5. Paul Gascoigne is reduced to tears before England lose on penalties to Germany. World Cup Semi-Final, Italy, 1990.
One of the earliest World Cup memories of my generation was undoubtedly the famous images of Paul Gascoigne reduced to tears following a booking in the semi-final of the World Cup against Germany. The booking of course, would have meant Gazza would have been ineligible for the final.
Gazza was born in Dunston, a small area of Gateshead on the opposite side of the river from his boyhood club; Newcastle United. Gazza would sign for Newcastle as a schoolboy in 1980 and make his first team debut 5 years later against Queens Park Rangers. He would spend three years in the first team at St. James Park, picking up the PFA young player of the year award in the 1987-88 season and notching 21 times in 92 appearances for the magpies.
By the time 1990 arrived, Paul Gascoigne had been playing in North London for the previous two seasons, impressing for Tottenham Hotspur. Having rejected a move to Manchester United (thanks to Spurs purchasing his family a house) he’d entered the World Cup as one of the most exciting prospects.
Throughout the tournament, Gascoigne was in the thick of the action. He set up a Mark Wright winner in the group stages, took the free-kick for David Platt to score in the first knockout round then gave a penalty away against Cameroon in the quarter final, before setting up Gary Lineker to register then slotted home a penalty himself.
England entered the game against West Germany having achieved their best performance on foreign soil in a World Cup thus far. Bobby Robson’s men had been unconvincing early in the tournament, but had grown in stature and shown grit and determination to move all obstacles before them. West Germany though, coached by World Cup winning player Franz Beckenbauer and led on the field by talisman Lothar Matthaus, would be no easy opponent.
The game itself, was a tight affair. A goalless contest, was brought into action in the 59th minute when Andres Brehme’s deflected free kick looped over Peter Shilton in the England goal; 1-0 West Germany.
With ten minutes remaining, Paul Parker floated a ball into the West German area, confusion ensued and Gary Lineker was there to pounce with the equaliser. Extra time was to be required and drama was soon to unfold.
Paul Gascoigne was booked in England’s last 16 encounter against Belgium and in the 99th minute, the Englishman would create one of the World Cup’s most memorable moments. Gazza had went into a tackle late on German player Thomas Berthold and the German player was left on the deck, giving the referee only one option. Gazza, explained in his book, “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, raised above my head. I looked at the crowd, I looked at Lineker, and I couldn’t hold it back. At that moment I just wanted to be left alone. I didn’t want to talk to anyone or see anyone. My bottom lip was like a helicopter pad. I was devasted.”
Bobby Robson went onto say “My heart sank the moment the referee took out the yellow card. My heart hit my shoes. Because I realised instantly, that was the final for Paul Gascoigne, out. And that’s a tragedy – for him, me, the team, the country, the whole of football. Because he was so good, and he was superb in this particular match. The bigger the game, the better he got.”
Little did anyone know that the Famous images of Gary Lineker turning to Bobby Robson, asking his manager to have a word with Gazza would be regularly used for a variety of highlight clips; everyone knew the card would mean no Gazza in the final, but regardless, England still had a game to contest.
The card however, had a devastating effect on Gazza. Forcing his withdrawal from the subsequent penalty shoutout after extra time couldn’t decide the contest, Chris Waddle would step up in his place – fatefully.
With penalties due, England and West Germany traded blows evenly up to 3-3 and up stepped Stuart Pearce. The Englishman hit his penalty straight down the middle, only for it to be saved by the legs of keeper Bodo Ilgner. West Germany then edged ahead 4-3 thanks to Olaf Thon and next up, England’s Chris Waddle – Gazza’s replacement – stepped up. Waddle, left footed, ran up to his penalty and blasted it…over the bar. England were sadly out. A sad ending to what has become known as one of the greatest campaigns in English football history.
The fallout from the game, continued for many years after. The interview Gazza gave in 2002, suggested that claims he would have reflected on the incident in a more understanding light and agreed with the yellow were way off the mark. “He was a dic***ad. ” said Gazza of Berthold. “He was a tall man with a mouth like a fish. I remember all the details of his face. He was a wa**er and a cheat,” Gazza added. “When I made that tackle, I missed him and the ball. He dived, as Germans do, to get me booked. When I see that game and I see that guy dive, I wish I had the chance now to play against him and take the pi** out of him on the pitch and, if I got the chance, tackle him properly – and this time really properly. Because if I’m going to get a yellow card I would rather be for a proper foul. And it would be if I played against him again.”
The game is still used as a reference for England, whenever a major tournament arrives. It still, to this day, remains England’s best performance on foreign soil in a major tournament. But it will be forever remembered for the moment England came so close to another World Cup final, but for the finest of details and a penalty shoutout, they left another foreign quest empty handed.