that, grafting until the last whistle, but Gascoigne could not help England find a winner and the Three Lions crashed out on penalties.
More tears followed. Terry Butcher had to lift Gascoigne’s arms up to salute the England supporters inside the stadium.
The midfielder, his face raw with emotion, paused and kissed his white shirt before disappearing down the tunnel.
The pain may have been deep, but Gascoigne had succeeded in uniting a nation for one night and becoming an England great.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
Here we look at where those that started against West Germany in 1990 are now:
England’s most capped player retired aged 47 and now works as an after dinner and motivational speaker.
Spent time as manager of Chelmsford and Welling, but now mostly works as a media pundit and writes a blog for Yahoo! Eurosport.
Captain that famous night in Turin, he is currently manager of League Two side Newport having also managed in Scotland and Australia.
Like many of his team-mates the defender moved into management, most recently coaching Maltese side Floriana in 2012.
The defender won 59 caps and made 408 appearances for Nottingham Forest, who his son Tyler now plays for.
Ended his playing career in 2002 and has had spells managing of Manchester City, England Under-21s and GB’s Olympic side. Without a job since being sacked by Nottingham Forest in February.
The midfielder dabbled in management with Burnley during the 1997/98 season but never returned to the coaching side and now works in the media.
The midfielder’s struggles with alcoholism have been well-documented, but thankfully says he is now in a happy place.
Like Pearce, he spent time as Forest and England Under-21s boss, before working as assistant to Roberto Mancini at Manchester City. Platt was appointed manager of Indian Super League side FC Pune City in June.
The forward rejoined local club Newcastle as part of the coaching staff after retiring in 1999 and currently works as their football development manager.
The striker has become a successful broadcaster since retiring and has hosted Match of the Day since the late 1990s.
PAYING THE PENALTY
The World Cup semi-final defeat to West Germany kicked off a horrible run for England in penalty shootouts.
Here, we look at the Three Lions’ highs and – mainly – lows in spotkick showdowns.
WORLD CUP 1990
England’s penalty shoot-out hell began at Italia ’90 when West Germany beat Sir Bobby Robson’s side in the semi-finals. Despite a good start to the shoot-out with Lineker, Beardsley and Platt all scoring their penalties, England could not hold their nerve. For every penalty England scored the Germans netted their own. Stuart Pearce then had his penalty saved by Bodo Illgner, before Chris Waddle blasted his kick way over the crossbar as England crashed out.
England claimed their first and so far only shoot-out success in the quarter-final against Spain, as Pearce redeemed himself for his 1990 miss by holding his nerve at Wembley while David Seaman’s save from Miguel Angel Nadal’s kick took them into the last four. But the penalty jinx returned against Germany, with Gareth Southgate’s weak effort saved by Andreas Kopke as the semi-final shoot-out entered sudden death. Andreas Moller scored Germany’s final penalty as England failed to bring an end to 30 years of hurt.
WORLD CUP 1998
England drew 2-2 with Argentina in their second-round match, with the initial 90 minutes most memorable for a stunning solo goal by Michael Owen and the sending-off of David Beckham. Argentina scored the first penalty in the shoot-out and Alan Shearer equalised. Things were looking promising when Seaman saved Hernan Crespo’s effort, but Paul Ince’s subsequent spot kick was also saved. Two more penalties were converted by each side, but after Argentina went 4-3 ahead, David Batty was unable to convert to condemn England to an early departure.
Another 2-2 draw meant a shoot-out, and this time England made a dreadful start as Beckham blasted the first kick over the bar. England scored their next two and Portugal missed one which meant England were back in the game. After John Terry, Owen Hargreaves and Ashley Cole all bagged their penalties the score was 5-5. Darius Vassell then had his penalty saved and the Portuguese goalkeeper Ricardo put the ball past Seaman and England were out.
WORLD CUP 2006
Two years later in Germany at the World Cup, the two teams met again in the quarter-final. A goalless draw meant that England were once again facing penalties. Portugal scored their first and then Frank Lampard’s effort was saved. Portugal went on to miss their next two, with Hargreaves scoring, but Gerrard was unable to press home England’s advantage as his shot was saved. Portugal’s Helder Postiga then netted his penalty, and Jamie Carragher missed. Cristiano Ronaldo sealed England’s exit from the spot.
A battling goalless draw against Italy meant England went to a quarter-final penalty shootout once more. After Mario Balotelli and Gerrard began confidently, it was advantage England after Riccardo Montolivo struck wide and hopes grew when Wayne Rooney put away his effort. However, Ashley Young rattled the bar and then Cole’s effort was saved by Gianluigi Buffon, while Andrea Pirlo and Antonio Nocerino found the back of the net before Alessandro Diamanti gave the Azzurri an unassailable 4-2 lead to confirm England’s elimination from a major tournament in familiar circumstances.