The Moment You Fall In Love

 

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They say you always remember the moment you fell in love.

For me, when it comes to football, that specific moment arrived during the beautiful summer of Italia 90.

I was interested in football, I’d been to a whole host of Newcastle United games from the age of five and I watched my Dad play on Saturday lunchtimes and I played for my First School.

But it hadn’t captured my full attention, it was an interest, not an all-consuming passion.

Not yet anyway.

It hadn’t enveloped me and stoked the fires as the game can now.

That moment arrived on a balmy Saturday night in mid-June as England looked to shrug off their underwhelming draw against the Republic of Ireland.

The Dutch were their next opponents, one of the tournament favourites no less.

The silk and steel of Gullit, the craft and intelligence of Rijkaard, the deadly finishing of Van Basten.

They were to be feared.

But it was not any one of that Dutch triumvirate that made me realise just how wonderful football can be.

It was one of our own.

For a Geordie, it was literally one of our own.

England had been in control for large parts of the game, despite being viewed as underdogs.

A tactical shift from Bobby Robson had paid dividends and their back three – with Mark Wright acting as a sweeper – had freed up the more creative players.

One player benefitted more than most – Paul Gascoigne.

Robson had, perhaps unwittingly but more likely through careful planning and analysis, unlocked the genius of England’s most naturally talented player.

A player that Robson loved, cherished and adored but who cleared frustrated him.

He once complained that England needed two balls on the pitch, one for Gazza and one for the rest of the team.

Photo from Stu-2
Tears in Turin

On that night, against the Dutch, Gazza was so good that he would have taken control of both balls (no Vinnie Jones jokes please!) and kept them away from any Dutch player that had the audacity to try and take them away.

That night, he glided around the pitch, floating past players with ease.

Deft touches, ambitious flicks, long-range passes.

If they got in his way, he simply showed the other side of his game and bulldozed his way past them.

Everything was working.

He teased, tormented and tussled with Dutch defenders.

England were coming alive and a nation was slowing falling in love with their national team and quickly falling head over heels with a young Geordie.

Then, in the second-half, Gazza raced on to a hopeful long pass from Terry Butcher.

He was closed down by Ronald Koeman as the ball rolled towards the byline.

Another defender came to help Koeman but Gazza turned between the two players and fired a wicked cross through the six-yard box and beyond the desperate kings of Gary Lineker.

The turn had me mesmerised.

It was, of course, the Cryuff turn and Gazza, our Gazza, has the nerve and the confidence to use it against the Dutch.

It was magical, it was mesmeric, it was Gazza.

That was it. I was hooked. I fell in love with the game and I became obsessed with replicating what I had witnessed.

Gazza was my idol, I wanted to play like him and see the passes he saw, score the goals he scored, pull off the turns and flicks he managed to produce.

As we now know, this genius, as many do, had a fragility about him.

He had his flaws, his demons, his dark moments.

He has done some terrible things in his life, they cannot be ignored.

But he has also battled through some horrendous experiences from childhood to the present day.

One does not excuse the other.

He is a complicated soul but throughout his career he gave English football, no make that the world of football, some of its most beautiful moments.

That goal against Scotland at Euro 96, his free-kick for Spurs in the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal, a rare header to notch his first Lazio goal against their bitter rivals Roma.

There are more, unlike regrets, too few to mention.

For me, whatever the future holds for Gazza, he will always be the man that made me fall in love with football on a balmy Saturday night in June 1990.

For that, I will be eternally grateful.

WORDS: @MarkCarruthers_

ART: @DarrenJohnMont

VIDEO: @WeAreHFR

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