italia 90 week

'We watched the Italy game on a big screen at my sister's wedding reception'

Our writers remember Italia 90.

Republic of Ireland fans James Meehan / INPHO Fans watch Ireland versus England at Italia 90 in Toners Bar in Dublin. James Meehan / INPHO / INPHO

Paul Dollery

When my father arrived home with a couple of brand new Ireland jerseys — one each for my older brother and myself — some time during the spring of 1990, I began to realise that this Italia 90 thing was going to be a big deal. We usually had to wait for Christmas or a birthday before getting a new jersey.

I was too young to be able to recall the tournament in its entirety, but my memory has held on to a few things that stand out clearly. It goes back as far as the qualifiers and a big win at Lansdowne Road. I didn’t watch the game but my brother told me afterwards that Ireland were close to qualifying for the World Cup after beating Spain 1-0 thanks to an own goal from a player called Michel. Slightly confused, I remember thinking: Well, no wonder we beat them if they’ve got girls on their team.

Bizarrely, my recollections of the Egypt game are clearer than any other. It seemed to go on forever and my father must have set a world record for the number of expletives uttered by a human being in 90 minutes. Again, it’s odd that I can’t seem to remember much about the penalty shootout against Romania, but afterwards I struggled to understand how Ireland had apparently become one of the eight best teams in the world without winning a match.

I was devastated after we went out against Italy. I took my football out to the back garden and replayed the game myself. Ireland won, of course — probably something close to 17-0 — and Toto Schillaci was sent off in the first minute.

Salvatore Schillaci 30/6/1990 Billy Stickland / INPHO Italy striker Toto Schillaci celebrates the goal which eliminated Ireland. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Cianan Brennan

My recollection is that the weather was glorious in Ireland throughout Italia 90, and me and my mates would be out trying the latest from Schilacci, Baggio and Matthaus after every game… but that could be rose-tinted spectacles!

I missed the Egypt game as I was with my folks at Croke Park seeing Offaly destroy Kilkenny in the Leinster hurling semi-final. But I remember watching the aftermath of the 0-0 draw in my sister’s house in Drumcondra, and not understanding how Ireland hadn’t won. They were the team we were supposed to beat! The pen-throwing incident in the RTÉ studios stands out also. To be fair to Eamon Dunphy, he called out Ireland’s style under Charlton long before it was fashionable to do so.

The game against Italy was something very different. My family is Meath GAA mad, and at the time (God be with the days!) Meath were in the All-Ireland series almost every year. My sister was getting married that summer and she knew she had to have it on a date when Meath — absolutely, definitely — wouldn’t be playing. Or else my father might not show up. Seriously.

So she chose Saturday, 30 June… and Ireland qualified for the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time. Sod’s law. The poor girl and her new husband put the whole thing on a big screen at the reception. Everyone went quiet as mice for two hours as we watched Ireland go out to the hosts who, to be honest, were a far, far more attractive team.

It wasn’t as much craic when we were gone and, as a spectacle, USA ’94 four years later beat it hands down. But it was a fun summer when we thought Ireland might actually win the World Cup without scoring a goal!

Christina Finn

I was six-years-old when all the excitement around Italia 90 was happening. At that age, I wasn’t entirely sure what it was all about, but I knew it was a big deal. My brother Conor, four years my elder, and a massive football fan, thought it was the biggest event in his life and I think that pretty much rubbed off on me too. My mum and dad had us kitted out in all the gear and I remember there being such a great buzz at the time.

The summer of 1990 clearly had some legs, as in October I queued up to meet the main man himself, Jack Charlton, at Dubray Book Shop in Bray. I was so excited to meet him that I drew him a special picture of Ireland playing in a match. Charlton said he thought it was great, but there was one problem with it: I had drawn the ball going into the Irish goal. Whoops!

I’ve held on to the book ever since.

Big Jack Book

Thomas Fanning

I was fascinated by Eamon Dunphy’s analysis after the Egypt game. I commented to my dad that it was “cool” how Dunphy drew all over the replay on the screen to highlight the lack of support around the player with the ball. Within days, posters went up condemning him; my uncle even had one up in his house. After seeing the posters I felt guilty for enjoying Dunphy’s rant. For years I held a bias against Dunphy as a result.

