As incredible as it seems, it is now 30 years (4 July) since Sir Bobby’s England team narrowly missed out on reaching the World Cup Final at Italia 90.
That famous night at the Stadio delle Alpi in Turin is still seared into the memories of supporters and the heartbreak, although tempered by nostalgia, still remains. The soundtrack to those recollections, Nessun Dorma, unforgettably sung by Luciano Pavarotti.
Sir Bobby was proud of the fact his team did not lose the semi-final in open play but the nature of the defeat, the drama of the penalty shootout against West Germany, created an abiding sense of loss and of an opportunity missed for the manager, team and fans.
He went on to achieve many great things in football in the years that followed, and Sir Bobby won trophies with clubs across Europe before his emotional homecoming to Newcastle United – but his time with England never left him.
Italia 90 has been the subject of books, television documentaries and films. The exciting players who came to the fore, the back drop of unrest with fans and in the media, the emotion and drama, on and off the pitch, has been relived countless times.
Sir Bobby’s son, Mark, followed England through the group stages of the tournament and was at the semi-final along with his mum, brothers, cousins, uncles and granddad.
This week, he discovered some previously unseen family snaps from the tournament and shared the pics and his memories of Italia 90:
Paul Gascoigne, Mark Robson, Terry Butcher on the beach in Sardinia
Mark says: “It’s strange thinking back to that tournament. I think most people remember Italia 90 very fondly, despite the pain of losing the penalty shootout.
“It was an incredible experience to be out there. Dad was just so, so proud of that squad, proud to work for the FA and proud to be manager.
“At the start of Italia 90, things were pretty bad. There was the backdrop of hooliganism, English teams banned from Europe and a horrible tabloid circulation war. And for dad of course, the press vitriol towards him for getting the job with PSV Eindhoven because he knew his eight years with England were up after the tournament.
“Ultimately though, the team and football as a whole, I think, gained so much more respect by the end of the competition. Things changed as a result of it.
“During the group stages, there were two ‘England’ hotels in Sardinia that were close to each other.
Front row: Tom Robson, John Robson, Mark Robson. Back row: David Dein, Clive Brown, Glen Kirton, Sir Bobby Cagliari Marina, Sardinia.
“When possible, the players’ families stayed in one right on the beach and the team were in another up the hill. On rest days, the players would come down to spend time with their family and enjoy the beach. There was a lovely atmosphere then and there were some great characters in the squad.
“I remember the players’ hotel had a golf course and one day dad invited me to play a round with him. I didn’t have my clubs with me but Wilson had given all the players clubs and a golf bag each and Gazza said he’d lend me his.
“I should have known he’d have done something to them and, when I reached the first green, I realised he taken the flaming putter out. He just couldn’t help himself.
“Gazza was at the top of his game that tournament. Young, friendly and relaxed, he was non-stop, 120 miles an hour every day, and just what the squad needed really. As well as his genius on the pitch, he also helped remove a lot of the tension and pressure that exists at these major competitions.
Terry Butcher and Paul Gascoigne leaving the ‘England’ hotel in Sardinia
“Because there was undoubtedly huge tension at times. The reason England were on the island of Sardinia in the group stages of the tournament was because it was seen as a good way to isolate and counteract the hooligan faction.
“The policy worked well and I don’t remember there being any trouble in Sardinia but going to and from the stadium was very strange because of all the security measures. I remember we were in a hire car and followed the team to the games in a convoy with armed police, the army, helicopters and armoured personnel carriers. It was a very odd way to go to a football match.
“So, there was a lot of stress in the build up to the competition and the tabloid press in particular caused a lot of tension. Fake news was well-established, even then! We know it was all part of a tabloid circulation war at that time but that didn’t make it any easier to take
and it hurt dad and the whole family deeply.
“Gazza’s daftness really helped release the pressure. And I remember John Barnes did much the same, maybe without aiming to. I think John helped the others relax because he seemed so at ease. He made a difference. And Gazza’s pranks and mischief-making made for something different for everyone to focus on.
“The team had a driving (golf) competition one day. John Barnes strolled up, I think not ever having played golf before, and promptly won it. To the amusement of everyone and dad’s utter disbelief.
“Looking back, we now know how much that World Cup, and especially that semi-final, meant to English football. It all helped to change perceptions of football in this country for the better and it’s amazing to know dad was at the heart of that.
“Like all my family, I miss my dad very much. I know he would be happy knowing mum, my brothers and me are so involved with the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. And that his grandchildren have raised funds for it. All the family support it. He’d be very proud of that.”