Italia ’90


The Maradona inspired 3-2 win over West Germany was the last World Cup final Granda would see. When I went to visit him in hospital, his face was the same off-yellow colour that his fingers had been for years. Smoking was largely to blame, I suppose, but everybody has to go sometime.

“You’ve got a grand view over the hills fae this place,” Dad said.

But Granda had half-extricated himself from life and was on the verge of leaving the stadium. He knew he was into injury time and was just waiting for the final whistle. There wasn’t a lot more to say so I went outside for some fresh air. Fuck getting old for a laugh. I sparked up a fag and let my youth act as a security blanket against serious illness.

Why worry about it anyway after what had happened to Martin? There were no guarantees. Even the Berlin Wall, that great citadel between east and west, had come down. Dictators were losing power and giving way to new political dawns. Argentina and Chile had democratic governments. Pinochet was out and even Margaret Thatcher, his laissez-faire protégé, was reaching her expiry date.

The world was rapidly changing and football was too. It was all becoming very diluted. People who had thought the game was for hooligans or idiots were sitting up and taking notice. The Three Tenors added some highbrow culture to it all. Nessun dorma, as they say.

The presence of ‘home nations’ was an important part of any World Cup. This time we had Scotland, England and Jackie Charlton’s Republic of Ireland. Roddie Doyle was inspired to write novels based around the latter. Gazza cried and his tears (and the fake tits he wore on the plane home) helped win converts south of the border.

What of Scotland? Well, we were used to it by now. A fifth consecutive World Cup and yet another first round exit. For Costa Rica, see Peru. It was supposed to be another Spanish-speaking football backwater. Terry Yorath had claimed they were little better than a pub team and we were gullible enough to believe him.

I saw the game in the Outer Hebrides. The Central Americans scored, Scotland didn’t, and we were up against it right away as usual. A hard fought win over Sweden followed. We had to match or better Costa Rica’s result against Sweden for a place in the second round. But Scotland were facing the might of Brazil once again.

I soon got a lift after getting off the early morning ferry in Ullapool – from Ally Mac was now driving a van for Fraser’s Fish.

“Me and Aileen have just had a son,” was one of the first things he said.

“Congratulations. How did that come about?”

“I explained that to ya long ago… ya put your penis in the woman’s vagina…”

“Very funny. I meant, I didna realise you were an item.”

“We’ve called the crabbit wee bugger Martin.”

“Nice touch… Ceri still around?

“C. Mapp? Nah moved down south years ago wi some RAF bloke I think…”

“The one that got away…”

“You’re one to talk,” said Ally. “You’re impossible to pin down.”

He pulled into a lay-by near Garve for a spliff. I promised I’d buy him a pint to wet the bairn’s head when we got to Inverness. It was a relief to finally get out at the Longman without throwing up. The stench of mackerel and whiting, along with the blow, made me feel queasy. I began to feel better after a couple of pints in the Gellions. I said goodbye to Ally and asked him to pass on my regards to Aileen.

“See ya in another five years then,” he said with a wink.

I picked up bits and pieces of the match on the Citylink bus south. The reception was fuzzy, but I could make out that Costa Rica were struggling and Scotland were holding Brazil late in the game. With ten minutes to go, the interference made it impossible to follow what was going on. So I listened to Killer by Adamski and Seal on my Walkman instead.

On arrival in Glasgow, I went directly to a pub in Buchanan Street to find that Jim Leighton had spilled a shot from Alemao, allowing Muller to score for Brazil. Costa Rica had scored late on to beat Sweden in any case. It wasn’t much consolation that the agony and frustration would only have been worse if we’d held out for a draw.

The tournament was won by the reunified Germany. Andreas Brehme scored the only goal from the spot with five minutes to go. Two Argentinians were sent off in the worst World Cup final I’d ever seen.

Extract from Countries of the World © 2011 Steven Porter/Breogan Books

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