I watched the Netherlands game in my friend’s house. Ireland were one down when England went ahead against Egypt. His older sister got us chanting “Ire-Gypt! Ire-Gypyt! Ire-Gypt!”, but it didn’t work. My friend’s granny then took out her rosary beads and started praying. Within a minute we scored the equaliser.

On another day my friends and I were in our local park with a giant green elephant. We walked up to strangers and asked them to support Ireland by shaking the elephant’s trunk, but one person didn’t stop to show their patriotism. It was a girl in her late teens who said “I support myself” and kept walking. We were all disgusted, and I remember my friend saying “Who’d be up for her?”

Packie Bonner was my hero and I felt he was short-changed after the penalty shootout against Romania when all the players mobbed David O’Leary. In my head it was harder to save a penalty than to score one, so why weren’t all the players jumping on Packie instead? On my bedroom wall for years later was a massive poster of the famous save, captioned: “Packie saves at Permanent TSB”.

I was only seven at the time so it’s hard to know for sure, but it really did feel like a special time. There was a buzz about the country that I’ve never experienced since. Almost everyone seemed to be caught up in it. Years later I was surprised to learn that Italia 90 is considered a low-point for international football. If the rest of the world was watching I can only imagine what they were thinking; an entire nation losing the run of themselves over a team that drew four games in a row.

Packie Bonner and David O'Leary before the penalty shootout in Genoa Billy Stickland / INPHO Packie Bonner receives some words of encouragement from David O'Leary before the shootout with Romania. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Sinéad Casey

I was in the US during Italia 90 myself, but I do remember lots of stories and my husband was actually over in Italy for it. He remembers lots of baaing like sheep in pens when they were being shuffled around by scary Italian police, who were convinced there was going to be trouble with the fans — although apparently they did lighten up as the tournament went on.

There’s also quite a famous story about the brickies in Palermo. The pubs were closed because — again — the police were expecting trouble. The Irish lads had nothing to do a result, so when they came across a building site where the Italian builders were taking a break, the Irish lads started laying the bricks. When the Italian lads came back and found their work had been done, they took the Irish fans out on the lash and lifelong friends were made.

Jackie Cahill

One of my colleagues at The42 suggested that I was in a good position to reflect upon Italia 90 because of my age (I’m nearly 39, thanks Fintan). I was 13 at the time and my abiding memory is obviously the penalty shoot-out against Romania. I have more sketchy memories of the group games but I do remember Kevin Sheedy’s bullet against England, Niall Quinn’s priceless equaliser in the Holland match and the furore surrounding the goalless draw with Egypt.

Romania was the big one and we watched it in our sitting room at home. My mother, two brothers and sister were there as I recall, and while we were far removed from the madness of O’Connell Street in Dublin and the various cities and towns around the country, it was still one hell of a buzz in our house in West Tipperary. We bowed out against Italy in the quarter-finals and I watched that game at my oldest childhood friend Iver’s house — one of the lads who stood with me on my wedding day last year. God, I do feel old now!

Kevin Sheedy 1990 Billy Stickland / INPHO Who put the ball in the English net? Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Steve O’Rourke

One of the most shocking things about growing old is that important life events — births, weddings, global football tournaments — happen further and further into your past, even if your memories of them feel as if they were created yesterday. My earliest football memory, full-stop, is Mexico 86 and the giant shadow of a spider that haunted my dreams for months. So, by the time Italia 90 rolled around, I was a virtual World Cup veteran, even if I was still some weeks short of my eighth birthday.

As a goalkeeper myself, Packie Bonner’s strategic pass (okay, hoofed long-ball) for Kevin Sheedy’s goal against England and, of course, his penalty save, were my two abiding memories of the tournament. However, that save also saw me barred from one of the many pubs in Monasterevin after the dyed-in-the-wool-no-to-foreign-games-GAA-supporting barman decided he didn’t like my Fanta-fuelled jig on on the bar after Timofte bottled it. Afterwards, walking through the town was like nothing I’d ever experienced, with cars draped in flags and bodies (live ones, though very, very drunk) driving around town, beeping as if the parish had won both the football and hurling championships.

Happy days indeed.


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