The long trip north
The morning after the night before. The morning after one of the best nights of your life. The morning after Ireland qualified for the last 16 in the world. It takes a few minutes before the realisation sinks in. That warm feeling shivers through your body (it still does 25 years later). That silly smile crosses your face again. You take a few moments to savour it all. You have to find your way 1402 kilometres (871 miles in old money) north for three days’ time. Time to go back to sleep.
We left the Tax lads in Palermo and agreed to rendezvous in Genoa. I can’t recall much of the long train trip along the north coast of Sicily, across the Straits of Messina and up the West coast of the Italian mainland to Solerno. The Italian government had long proposed building the longest suspension bridge in the world across The Straits of Messina (I just found that out on the internet) but this hadn’t happened in 1990 and it still hasn’t happened. So, in Messina, the train carriages were loaded onto a ferry, ferried across the strait and unloaded onto train tracks on the other side. It was all pretty nifty.
Solerno was chosen as our next stop for two reasons. The first was that having missed one famous Italian volcano in Sicily we wanted to actually view the other one up close. Pompeii is incredibly moving. The sight of carbonised casts of bodies lying where they died over 1900 years previously is extremely eerie. Viewing Vesuvius on the horizon one can imagine the sheer terror as a wall of heat and ash enveloped the city when she erupted on 79BC.
Man in debauched sexual act with corner flag
The other attraction of Salerno was that it was only an hour from Naples, near enough to be accessible, yet far enough away from what was at the time the most crime ridden city in Italy. Napoli were the 1989-90 Serie A holders and included amongst their squad the Messi of the time, a certain Diego Maradona. A chance to be in the same stadium where the Argentinian played regularly was not to be missed. As it happens Cameroon were due to play Columbia in the first of the last 16 games that afternoon in the Stadio San Paolo. So it would be Pompeii in the morning and Naples in the afternoon.
Tickets were procured readily and it was a relief as a neutral supporter to be able to take in the colour, sounds and camaradie of the fans without the tension of knowing Ireland were playing. Two of the world’s most ‘colourful’ players at the time would be playing. The Columbian goalie was a certain Rene Higuita. Sporting a Victoria Principal style poodle perm his nickname was “El Loco” due to his tendency to leave his goalmouth and act as an impromptu sweeper. El Loco was also a goal scoring goalie (mostly penalties) with 41 goals in 380 club appearances according to Wikipedia. The other fascinating character was the Cameroonian Roger Milla who had already scored twice in the group stages. Roger was aged 38 at the time (though there was considerable doubt over the validity of this) and he was noted for his disturbing corner flag hip-swivelling goal celebrations.
El Loco goes loco
The game itself was played at a snail’s pace. Milla came on in the second half, I guess at 38 he had to be used sparingly. As it transpired he had to play an extra 30 minute as the game went into extra time. 64 year old Milla scored and the corner flag was duly violated. Two minutes later El Loco and the 88 38 year old contrived to produce one of the most memorable moments of Italia ’90. El Loco had come out 40+ yards from his goal as Columbia pressed for an equaliser. He took a short pass on his weaker leg, attempted a drag back and the by now 104 year old Milla robbed him, ran to the edge of the box and rolled the ball into the empty net despite Higuita’s vain efforts to hack him down. The opposite corner flag got the hip shaking routine and Cameroon became the first African country to reach the last 8 of the World Cup and we had been there to witness it. Could things get any better for us at this World Cup?
Genoa – The return
16 days after our initial visit we were back in Genoa and Ireland’s last 16 meeting with Romania. We successfully managed to meet at the appointed rendezvous and get our hands on the tickets. The Stadio Luigi Ferraris is not the most aesthetically pleasing of stadia and the tickets we had were for the very back row in the upper tier. We sat through 120 minutes of dirge where even the marvellous Hagi was smothered by Jack’s cynical tactics. The atmosphere was the poorest of the five matches we played at Italia ’90, until the last 5 minutes that is. It always looked like going to penalties. I’m not sure whether the relief at the end was more due to the fact that we hadn’t lost or that the 120 minutes of “football” we had endured was over.
The rest is history – 0-1, 1-1, 1-2, 2-2, 2-3, 3-3, 3-4, 4-4……Timofte’s short angled run up, Packie’s bound to his right, his great hands flapping the ball away, his great jump of joy. But who’s that stepping up next? As a Gooner I knew Dave O’Leary never took penalties (it was normally Dixon). Hell he had only just come on in injury time. This was bad. This was very bad. I was wrong. Delirium ensued.
Palermo June 21st 1990 was good but Genoa June 25th 1990 was better. Italy would beat Uruguay later in the day to qualify to meet Ireland in the quarter finals and so they were also partying like it was 1999. The place was hopping. I recall much jumping in fountains, hugging lots of complete strangers and dancing with them on the streets. I could get used to this continental friendliness.
- Author: Carl Musgrave