Well, what a glorious summer that was! With England bathed in sunshine, Gareth Southgate’s lions brought a strong sense of pride to the nation. All of England’s World Cup matches were screened in the clubhouse at Chasetown’s Scholars Ground and it was joyous to celebrate every goal and every win in such convivial surroundings. When Keiran Trippier scored five minutes into the semi-final against Croatia, I felt such a strong burst of emotion as my eyes welled up with tears and I thought: “wow – is this actually really happening?”. There is no explaining to non-believers the strength and depth of emotions that football is capable of evoking. There truly is nothing like it. The feeling took me back to the final 15 minutes or so of the 2010 Championship Play-Off Final, as it began to dawn on me – although I hardly dared hope – that Blackpool were on the verge of being promoted to the Premier League. That was such an unbelievable achievement that it didn’t actually sink in that it had really happened until a full five months later. But oh boy what a feeling – what a trip – that was!
But I digress (you know Blackpool will always be in my heart, even though I’m at Chasetown now). What was especially wonderful about this summer was the magic of the nation falling in love with football all over again. Even people who had never expressed the remotest interest in the game before were hooked and are now entering the world of domestic football for the first time as they seek clubs to attach themselves to (this has happened to at least three women I know). This is so good for the the game in this country – at all levels.
Indeed it was a World Cup that ignited my love of football. I had never so much as watched a cup final prior to Italia 90 – and this despite my dad proudly telling me stories throughout my childhood of Blackpool’s FA Cup winning team of 1953 (he was at that final). Everyone at school supported Everton or Liverpool in those days, so there was no real sense of pride in my local team (indeed they had just been relegated to the basement division of the Football League at that time).
But boy that summer of 1990 changed my life irreversibly. I was at an impressionable age and oh how I fell in love! I don’t even know how it came to pass that the match against Ireland drew my attention on the television – but my goodness I was hooked straight away. Italia 90 had me enchanted from the off. The characters. The drama. The brave bloodied heroes. The match-winning wondergoal that inspired the name of a Coronation Street character (probably). The hope. The emotions. The tears. The heartbreak. The anthem: “Love’s got the world in motion and I can’t believe it’s true”. And yes it was love! I had fallen head over heels in love with this beautiful, magical game: calcio, футбол, soccer, fodbold, futebol, futbol, soka, sepak bola, sacar, football. There are so many words for it but its language is universal and unites people like nothing else can.
My passions were so ignited that I needed to get them down on paper. On returning to school that September, I penned my first ever football piece – which was a review of the semi-final against West Germany. The emotions of the match were immortalised in print and I have included some extracts below:
“98 minutes of the match had passed before Paul Gascoigne, who had had a superb World Cup, this match probably being his best, attempted a sliding tackle on one of the Germans. He stood up, avoiding eye-contact with the Brazilian referee because he knew that if he regarded his tackle as deliberately tripping the player (who, to anyone with half-decent sight, was certainly over-reacting), he would be booked. The moment he looked at the referee, he saw that he was holding up the yellow card. This devastated the marvellous midfielder, because he knew he would miss the World Cup Final should England get there, as he had already picked up a booking during England’s Group F match with Holland. Gascoigne was clearly cut-up by this hurtful gesture, so he began crying – and who can blame him?”
“The whole of England held their heads in their hands as Nottingham Forest defender Stuart Pearce’s effort was stopped, luckily for the Germans, by the shin of Wagner, after he had originally dived the wrong way. Just one look at the face of the Forest skipper, possibly the best left-back in the world, and it broke your heart. The little guy was so choked that he broke down in not unfamiliar fashion to that of Gascoigne, except Pearce looked even more devastated.”
“Wagner saluted the crowd, Matthaus consoled Waddle, Mark Wright gave poor Pearce a friendly hug, Gascoigne put on a brave face but the tears continued to flow, now more freely than before.
“The whole of England sat in silence.”
After the heartache of the defeat in the semi-finals of Italia 90, there was no question that I was hooked on the game and I needed to satiate my new-found passion. There was also no question as to who was going to be the beneficiary of my heart. Of course you know the answer. It was my local team, my beloved Blackpool. Oh they were terrible at the start of 1990/91 (managed by comedian Alan Carr’s dad, Graham, who didn’t raise many smiles during his time at Blackpool) but do you think I could see that? They say love is blind and that is never more true than when it comes to a football club! Here were a new set of heroes for me to worship and whose posters adorned my bedroom walls. My first hero was our little left-back Alan Wright (who went on to play for Blackburn and Villa) – and I have had a soft spot for diminutive wide players ever since (Ryan Stewart is already on his way to becoming a firm favourite of mine at Chasetown).
But why Blackpool? Simply because they were my local team. That was all. I could read (and would later write) all about them in the local paper, the Evening Gazette (remember these were pre-internet days) and I followed their results avidly. Once I finally got to set foot inside Bloomfield Road, I would barely miss another home game for 20 years. The 1990/91 season started very badly – but then the heroes came to the fore! Billy Ayre was appointed as manager and he secured the services of one Dave Bamber, who scored 17 goals to fire Blackpool from the bottom of the table into the play-offs. More drama ensued as Blackpool’s fate echoed England’s the previous summer, losing on penalties in the play-off final (Bamber missing from the spot). But we got the fairytale ending the following summer, winning the play-off final on penalties, with Bamber (now 33 years old) scoring 40 goals along the way.
My love for England waned after that magical summer of 1990 was never really matched (save perhaps during Euro 96) – although of course football has been pulsing through my veins at club level ever since, with Blackpool and now Chasetown providing my day-to-day football fix. But now, 28 years on, who would have expected that we would have a team of heroes making us so proud of our national team – our England – once again. The effects of this can be immense. If you know someone who has fallen in love with the game this summer (for the first time, or for the second time), engage with them and make them feel part of your local club. They are our family. They are our future.
Happy new season folks! New adventures and new heroes await. Bring it on…