WITH the beats of the Gazetta Football Italia intro from Channel 4 filling the corridors at lunch-time, and the sun peaking out from behind the clouds outside, it wasn’t your standard Wednesday evening beat-the-deadline-scramble in the Southern Star sports department this week.
In fact, it was better.
We can’t thank the weather for much, but the sight of a sun hanging off a blue sky did trip a switch – it reminded me of the evening when Kevin Sheehy equalised against England in Italia ’90, the first World Cup, or tournament, I can remember.
I was eight when Sheehy scored, and after the 1-1 draw, I ran straight out to the back garden to recreate that goal, using two of our six apple trees as goal posts.
And it was sunny, a warm evening where half the sitting room’s curtains were closed to hide the TV, and its two channels, from the glare. It just seemed sunnier in the 90s, and maybe it’s the idyllic notion that everything was better ‘when I was young’, but, genuinely, from a football point of view the 90s was where it was at.
It was a colourful and loud era, bursting with characters (the good, the bad and the ugly), magical moments, real heroes, mad bastards, the original Ronaldo, VHS videos, sticker books, 3pm kick-offs on Sports Stadium, bad haircuts and William Prunier …
So here, and in no particular order, is why the 90s were a great time for football, in comparison to the modern game where the players seem so far removed from reality and the fans, and the commercial facet of the game – the AC Milan Nivea skin care haka, anyone, please – has widened the divide even further.
But, it wasn’t like that in the 90s. Thank God. Enjoy.
Italia ’90. 38-year-old Roger Milla and his pre-Shakira shaking hips around the corner flag. Cameroon stunning Argentina. Claudio Caniggia. Toto Schillaci. Packie’s grimace, Packie’s save, Big Jack’s grin. Daniel Timofte became an instant Irish legend. Put ‘em Under Pressure was born, we were all part of Jackie’s Army. Gary Lineker’s ‘accident’, Gazza’s tears, Waddle’s penalty. Frank Rijkaard’s spit on Rudi Voller. My first sticker book collection, hours spent swapping stickers in national school and never getting close to finishing the damn thing.
Italian soccer, and Seria A, was a thing of beauty in the 90s, I remember watching the highlights show on one of our two channels, with iconic Football Italia theme music serving as the knock-knock on Bosco’s Magic Door – it took you to another world, Italy to be precise; not Dublin Zoo, again.
There was Giuseppe Signori and his one-step penalties, George Weah running the length of the pitch to score that superb solo goal for AC Milan against Verona, Gabriel Batistuta being Batigol, Roberto Baggio, and that AC Milan team with Panucci, Costacurta, Baresi, Maldini (a legend among legends), Albertini, Desailly, Donadoni, Boban and Simone. Wow.
Think of Nedved, Bergkamp, Zidane, Crespo, Del Piero, Desailly, Davids, Thuram and, for a spell, the original Ronaldo (Luiz Nazario de Lima) at Inter Milan, but what about his season at Barcelona, and his step-overs, without ignoring his bad hair-days at France ’98.
The 90s was an era where, for a spell, you would watch a game on Teletext, waiting for it to update, or tune into 5 Live and let your mind create the picture before Sky Sports got their hands on you.
It was a time when Irish players anchored top teams in England, and when English players were prominent in their own league, before the influx started – but before the mass invasion, there were genuine stars, Juninho, Zola, Yeboah and his thunderbolts, Klinsmann, Bergkamp, Di Canio, Vieira and, a personal favourite, Paulo Wanchope (so good, we named our seven-a-side team after him, The Paulo Wanchopes. No, we weren’t any good, either).
We can’t forget collar-up Cantona, so sublime and skillful, with a dash of eccentricity and a dollop of madness, as Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons found out in ’95, feeling the brunt of that kung-fu kick at Selhurst Park.
Teletext delivered that news, I think, before getting on the bus to school one morning, and a lot of people can relate certain football/sport memories to a particular time of their life.
‘You can remember who scored a goal 20 years ago in a Manchester United match, but you can’t remember to hang out the washing (insert any number of household jobs here),’ is a (valid) claim usually heard at home.
‘Ya, but football is important,’ I’d shrug, before doing a Leeds United and disappearing from existence (that’s especially for you, Barry).
Just a few days before my Leaving Cert exams in 1999, myself and two of the lads hit the bright lights of Killarney on a Wednesday night in May, plonked right in front of the big screen in Scruffy’s bar to watch Manchester United steal the Champions League from under the noses of Bayern Munich and a stunned Lothar Matthaus. To this day, it’s my greatest sporting memory. Magic. (And remember the days when the European Cup/Champions League was for champions?)
By then, Sky Sports had become a fixture, and football was changing, but the 90s had its characters, from Vinnie Jones to Rene Higuita to Mexican ‘keeper Jorge Campos, famous for his flamboyant jerseys and ability to score goals. Speaking of flamboyance, those white suits by the Spice Boys, eh.
There’s not enough ink on the press to do justice to football in the 90s, from Denmark in Euro ’92, to Euro ’96 when, for some reason, Karel Poborsky, instead of Patrick Berger, caught Alex Ferguson’s eye, as the Czech Republic blazed a trail to the final, and where England’s Three Lions threatened to roar, until normal service was resumed.
Again, the weather seemed better back then – sunny evenings, so hot the tar on the road melted, and an evening was spent kicking ball in a land before Playstation and X-boxes.
By World Cup ’98, I was working in a local caravan and camping park in Fossa, Killarney, and, during the evening shifts, more time was spent inside the TV room watching games with tourists than actual work.
It was a time when Real Betis broke the world record to sign Denilson, and when the TV ads saw the Brazilian team playing soccer in an airport, or when Cantona, Ronaldo Maldini, Figo, Rui Costa and Kluivert defeated the devil, and when football kits didn’t hug you tighter than a Toni Braxton ballad.
Beckham from the halfway line, Roberto Carlos defying the laws of physics, any one from Matt le Tissier’s highlights reel, Cantona v Sunderland, the list goes on.
The 80s kids will say the 80s was the best, but as a 90s kid, it’s hard to go against that decade, bookended by Italia 90 and the Nou Camp ’99.
Maybe it’s the rose-tined glasses, maybe it’s because it was my childhood or maybe it’s because of the sunny weather this week – but give me 90s’ football any day of the week.