HISTORY are gearing up for a worldwide event this summer, a 14-day, 24/7 mega television event – History of Football.
Capturing the anticipation and excitement of the 2018 World Cup, the season of programming includes documentaries and specials about the most famous footballing icons and events of all time.
Return to Turin: Italia 90 is one of the documentaries featured in the season, looking back at England’s road to the semi-finals through the eyes of players Gary Lineker, Paul Parker and Terry Butcher.
We caught up with England’s captain in the semi-final, Butcher, and former Manchester United full-back Parker, to talk about their memories of Turin and the magic of Italia 90.
Had either of your returned to Turin and the stadium since the semi-final?
(Return to Turin: Italia 90)
Parker: “I’ve been to Italy a few times since 1990, but I never actually went to Turin. It never really crossed my mind. But since we’ve been back, it’s made me think about it more and I’d actually like to get to know the city a little bit more."
Butcher: “I’ve been back there with the BBC to do some commentary on a game, but to go back this time was special in many ways. It has moved on, the stadium is even better. It used to be one of the old-fashioned stadiums with the running track around the outside. They’ve made it a lot better, but just going back in there, I found it very emotional. It brought back memories. A lot of good memories. Even though we lost, it was the semi-final of the World Cup, so there were good memories."
Parker: “It did bring back good memories, especially when you reminded me of the exact spot where the ball hit for me the free kick going goal.”
Butcher: “Oh yes, I pointed that out didn’t I.”
Parker: “I was pleased that you told me that.”
Why do you think Italia 90 has such a hold over people all these years later?
(Gary Lineker at Italia 90)
Parker: “I think it’s all about the timing. Prior to 1990 had been a tough time for English football. It was a release that England almost achieved something. And they did it in a fashion that everyone enjoyed. There was no violence involved, we played good football and we almost pulled something very big off.”
Butcher: “I think with the fans as well, they’d been given such a bad press – and rightly so in many cases. That tournament just made everyone focus on the football and brought everyone together. When I was involved in the Scotland national team, the Tartan Army all had badges on for where they had been – not many recent ones of course! – but it was all about what they’d done and where they’d been. It was a badge of honour for England fans in 1990, for once. And even fans who weren’t there, people always want to speak to you about where they were when the semi-final against Germany happened. We’ve had some great stories.
Parker: “Even some of the youngsters who weren’t alive, they’ll tell you where their dad was watching it. Everyone wants to talk to you about it.”
Butcher: “Nobody wants to remind you of where they were when England got knocked out by Iceland. Or when England got beat by Portugal. 1990 was the first tangible bit of success for England since 1966, everyone remembers where they were and who they were with. It’s in folklore. It’s in with the bricks of English football history.
The documentary looks back at the rough time Bobby Robson had with the press. What are your memories of him?
Butcher: “He was the main reason I was in football. He signed me as a schoolboy in 76. I was with him for 14 years and it culminated in the semi-final. I don’t think anyone ever had a bad word to say about Bobby.
“It was amazing with the press and how they got into him. The FA said they wouldn’t renew his contract and he signed a deal with PSV for after the World Cup, but I don’t think the public ever really turned against him, despite the press.
“It was sad because he gave the press everything. It would be the last question with the press and it would go on for an hour as he’d answer four or five more. He was a dream because he loved talking about England and he’d never stop. I think that barrage of criticism united us as a squad though and deep down everyone in that squad wanted to do it for Bobby, let alone the country.
What impact does the media have on England players? It’s always veers between triumph and total disaster in the way it is reported.
Butcher: “I think on the pitch, it stimulated us even more. We wanted to ram their words down their throat. I remember for England, there was a journalist who wrote these really scathing things about me – it was probably right at the time, but I didn’t think so. I kept the cutting as a bookmark and I used it that way. Players probably don’t read books these days so they can’t do that, but that was the approach I took.
There’s some great footage in the film of players having fun and letting their hair down. Do you think we miss that in modern tournaments?
Parker: “I think today players are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they have fun, someone will say they’re not preparing properly for a big game coming up. If they don’t have fun, we’re told they have no personality and the character is questioned.
“Also, players today are put in a bubble now, which is no fault of their own. When I played on a Saturday, I could go to my local on the Sunday for a drink and there would be people in there telling me that I was rubbish yesterday because I got 5/10 in the News of the World. Players can’t do that anymore, because people are always judging them. They can’t mix in with the public and there are no-go zones for them."
Butcher: “I think players today still have fun, but it’s nothing like we used to have. Sometimes drink was involved, but a lot of the time it was just us having a laugh and making fun of each other. A big difference in our day was the fact that there were no camera phones. People use to say they’d seen us, but there was no proof. Whereas today, if players go out the bubble, they run a real risk.
“I think that’s one great thing for England this time is having Gareth as the manager, he’s been there and done it with England. He knows what they’re about to go through and he’ll have planned things for them. Because that’s just as important a part of being in a tournament. It’s not just all the training, it’s about making sure players aren’t bored, that they’re fresh and that they’re sharp. It’s about all these players going into a tournament knowing they trust each other.”
The big question – can England win in Russia?
Parker: “I think at the moment, there is a little something in the air. People aren’t coming out and saying England can win it. They aren’t pointing out individual players and putting pressure on. People are happy to sit and wait see what happens. Gareth Southgate has got some different players in there and I think it’s about what you get out of a tournament – and if they get to the quarter-finals, I think people will be encouraged.
“We’ve had success with the young England teams recently, Gareth is going there with no pressure on the players, he’s done everything he said he would, bringing on younger players om, so I think those are positives.”
Butcher: “Looking back at 1990, we weren’t fancied at all before we went out there. We’d had a bad Euro 88 as well. That meant we had no pressure back then, which applies today. So without that pressure… who knows. I’m not saying England will get to the semi-finals, but you have take it step by step, get out of the group and take it from there.”
The History of Football: The Greatest Story Ever Played airs on HISTORY from May 28th to June 10th.
BT TV customers can watch History on 327/379 HD.
Return to Turin: Italia 90 airs on Monday 28th May at 9pm.