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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

My favourite World Cup moment: Gazza's tears at Italia 90

Paul Gascoigne is remembered as the best English player of his generation, but also for the day his emotions came pouring out

Terry Butcher (left) of England consoles team mate Paul Gascoigne after the World Cup semi-final against West Germany at the Delle Alpi Stadium in Turin, Italy. Allsport UK
Terry Butcher (left) of England consoles team mate Paul Gascoigne after the World Cup semi-final against West Germany at the Delle Alpi Stadium in Turin, Italy. Allsport UK

Most children with an interest in football start to get truly tribal about allegiances around the time they hit double figures. Italia 90 at the age of 10 was that moment for me, having tentatively declared myself a Tottenham Hotspur fan three years earlier.

Late 80s/early 90s Spurs weren't a force per se, but they did boast some iconic players during that era. Two of the very best – Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne – were mainstays of England's Italia 90 team and involved in my most memorable World Cup moment.

Lineker's face clownishly contorted as he gestured to the sidelines, pointing to his eye to denote what was happening and asking the bench to “have a word”. Gazza's usually clownishly contorted face instead turned into a damp, ruddy mess of blubbing, as the enormity hit him.

A yellow card for a typically whole-hearted but reckless lunge in the last four grudge match versus Germany had cost him a notional appearance in the final.

Naturally, the kings of penalties ruined it all by winning in the expected manner, yet it might have been the last time that England football fans had a legitimate national swelling of World Cup pride. An English hero, giving his all, letting his emotion hang out, but in such a way that nobody accused him of being a crybaby – we loved him all the more for it. “My bottom lip was like a helicopter pad,” the clown prince of English football later said of the incident, in trademark semi-nonsensical fashion.

Five Spurs players are genuine contenders for the England starting line-up in Russia, including clean-cut captain Harry Kane, one of the few modern-day footballers to seemingly originate from the pages of Roy of the Rovers. Somehow, it's the first time since Italia 90 – a tournament that also saw Emiratis claim their own footballing sense of pride with the UAE’s first (and to date only) appearance at the finals – that I feel like I claim some ownership of my national team as a club fan.

England have never matched their semi-final performance at a World Cup since 1990. Is that Spurs contingent an omen? The English pessimist in me says probably not, but it's about now we all start to wonder “what if? and let our emotions get the better of us – much like Gazza did 28 years ago.

Adam Workman is The National's Motoring editor

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