Italia 90. What a time to be alive. Roberto Baggio. Gazza. Maradona. Roger Milla. And the best football song of all time – yes INCLUDING that rap.
The Euros and World Cups come and go, and I pay less and less interest in England’s progress as the years go by for various reasons or another. Besides, for me, nothing will capture the excitement of Italia 90.
I remember that summer very fondly. My last at junior school. We went on a school trip to the Isle of Wight where we stayed in a guest house. By day we’d go on trips: to Osborne House filling out fact sheets about Queen Victoria, to the beach where we collected shells and seaweed, and to an ostrich farm which was quickly aborted when we discovered soon after arrival that a lot of the ostriches had been killed overnight and our coach was turned around. The girls cried. The boys took photos on their mums cameras until the teachers stopped them. I wrote about it on my postcard home, my big handwriting making it the only news I sent.
The guesthouse landlady made us packed lunches every day but most of us hated tuna mayo, or some pretended to hate it to fit in. We’d scrape it into our empty crisp packets and eat the bread so that at least we didn’t starve.
Of an evening we’d have tea back at the guesthouse then gather round the landlady’s colour telly to watch the match. The girls plaited each other’s hair. The boys cheered and shouted and cried.
We all supported England, of course. But also Ireland and Italy or wherever our people came from, because we were a class full of Catholics.
My sister, home from uni in Italy, gave me my most prized possession of that summer: an Italia 90 t shirt which I wore with pride with cycling shorts and a bumbag. She made me a tape before I went on the school trip with the New Order song on and let me borrow her yellow Sony Walkman. It was better than mine: it had fast forward as well as rewind.
Having grown up in the bedroom next to my brother’s, I was already familiar with New Order; bookended by this point with Joy Division and Electronic. But that was all on vinyl; that never left the bedroom. ‘World in Motion’ was New Order on tour: on the radio in everyone’s cars, on Saturday morning TV, on Walkmans, in the Isle of Wight.
The landlady let us play the cassette and we all sang along. Then our teachers would play Nessun Dorma and laugh about how it was apt for a school trip and how the girls were still wide awake way past 10 o’clock last night. The girls would say it made the hair on their necks stand on end and the boys would impersonate Luciano Pavarotti. Mr O’Keefe, who would so often correct me and the two Dublin boys for our inability to pronounce the word ‘three’ as anything but ‘tree’ in his self-hating mission to eradicate regional accents, took his glasses off and wiped his cloudy eyes as the tenor’s voice swelled to the final note.
Weeks later we’d all see each other for the last time. Kids went to different schools: the convents, the boys school, grammar schools, mixed comprehensives, posh schools that didn’t have saints names, back to Dublin, on to the next pub with their parents, to another borough, to another parent’s custody.
Italia ‘90: “If something’s good it’s never gone”: