Gazza, Cruyff and the World Cup moment that made me fall in love with football

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One of the most memorable World Cup Finals gave a platform to a football genius.

It seems beyond belief that over three decades have passed since a tournament that is revered after creating a lifetime of memories for England supporters.

As a seven-year-old, I was still very much in the early years of my introduction to football. Just two years earlier I had ventured to St James Park for the first time as I sat on a cold and wet barrier in the famous Gallowgate End as Newcastle United romped to a 5-0 win in an FA Cup fourth round tie against Swindon Town.

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There seems some quirk of fate that one young player that shone in black and white that day would solidify my love of football just over two years later as he made himself a global star at Italia 90. With the benefit of hindsight, it could be considered bizarre that there was some questions asked when Bobby Robson selected a bold and brash Paul Gascoigne as part of his England squad that had been increasingly underfire ahead of the tournament.

He was largely untested at senior international level but there was little doubt over the quality he possessed. He had plenty to learn with Robson often half-joking he needed a ball of his own, such was his frustrating insistence to hold on to possession. I had already witnessed Gazza’s quality prior to his departure from Newcastle as a Magpies board hungry for cash were tempted by a lucrative offer from Tottenham Hotspur.

It could be a fair assumption to say Gazza would not have got as much of a chance at Italia 90 had the influential Bryan Robson not suffered an injury - but he got his chance and boy did he take it! A quite frankly awful opening game ended with a 1-1 draw against the Republic of Ireland but it was England’s second group fixture - and one specific moment - that truly made me fall in love with football.

English football still felt very much about wingers and two strikers, hardworking midfielders and defenders that did just that, defend. But Gazza was different, he has the touch, the power, a capability to do the unthinkable at the drop of a hat - and one of those moments came with impudence against a ridiculously talented Dutch side.

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Blocked in a corner, with little room for manouevre, Gazza produced a Cruyff turn between two bewildered defenders before sending a sumptuous ball across goal that narrowly evaded two of his team-mates inside the six-yard box. The cheek of it, to perform a Cruyff turn against the Dutch of all teams. It was part of a brilliant performance as he went toe-to-toe with the likes of Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard and did not look out of place. If anything, Gazza was outclassing them!

It lit the touch-paper for a brilliant tournament from an increasingly confident young player. There were assists for Mark Wright in the crucial win over Egypt in the final group game and his pinpoint cross found David Platt as he produced a wonderful volley to see off Belgium.

His brilliance came to the fore once again as England came through a major scare in their quarter-final clash with a Cameroon side that will rightly go down in history as one of Africa’s finest. And of course, the semi-final, the tears, the heartbreak, the inevitable defeat against West Germany and a moment that saw Gazza capture the hearts of the nation as he and Bobby Robson shared what always felt like a Father-Son moment in the aftermath of the game.

Gazza - and the rest of the England squad - returned home as heroes, but it was the Geordie that had stole the show. His career, as you will know, suffered many ups and downs, and there were off-field activities that captured the wrong kind of headlines. There is also something heartbreaking about the fact Italia 90 turned out to be his only World Cup Finals.

But for one summer, and with one moment of genius, Paul Gascoigne had made me fall in love with football and for that I will always be grateful.

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