thu 18/04/2024

One Night in Turin | reviews, news & interviews

One Night in Turin

One Night in Turin

Gazza Agonistes: Italia 90 explained on film

It all ended in tears: 'One Night in Turin' unpacks the semiotics of a semi-final

Why make a documentary about Italia 90? It’s just another tournament that England didn’t win, isn't it? If the World Cup hosted by Italy in 1990 deserves exhumation, it’s for its trickle-down impact on football as we live and breathe it now. Hence the subtitle that won't make it onto the billboard outside cinemas: The Inside Story of a World Cup that Changed Our Footballing Nation Forever.

This is the film of the book of the tournament which has a lot to answer for. Gazza cried, Pavarotti opened his lungs, and football became irreversibly commoditised. Attending as a reporter for the freshly created Independent on Sunday, I still vividly recall, from the very first game in Milan, being in the press room at the San Siro. “This is a money town,” sneered one cynical old-school hack. “It’s not a football town.” He couldn't have guessed from exactly how great a height all that television money was about to drop.

The press dubbed hooliganism the English Disease (not to be confused, of course, with le vice anglais)

In All Played Out the author Pete Davies went to Sardinia with the England team, the England press pack and the England fans, embedded somewhere between the three of them. For different reasons they all had a World Cup to remember, and Davies’s kinetic, furious, lyrical, sarky and completely uncut style yielded a compelling blow-by-blow account. Published with commendable haste, it was a game-changer for football literature. The earthy flavours of Davies’s prose now supply the narrative for One Night in Turin. Read with relish by Gary Oldman, they weave together the strands of a narrative which has a distinctive arc.

News of the revolution had yet to filter through to some England fans. The press dubbed hooliganism the English Disease (not to be confused, of course, with le vice anglais). But this new dispensation was part of a wider sweep of English footballing history. All those deaths at Bradford, Heysel and Hillsborough in the 1980s obliged the sport to modernise its stadia and its attitudes to crowd control. However, that spirit of reinvention did slowly wend its way out onto the pitch, where the yeoman's traditional long ball - hoof and hope - was kicked into touch in favour of dynamic, thoughtful playing patterns typified by Manchester United and, to everyone's surprise, the England football team which flew back from Italy to a grand civic welcome in, er, Luton.

That no one expected much from a squad labelled “donkeys” – Shilts the keeper was 40 and Captain Marvel more or less lived on a stretcher – is well told in One Night in Turin. Nor was there much residual faith in Bobby Robson, who thanks to a certain Hand of God had little to show for eight years as manager. And just to make life harder, the press pack were sniffing around for scandal while Mrs Thatcher’s sports minister Colin Moynihan, a bantamweight former Oxbridge cox possibly given to Napoleonic little-man syndrome, had advised the Italian paramilitaries to be extremely firm with England’s miscreant supporters. In this they were more than happy to oblige, with maximum lack of discrimination between the feral stone-throwers and lowlife glass-chuckers on the one hand, and the decent pie-eating majority on the other: batter, gas and deport first, ask questions later.

GazzaMeanwhile, out on the pitch, the opener against Ireland took its aesthetic cue from the uglier elements of the national fanbase. A botched malformity, it is hideous to revisit in footage and photographs. I remember the reaction of the Italia 90 hostess in my hotel in Palermo. She knew nothing about football but even she could tell it was brutto: ugly. “The ball was always in the air,” she said, baffled. National embarrassment beckoned. I flew to report on the second game in Sardinia, when Robson surprised everyone, including no doubt himself, by introducing a sweeper system with which none of his players was familiar. We duly thrashed Holland 0-0 (pictured above). England’s unlikely saviour in this and subsequent games was a short fat lad from Newcastle, fatally ill-disciplined, over-emotional and still wet behind the ears. But hey, such failings never stopped Maradona.

It’s impossible to banish hindsight from an experience of this film. Just as the once ridiculed Robson has since been more or less beatified, Gascoigne could not know that those few weeks in Italy would represent the peak of his life. When a German got him infamously yellow-carded and banned from a place in the final, and the cameras caught him welling up, his finest hour was already behind him. He was too distraught to take one of those penalties. "You've got your life ahead of you," Robson consoled him in the middle of the pitch - captions spell out the barely audible words. "This is your first." It was his last. You know the rest.

I saw England lose to West Germany in the company of old friends, retired teachers living in southern Tuscany. It was a long way from Turin in every sense. They had a relative staying, a priest, who commentated on the entire game despite knowing nothing about football, and caring less. So I sort of missed the drama of Gazza’s meltdown. It’s well retold here. As for the penalty, before the game Waddle had cut off his famous mullet, apparently unaided by some Teutonic Delilah. You still watch it hoping he'll score. Without giving anything away, he doesn’t.

Do you need to see One Night in Turin? Directed by James Erskine, it consists mainly of archive news clips and cheap reconstructions between well-edited clips from the games themselves. So not necessarily in the cinema, which is why it’s on nationwide release for one night only, and then on 31 May goes straight to DVD (while All Played Out has been reissued as One Night in Turin). And there's also no need to bother if you’re under 30. That's the thing about tales of sporting glory from before your time. Just as it's hard to get too enthused about 1966 and all that if (like me) you were one, Italia 90 will mean little to football's youth demographic. Other people's nostalgia is like other people's dreams: thanks for sharing, but no thanks.

Kenneth Clarke on Moynihan, by the way: “He’s going to go very much further in politics.” The little chap’s not been heard of since. Meanwhile I’m still waiting for football to eat itself.

  • Jasper Rees is the author of Wenger (Short Books)
You still watch it hoping he'll score. Without giving anything away, he doesn’t

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters