Turning the clock back exactly 25 years in the latest of our recollections of Italia ’90, we recall one of the most joyful moments for any England fan – David Platt’s dramatic and perfectly executed last minute winner against Belgium.
June 26, 1990 was a tense and long night in Bologna. The Belgians, with the dynamic Enzo Scifo pulling the strings, had been unfortunate not to forge ahead as both Jan Ceulemans and Scifo – with a stunning effort – were denied by the woodwork. But the luck was not totally on England’s side, as John Barnes had been flagged offside when he put the ball in the net during the first half despite TV footage suggesting it should have stood.
England captain Bryan Robson had flown home injured, with Steve McMahon having stepped into the combative midfield role. But after 71 minutes McMahon was taken off, with David Platt brought on. The fresh legs offered by Platt and fellow substitute Steve Bull proved welcome as the match meandered into extra-time. That had brought no change to the score, as the clock passed the 118 minute mark. Then Paul Gascoigne used up one last surge of energy to go on a run into the Belgian half and earn a free-kick after being fouled.
As Gascoigne lined up to take it, Bobby Robson hollered at him to get it into the box rather than trying to do anything fancy. He lofted it into a crowded penalty area and it reached Platt, who had just remained onside. He brilliantly swiveled to volley the ball past Michel Preud’homme. Platt had managed to correctly follow the flight of the ball and time his connection just perfectly. It was a goal of quality and equally one of real joy for England.
“And England have done it in the last minute of extra-time,” proclaimed BBC commentator John Motson – words that were fairly obvious but fitted perfectly. His ITV counterpart Brian Moore was hailing the “fantastic finale”, as England spared themselves the agony of a penalty-shoot-out. It certainly wasn’t a bad time for Platt to net his first England goal.
Suddenly, there were scenes of sheer joy. Platt sank to his knees and was being mobbed by most of his team-mates, with Gary Lineker looking particularly delirious. Bobby Robson danced a little jig on the touchline, knowing he had at the very least matched his achievement of four years earlier of leading England into the last eight of the World Cup. After the final whistle sounded a minute or so later, the party was in full swing and there was the memorable sight of Terry Butcher and Chris Waddle dancing (mimicked in plenty of school playgrounds the following day) as “let’s all have a disco” rang out. Sadly for Platt, he was whisked away from the party and taken for a drugs test as he endured the customary long wait to be able to give a sample.
“Don’t get me wrong, the goal wasn’t a fluke. I had an eye for getting on the end of that sort of ball and the technical ability to finish those chances off. I worked hard on practising overhead kicks and volleys in training at Aston Villa but, even so, if I had re-enacted that chance against Belgium 10 times in training the next day there’s a very good chance I wouldn’t have scored once from it. It was just one of life’s rare, perfect moments.” David Platt in an excellent interview with The Guardian in 2010.
Platt’s rise to prominence was particularly impressive. In 1986 he had found himself surplus to requirements at Manchester United and dropped into the Fourth Division with Crewe Alexandra, where he thrived before moving to Aston Villa two years later. His form with Villa early in the 1989-90 season brought a first England cap against Italy in November 1989 and he never looked back. Although he had gone into Italia ’90 on the fringes, the goal against Belgium thrust the 24-year-old into the spotlight. He started the next game against Cameroon and opened the scoring, before netting in the penalty-shoot-out against West Germany and then heading home in the third place play-off against Italy. He could return home as one of England’s leading success stories. The tournament had made the Italian public aware of Platt and he would spend several years playing there from 1991 with Bari, Juventus and Sampdoria. Platt continued to be a regular for his country until 1996, proving a natural successor to Bryan Robson as a goal scoring midfielder and often being England’s main marksman during the early 1990s.
But had Platt not scored against Belgium, then who knows how things would have panned out? Had they lost on penalties then one suspects Italia ’90 would not be as fondly remembered in England as it is. Bobby Robson would not have bowed out a hero and Paul Gascoigne would almost certainly not have been voted Sports Personality of the Year. There would have been no dramatic win over Cameroon and no tears from Gazza against West Germany. Platt’s goal was the moment that World Cup sprung to life for England, not unlike Bobby Charlton’s goal against Mexico in 1966 or Gascoigne’s against Scotland in Euro ’96. It was a special moment for both the player and the country.
Critics may argue England may have been a bit lucky to win on the balance of play. But Robson’s men had also made their own luck and Platt’s goal was anything but lucky.