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Jim White

Italia 90: when it started, England were the pariahs of the world game. Hillsborough had happened but a year before and English fans were reckoned such a toxic presence in the World Cup, their team was drawn to play its matches on the island of Sardinia, exiled there like a footballing Napoleon, gatecrashers at the party the rest of the world was to enjoy. The team too were widely derided, not least by the English media. One article in the Independent mocked their yeoman steadfastness, woefully lacking in comparison to continental flair.

Heading to Italy that summer was to anticipate shame, embarrassment, misery. It didn't work out like that. It transpired we were to have the best tournament in a generation, a glorious demonstration of attacking vim and vigour.

And the moment that insisted things were not going to pan out as predicted came early on, in a group game against Holland. The Dutch were the epitome of football's gracious arts, deemed to be everything we weren't: cool, modern, sophisticated. All we could look forward to when our two sides met was humiliation.

And then Paul Gascoigne did something extraordinary. In the middle of the Dutch area, he did a Cruyff turn. Initially I couldn't believe what I had just seen. England players just didn't do that sort of thing. Especially not to the Dutch. That was what they were supposed to do to us.


But that one swerve, that one audacious bit of skill spoke of a new mindset. Led by the Geordie scamp, England subverted expectation, changed attitudes, made everyone realise this was a game played for fun.

And with that turn Gascoigne announced himself to the wider world. Gazza became a national figure. With that moment of exquisite daring, he made those who doubted football's qualities appreciate its deep and tangible joys. It was a remarkable moment, burned indelibly in the memory. Thanks for it Gazza. And get well soon.

 

Jim is a columnist at the Telegraph and wrote the brilliant 'You'll Win Nothing With Kids'. If you have a child playing junior football this book is an essential read, the characters are all too familiar!

Follow Jim on Twitter @jimw1

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