Italia 90 in off-colour quotes (warning: contains national stereotyping)

It was a different world, from overtly sexist ads in media to shamelessly bigoted punditry

Diego Maradona of Argentina walking on the pitch to face Cameroon match at the 1990 World Cup in Milan. Photograph: Allsport

"Maradona and 10 others."
Argentina coach Carlos Bilardo on being asked before the tournament to name his preferred starting 11. That would have done heaps for the self-esteem of Diego's colleagues.

Number: 13
That's how many weeks Put 'Em Under Pressure spent on top of the Irish charts in 1990, finally being dethroned by the seminal Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.

One for the ladies
For some of us, 1990 seems like, oh, only 18 months go, so when we had a dig through the Italia 90 archives we didn't expect to find a world much different to the one we currently reside in. Imagine our befuddlement, then, when we spotted a World Cup ad in a national newspaper that read:

“While he’s glued to the box, you can score with Ariston at Power City.” This is accompanied by deals for a washing machine, dishwasher, microwave and fridge freezer and an image of a stiletto heel atop a football.


God almighty.

(Which national newspaper carried this outrageously offensive ad? Eh, The Irish Times).

Word of mouth
"You'll be humming it soon."

Des Lynam on the BBC’s Italia 90 theme tune, Nessun Dorma. We’ve been humming it ever since.

Tune: Luciano Pavarotti. Photograph: Online USA, Inc

Out of harmony
"They do not judge Pavarotti by how he sings in the shower, they wait until he is on the stage."

Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker on being asked ahead of the tournament if his much-fancied side could win the World Cup. In the end they were a bit tuneless, being eliminated by West Germany in their first knock-out match.

Brutal Bruno
"Look how many slit-eyed fellows there are working those cameras behind the goal!"

Italian commentator Bruno Pizzul, during the hosts' opening game against Austria, on spotting a group of Asian photographers at the match. Jesus? Wept.

Denmark FTW
The World Cup pundit who did the least amount of homework in the build-up to the tournament: we'll go with Paolo Rossi, the man who helped Italy win the World Cup in 1982 with his six goals.

Asked to pick his favourites to triumph in 1990 he, not too surprisingly, picked Italy, as well as the Netherlands and Brazil. And his "dark horse" choice? Denmark.

Now, in fairness to Rossi, the Danes were more than useful at that time, their team including the likes of the Laudrup brothers, Michael and Brian, Peter Schmeichel, Jan Molby, Henrik Larsen and Lars Olsen, and it was only two years later that they won the European Championships when they were a late replacement for Yugoslavia.

The problem with tipping them for Italia 90, though?

They didn’t qualify.

Cocaine and witch doctors
Mercifully, there was an absence of national stereotyping at the 1990 World Cup, the media being especially respectful towards the non-European teams competing in the tournament.


How did the Colombians fare? "I am sick to death about everyone going on about cocaine," said midfielder Bernardo Redin. "We are footballers, not drug pushers! Why can't people talk about our football?!"

Cameroon? “We hate it when European reporters ask if we eat monkeys and have a witch doctor,” sighed striker François Omam-Biyik.

The United Arab Emirates? Well, Italian channel RAI delivered a camel to their hotel in Imola to "make them feel more at home".

Apart from that, everyone was perfectly enlightened.

American scholars
There was a large American delegation in Italy for the 1990 World Cup as part of their preparations for hosting the tournament four years later, and unfortunately they were greeted with quite a bit of European snobbery about their familiarity with the game of association football.

This, of course, was unfair because you can be sure every member of that delegation had brushed up on their footballing knowledge before heading to Italy.

Hold it.

Reporter: “What’s your opinion of Diego Maradona?”

Mayor of Dallas Annette Strauss: "What does he do?"

Did he actually just say that?

Yes he did: Geoff Hurst. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty

The retrospective Did He Actually Just Say That? award for Italia 90 TV punditry goes to Geoff Hurst, who appeared on the BBC during the tournament.

On one occasion he turned up alongside Garth Crooks to have a chat with host Bob Wilson about the nations most likely to triumph in Italy, his belief being that only West Germany were capable of beating the hosts on their home patch.

Lest he be regarded as unpatriotic, though, he quickly added that he wouldn’t rule out England’s hopes of emulating what he and his buddies had done in 1966.

“That’s the n****r in the woodpile,” he said, “our own little nation has got a great chance.”

And neither he, nor Bob, nor Garth blinked.