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Talent and Tears: Paul Gascoigne and the English Football Revolution

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No player like him has had such an enormous impact in turning English football into the global juggernaut it is today.

It is hard to imagine today, in the age of state-owned clubs, appallingly inflated deals and unmatched social reach, but on the eve of the 1990 World Cup, football was losing its appeal in England.

Attendances fell during the 1980s due to overcrowded stands and a crumbling infrastructure.

Moreover, the Thatcher government made no secret of its contempt for the masses. Anyone who liked to spend their Saturdays watching football was part of the “enemy within”, essentially working-class hooligans who couldn’t be trusted.

These prevailing attitudes spilled over, with tragic consequences, into the subsequent police cover-up of the Hillsborough disaster, in which 97 Liverpool fans were unlawfully killed during the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.

England prepared for Italy 90 in light of these problems. However, when Sir Bobby Robson’s side were defeated on penalties by Germany in the semi-finals, the darkness ended and a real football revolution was ready.

At the heart of this extraordinary achievement was the irresistible Paul Gascoigne.

The quarterback’s tournament – and Italy 90 overall – was a slow-burning Shakespearean tragedy that the entire country could not ignore.

There was little to suggest this would happen after the Three Lions’ first group match, an unsatisfactory 1-1 draw with Ireland.

The legendary role of an enigma in the success story of modern English football was first hinted at against the Netherlands on 16 June.

Getty / Target

Just two years ago, the Netherlands won the European Championship under the guidance of college football master Rinus Michels.

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However, it wasn’t Koeman, Gullit or Van Basten who lit up Sardinia that evening. By contrast, the unkempt son of a Gateshead worker.

Throughout the match Gascoigne topped the orange jerseys with impressive poise and power. He even had the audacity to take on Cruyff’s devastating role.

He sent two Dutch defenders point blank, deceptively sending a volley to the back post, which should have been slotted into the goal by Gary Lineker.

Fortunately, Gazza was able to provide nice help with Egypt.

After a free kick close to the left touchline was awarded to England by the referee, Gazza sent in a devilish cross from the penalty spot.

Mark Wright took to the skies and narrowly edged past goalkeeper Ahmed Shbeir to make it 1 – 0 and put the Three Lions at the top of the division.

At home, public interest in the midfielder increased. It was easy to see why Gascoigne, in the last-16 clash against Belgium, responded to such growing expectations by putting out another big game.

Receiving the ball in his own half of the field, in the 118th minute the midfielder brought the entire Belgian squad with him.

Paul Gascoigne England Belgium World Cup 1990 GFXGetty / Target

It was eventually stopped, allowing Gascoigne to once again deliver a perfect corner kick for his side.

Had it been in normal time, the Red Devils would certainly have kicked the ball into the stands, but tired bodies and minds allowed David Platt to intercept the ball on a turn and find the net.

The game ends when there is only one minute left.

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The next opponents are Cameroon, who thanks to Roger Milla secured the first ever World Cup knockout stage win by an African team.

It wasn’t easy between Gaza and England against the underdogs, far from it. Overall, Cameroon probably deserved to win. However, the match was again touched by an assist from Gascoigne.

With the teams tied at 2-2 after 90 minutes, extra time is required. At the end of the first extra period, Gascoigne – as he had done throughout the tournament – received the ball deep and pushed forward before serving on Lineker, who scored the decisive goal face to face with the goalkeeper.

It’s West Germany’s time.

By this point Gascoigne – already famous off the field for his wit and jokes – was the most popular man in England, but there was no happy ending.

You already know what happened.

Paul Gascoigne Terry Butcher England World Cup 1990 GFXGetty / Target

Gascoigne picked up a second yellow card that ruled him out of the final the Three Lions have never reached, thanks to penalty misses by Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle.

The tears began to flow and became the iconic image of the England Championship, used in every Italia 90 montage since then.

However, it is worth considering why this moment entered the national consciousness.

Weeping in front of an enormous television audience, Gaza cemented the idea of ​​football as a soap opera, a widespread cultural activity capable of reflecting the beauty and despair of everyday life.

It is no coincidence that after his exhilarating performance in Italia 90, English football realized its commercial potential, with the birth of the Premier League two years later.

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His heroism remains romantic to this day. Italia’s 90 podcasts, books and documentaries continue to captivate the imagination, and there’s even a post-punk band named after the heroine.

And despite Gascoigne’s well-known personal problems, which manifested itself in some mishaps, he remains to this day one of the most sought-after commentators on the circuit.

A national treasure, his rugged personality helped catapult the English club game into a golden age.

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