Italia 90

‘Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.’ – Leonardo Da Vinci

England expects. It has since 1966. Three generations have been born and grown into adulthood in the intervening years. If you were my age back when Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet trophy on English soil at Wembley then you’d be pushing 100 now.

Perhaps it’s indicative of a nation that once ruled the seas that fans of the national football team still expect England to be on par with the big boys in the beautiful game – the likes of Germany, Italy, Brazil – for the opportunity to lift the greatest prize in football.

There has been a glimmer of hope since, though. Following the 1970 World Cup, ten years passed without England playing in a major international tournament. In fact, it wasn’t for another six years, in Mexico again, that England actually progressed from the group stages and if it wasn’t for Diego Maradona’s infamous Hand of God then perhaps they may have gone further than the quarter finals.

No one really expected England to perform in Italy in the summer of 1990. They came home from Euro ’88 in embarrassment following three losses to Ireland (0-1), Netherlands (1-3) and the Soviet Union (1-3), and whilst their qualification for Italia ’90 saw the squad did not concede a single goal, they were again drawn with both Ireland and Holland in Group F. A repeat performance, or time for revenge?

Pre-tournament fever was high but come the third group game with two draws behind them England really needed a result against Egypt to qualify. Fortunately a 1-0 victory in the Stadio Sant’Elia was enough following Ireland and Holland’s score draw in Palermo to put England in pole position for the last sixteen. If they had finished any lower then an early date with West Germany would have been on the cards, as group mates Netherlands would soon find out.

Belgium would be the team England faced in the second round and it would take until the 119th minute for the deadlock to be broken. Moments away from a penalty shootout Gazza surged through the centre of the field before running into a Belgian brick wall and earning England a free-kick. There was less than sixty seconds remaining when the ball was lobbed into the Belgium box. Aston Villa’s David Platt, who was playing at Crewe Alexandra just two years previously, and would soon be playing his club football in Italy with Bari, Juve and Sampdoria, lost his marker as the ball floated in and caught the ball on the turn sending it well beyond Michel Preud’homme to seal victory for the Three Lions. One step closer.

Cameroon was next. It was only the second World Cup for the African team but they’d won two of the previous three African Cup of Nations tournaments and certainly weren’t to be scoffed at. In fact, they topped a group consisting of Romania, Soviet Union and Argentina, and even defeated the World Champions in the San Siro in the opening group game. England took the lead through Platt but Cameroon bounced back in the second half scoring two goals in less than five minutes. With seven minutes to go it looked like England’s dream was about to end. Up steps Gary Lineker with two spot-kicks to send the Three Lions into the semis. England was dreaming.

I don’t think there’s much to be said about the Germany game that hasn’t already been said. We came, we saw, we almost conquered. You can watch the game in full below to experience the highs and lows yourself.

The only bad part about flying is having to come back down to earth. Following Italia ’90, England slumped out of Euro ’92 in the group stages and failed to qualify for the World Cup in America in ‘94. For a team consisting of top-class Premier League footballers like Gary Pallister, Paul Ince, Alan Shearer, Ian Wright and Les Ferdinand, as well as David Platt and Gazza (now of Serie A’s Lazio), it was a travesty. Euro ’96 was meant to be the time for England to finally bring football home but that amounted to just another near miss.

Thirty years after the 1966 triumph football came home at Euro 96 but it didn’t stay for long. For four weeks we danced in the streets, screamed at the television and packed into the stadiums. It was a good time to be a fan of England again.

SHOP the official England SD90 retro collection at

The Hex Blog

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