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Hakuna Matata #3: Out on the stairs

Italia ’90 was remembered by some for few goals and Pavarotti’s rendition of Nessun Dorma, but for Richard Pye from Headers and Volleys it also bore the stain of early bedtimes and sneaking down on the stairs. He continues our Hakuna Matata series here.

In the summer of 1990, our old brown, battered TV shone a beam of light into my world. Italia ’90. With it came my first taste of dashed hopes, but also the birth of my understanding as to why indeed this game was so ‘beautiful’.

Gazza's tears

As the tournament and England progressed, I had become obsessed with the team of David Platt, Gary Lineker and of course, Paul Gascoigne. Wanting to be just like them I’d be in the street with my partners in crime Gav and Graham, desperately trying to replicate Platt’s hooking volley, or Lineker’s ducking runs to near and far posts, attempting to latch onto the crosses of Waddle and Barnes. In reality, the only move I was able to repeat turned out to be Gazza’s semi-final tears.

When England were knocked out by West Germany, my dad threw his mug of tea at the wall and I, sat on my haunches in the middle of the sofa, was not really sure what had happened. Dad had explained to me that whilst we certainly hadn’t lost, West Germany had somehow contrived to win because Waddle and Stuart Pearce had messed up their penalties. And so the waterworks began for the first time. Being past my bed-time, I was consoled and put to bed with the comforting reassurance “it’s alright boy, there’s another World Cup in four years”. If only I’d known I’d probably still be crying now.

The waterworks returned in earnest four days later, around fifteen minutes before the World Cup Final kicked-off. I’d been allowed to stay up before, I was told, because England were playing. Now it was just the West Germans and Argentina who were set to contest the final, I’d only be allowed to watch until half time. Furious at this petulant double standard by my parents, I cried foul, declaring their outrageous announcement as tantamount to xenophobic nationalism, dictating that England were eminently more watchable than Diego Maradona’s Argentina or Lothar Matthäus’ West Germans. Or at least I would have if I’d known what xenophobic nationalism was.

Instead I thumped my fists on the floor and bawled until my eyes stung. Until that is, my dad pointed out that the game was about to kick-off and that if I didn’t shut up, I could go to bed now. Begrudgingly, I silenced my protests, bitterly contriving to not talk to him or my mum until the following day.

Brehme's most important goal

As soon as the whistle blew however, I was rapt. With Maradona pulling the Germans left and right and Matthäus stroking the ball to the bombing runs of Andreas Brehme and Thomas Berthold, I barely noticed the interval approaching, nor that the score was nil-nil. As the referee shrilly sounded an end to the first half, so it dawned in the pit of my stomach that he had also sounded the call for my impending incarceration. Again tears were shed, but more in resignation than anything else.

Off I trudged, shown the red-card by my parental referees. As I dressed for bed, it occurred that they would both, however, be far too busy watching the second half to notice if I sneaked onto the stairs and watched through the crack in the door to the lounge. Silently I crept forward and assumed my position as I heard the whistle sound for the second half, sitting hunched with the TV just visible and my dad’s feet, stretched out in front of him, just about in view.

As the second half progressed, I found it harder to fight the temptation to sleep, and harder still to identify each of the players at such distance. Except for Maradona of course, his unmistakable gait so clearly recognisable as the ball stuck to his toe time and again, urging me more and more to keep my eyes open. As my eyelids drooped yet again, a sudden flurry of movement at the bottom of the stairs left me face to face with my mum.

Fearing the worst, I started mumbling my excuses until I noticed a small grin forming at the corner of her mouth. “Well if you’re not feeling well love”, she said a little too loudly, “come down and sit with me, we’ll have a cuddle”. So less than half an hour since being banished, I was back in the game, walking into the lounge, head bowed in faux illness ready to celebrate my victory over my dad, with silent righteousness.

Celebrations for the Germans

Many recall the final of Italia 90 as a being somewhat of a damp squib, indeed the tournament is often cited as the first sign of the diminishing quality of international tournaments. Not for me. Not then and not now. The tactical warfare being waged between Matthaus, Maradona, Brehme and Ruggeri was so engrossing, my tiredness waned and with it, my memory to withhold my natural inclination to yelp and leap every time the ball was within thirty yards of either goal.

It feels now as though I was the only person in the world who was truly bipartisan. It didn’t matter to me who won the game, it was a fight between He-man and Lion-O, between James Bond and Rocky and the spectacle was all that mattered. The duelling knights of world football were putting on a show and I alone could see the beauty in their strategic jousting. I could even forgive the tears the Germans caused me a few days earlier, for this game was my coming of age. I knew I would never be alone now, not whilst this game, this brilliant game and the FIFA World Cup Trophy were there to be won.

As Matthaus lifted the trophy, shaking it aloft my mum whispered “right love, off to bed now” and my dad muttered, “same old same old, don’t know why I bother watching”. He didn’t get it. But I did.

Richard Pye writes some splendid stuff over at Headers and Volleys, it is worth checking out their ‘Summer so far’ series. Please do spend a few minutes looking at their website. You can also follow them by the means of Facebook and Twitter (@headers_volleys).

You can click here to read more posts in the Hakuna Matata series. We are accepting submissions from anyone willing to donate some time to the site, so please pick up your pen and send something in.

  • careca

    Nice article, my experience of that world cup was more or less exactly the same as yours, whenever i hear Nessum Dorma a giddy nostalgia floods my brain. Fortunately for me i was allowed to stay up for the final, however i was a little less forgiving than you, the xenephobic nationalist was alive and kicking in me that day and the fact that i was not old enough to remember Argentina and 86 but was still tasting salty tears born in Turin meant i hated the Germans with every jingoistic bone in my body - and continued to do so until that ghost was laid to rest in Euro 2000 and subsequently banished for good with that 1-5 thumping in Munich. Only recently have i been able to enjoy the German national team, in fact i would go so far as to say i like them, which is a statement my eight year old self would never be able to reconcile with. Thanks for the memories! 

  • http://www.thefootballexpress.co.uk Rocco

    Thanks for commenting.

    Would you be interested in contributing a piece yourself?


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