Paul Parker: Italia 90 reception changed my life – but it’s different now
Paul Parker takes a trip down memory lane to recall the euphoria surrounding England’s return from Italia 90 – but says it is unlikely to have the same transformative effect on Gareth Southgate’s side.
It was July 1990. We were returning from Italy after bowing out in the World Cup semi-finals to West Germany. As far as we were concerned, we had just lost to our biggest rivals. But word started spreading around the plane: ‘Luton Airport is crammed with people’.
What was the commotion about? Was a huge star on a flight behind us? That was what everyone was thinking. We honestly didn’t know how much of an impact we had made at Italia 90, and it was only when people started cheering that it suddenly clicked that they were there for us. Thousands upon thousands of people. It took all of us by surprise – even the likes of Bryan Robson, John Barnes and Gary Lineker.
I eventually made it back home, only to discover my cul-de-sac in Wokingham had been turned into a street party. I hadn’t even lived there long, but 40-50 people lined the pavements, people I had previously only waved at, except my immediate neighbours. It was quite emotional to see everyone making such an effort.
The next few days were manic. I got recognised everywhere I went. My presence caused places to shut down – whether it was tills in supermarkets or pumps in petrol stations – as people asked me for autographs. Fans even ushered me inside their homes for photos.
No one knew my face prior to Italia 90. I headed to the World Cup as a QPR player; I returned an England player. It transformed my life and I’m still seeing the impact 28 years on.
It’s different now.
While the wider population may have been unfamiliar with the likes of Harry Maguire and Jordan Pickford prior to Russia 2018, they would have been far more recognisable than me. In the age of Premier League football – when players’ images are pumped out whether they perform good, bad or indifferent – even the non-starters in Gareth Southgate’s squad would have enjoyed more limelight than Lineker and Barnes ever did.
The players know the impact they have made, thanks to social media and a more engaged press. They can expect a hero’s welcome like 1990 – only it will not have the same transformative effect as football is so big now. The players already sign autographs. They are already known by football fans, despite achieving little.
It doesn’t mean they can’t use it a springboard. The majority of Southgate’s squad were probably happy playing first-team football before the World Cup. Now they’re going to realise they can aim higher. There will be a healthy amount of respect from fans when, say, Harry Kane goes to Old Trafford or John Stones visits Anfield. Everyone – bar their most direct rivals – will have a little spot for them given what they’ve done for the country.
But while England overachieved, we can’t avoid the fact that we only played one good team. For 35 minutes, we dominated them and should have added a second goal, but Croatia became stronger and ultimately outperformed us in our only serious test.
Not that the squad should feel too devastated. Only Ashley Young, Jamie Vardy and Gary Cahill don’t stand a chance of being involved in another World Cup due to their advancing years. The rest of this squad has another opportunity – and they will be better in four years’ time.
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