England 1-1 Ireland, 11 June 1990
England’s much-anticipated clash with Jack Charlton’s Ireland provided the most tepid of spectacles on a rain-soaked night in Sardinia.
There was lots of kicking. And running. Followed by more kicking and running. And England’s best player accidentally had a pooh on the pitch.
As introductions to major tournaments go, this was about as uninspiring as it gets.
England had been purposefully placed on the idyllic island to keep their hooligan element away from the tournament’s mainland. After ninety minutes of utter dross here, you wondered if it might be better to keep the team away too.
They weren’t helped by the conditions. The biblical rainfall made playing through midfield, thereby utilising the talents of Gascoigne, Waddle and Beardsley, all but impossible.
Conversely, passing the ball to a team-mate wasn’t necessarily a pre-occupation for the men in green. To the disgust of many purists, Jack Charlton had sculpted the Republic of Ireland in his own vision. A spit-and-sawdust unit that scrapped for every ball and launched it forward at the earliest opportunity. It had been enough to upset Bobby Robson’s men at the European Championships two years earlier. And enough to negotiate the qualifying stages for their first-ever World Cup appearance.
A team of up-and-under merchants didn’t necessarily fit the criteria for football’s biggest stage. Then again, Jack wasn’t really one for convention. His recruitment policy at Lansdowne Road seemed to consist of ringing every professional footballer in the top two divisions and asking if he fancied a pint of Guinness. It had unearthed some unlikely treasures. Andy Townsend, who sounded like an extra on EastEnders, gleefully discovered his Gaelic heritage. So too did Tony Cascarino, courtesy of his beloved Grandpa’s passport. It later transpired that it wasn’t his real grandfather, of course, but let’s not sweat the small stuff here, fellas.
Nonetheless, it was England who struck first courtesy of Gary Lineker scoring the most Gary Lineker goal ever. The talismanic centre-forward appeared to mis-control a long ball on his chest, only for it to somehow evade the onrushing Packie Bonner and allow him a toe-poke into the empty net.
Things got significantly worse for Lineker later in the game. This time it was bowel, as opposed to ball, control that got him into trouble. Over-stretching in pursuit of another punt downfield, he realised that last night’s ravioli had momentarily escaped his ringpiece.
These are the moments when experience counts. Sensing the need to act quickly before the rogue stool escaped from his underwear into his Umbros, Lineker did the sensible thing: collapsing to the floor in pain.
As the trainer rushed onto the pitch, commentator Brian Moore echoed a nation’s concern about the apparent injury. Could it be muscular? Was it a strain? Had he torn something? Technically he was right on all three counts, I suppose.
To his credit, Lineker persevered and managed to keep the exact truth about his escaping turd a secret for many years afterwards.These days he’s reminded on a daily basis by his detractors on Twitter. He’s every right to feel aggrieved. Paula Radcliffe doesn’t have to deal with this – and she got nowhere near Bobby Charlton’s record. Mind you, she only had a wee.
Back to the game and the second stanza followed the same pattern as the first: plenty of huff and puff, whilst quality was at a premium. As the tension rose, it was predictable that a mistake might be the best source of a goal.
England sub Steve McMahon, brought on to help keep possession and shield the back four, failed spectacularly at both, gifting the ball to Kevin Sheedy 20 yards from goal. One swing of the midfielder’s trusty left peg and the Irish were level.
And so the spoils were shared. Afterwards both managers declared themselves reasonably pleased with the outcome.
Some journalists weren’t so impressed, declaring the match an ugly stain on the World Cup.
If only they knew.
About the author: World Cup Rewind is a series written by Sid Lambert (@sid_lambert), looking back at classic moments from Italia 90, USA 94 and France 98. Sid‘s account is a must-follow for anyone who loves football nostalgia. You might want to check out his book too.