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World Cup memories: 1990

This is the latest in my series of World Cup recollections. They’re turning out to be a snapshot of what I was up to at 4-yearly intervals. Italia ’90 strikes me as a feel good tournament for many nationalities; English, Irish, even the Scots, though apparently it is “widely regarded as one of the poorest World Cups ever” because of its low goal tally and negative tactics. But it’s not really the goals we cherish in our memories, it’s the emotions we went through, isn’t it?

Having finished my Edinburgh student days in 1989, I was now living back in Belfast and working at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery in Musgrave Park Hospital of all places: a computer programmer researching the diagnostic potential of knee vibrations. Clickity, clickity. After the memory loss of the student days, my recall of events from 1990 is much clearer.

The Republic of Ireland were grouped with England, the Netherlands and Egypt. They qualified in second place with 3 hard fought draws and faced Romania in the Round of 16.

Scotland had Brazil, Sweden and Costa Rica in their group and despite a victory over Sweden, they were the days when you only got 2 points for a win, so it wasn’t enough for the Scots to break their hoodoo on qualifying past the group stage.

The Romania vs Ireland match must have been a teatime kickoff on a weekday as I watched it with work colleagues in the hospital at the end of the working day on a little portable telly. A few cans were consumed and many nails were bitten as the teams played out a pretty turgid 0-0 draw ending in penalties. “A nation holds its breathe….” and the rest is history. What a euphoric high!

I think we headed down the Lisburn Road at that point and partied at Joe Murphy’s house. (Joe it would be great to hear from you again after all these years, if you happen to chance upon this article with your name in it!) Not everyone up and down the Lisburn Road was celebrating of course, but most people were happy.

We dared to dream in the quarter-final that we could beat Italy, but we were undone by a single Schillaci goal. (Ray Houghton would get our revenge in 4 years time.) Watching that match was a very memorable occasion. Pat Catney ran the Kitchen Bar (now completely rebuilt and unrecognisable) in central Belfast, but at the time a favourite venue of mine for a bit of music on a Friday night. He put on a fabulous evening for the match with Pavarotti and spag-bol before the match and a session of tunes and songs afterwards. It was well known as a strictly “mixed” bar, so a few customers were enthusiastically supporting Italy to square things with their own political sensibilities.