One of the lasting memories of the World Cup in Italy in 1990 is the sight of Paul Gascoigne in tears late in the semi-final as he realises that the booking he had just received would keep him out of the Final if England were to come through against West Germany.
As Paul Gascoigne’s face crumpled like a child’s, so Gary Lineker, fearing that the 23-year-old had “lost it”, pointed to Bobby Robson and the England bench that they needed to keep an eye on Gazza.
Paul Gascoigne had been a late addition to the England squad ahead of Italia ’90. He had made his England debut in September, 1988 as a substitute against Denmark. By March, 1990, three months before the World Cup Finals, he had started one game for his country and made 6 appearances as a substitute, scoring one goal against Albania in a World Cup qualifier.
In preparation for the finals, England had a number of friendlies through the spring of 1990. In April, Gascoigne started the match against Czechoslavakia and scored one goal and had a hand in the other three in England’s 4 – 2 success.
In his book, ‘Glorious My World, Football and Me’ Paul Gascoigne wrote on his selection for the squad for Italy,
I was incredibly lucky being in that squad for Italia ’90. I was one of the youngest, if not the youngest, and I was surrounded by an unbelievable group of players.
His place secured in the squad Gascoigne grew in stature and became a vital figure in England’s midfield through the World Cup matches in Italy, starting all games on the way to the semi-final against West Germany. Gascoigne loved playing for England and tweeted recently,
WHEN I PLAYED FOR ENGLAND,I DID NOT WORRY ONE BIT ABOUT THE OPPOSITION,I JUST PLAYED FOR MY COUNTRY,90 MINUTES WAS NOT LONG ENOUGH FOR ME XX
— Paul Gascoigne (@gazza8gascoigne) June 11, 2014
Gascoigne had an assist in the final Group game, a single goal win over Egypt which ensured England’s qualification to the knock-out stages as group winner. In the first knock-out game against Belgium it was from his free-kick that David Platt fired home the only goal with one minute of extra time remaining. He was also booked in that game but unconcerned by that he was at the centre of everything in the quarter-final tie against Cameroon. He conceded a penalty to give Cameroon an equalising goal in the second half but in extra time his through ball brought a penalty from which Lineker scored the winner.
Going into the semi-final, Gascoigne knew that if he received another booking he would miss the Final if England were to win through. In a close encounter West Germany took the lead after an hour but Lineker equalised with 10 minutes to play. Into extra time and for Gascoigne the fateful moment came in the 98th minute when he fouled Thomas Berthold and the referee produced a yellow card.
In an instant, the consequences of that booking dawned on Gascoigne and he simply couldn’t control his emotions and the tears started to flow.
Reflecting on that moment in his book, Gascoigne wrote,
‘There was nothing in the challenge. Then everything turned to slow motion. I straightened up and turned to the ref. He’s gone for his pocket. Suddenly I can’t hear anything. The world just stops apart from the bloke in black. My eyes follow his hand, to the pocket, then out with the card. There it is raise3d above my head.
It took a few seconds and then it hit me. I wasn’t going to play in the World Cup final…….The world started up again. I looked at the crowd, I looked at Lineker, and I couldn’t hold it back. I started to cry.’
Then Gascoigne heard the fans and wanted to help his team-mates. He said,
All the self-pity went out the window. I was determined to give everything I had.
As it turned out, the game went to penalties which England inevitably lost so Gascoigne’s worst fears weren’t to be realised but that shot of Gascoigne in tears is an iconic photograph of Italia ’90.
Following the finals, Salman Rushdie wrote of Gascoigne in The Independent,
Before Paul Gascoigne, did anyone ever become a national hero and a dead-cert millionaire by crying? Fabulous. Weep and the world weeps with you.
In England after England returned from Italy, it was Paul Gascoigne or ‘Gazza’ who everyone wanted to see or read about. The ‘Gazza’ phenomenon had taken off and Tottenham were to benefit from the feel-good factor of England’s exciting World Cup campaign with both Gascoigne and Lineker in the Spurs team for the 1990-91 season.