John Barnes experienced it all at the 1990 World Cup; the highs, the lows, the 'lunacy' of Paul Gascoigne and, of course, ‘World In Motion’.
The forward started England’s first five games at the finals before an injury in the quarter-final against Cameroon cruelly meant he could only watch the semi-final heartbreak against West Germany.
Indeed, Barnes’ story could have been a totally different one. He, rather than David Platt, could have been the hero in the last-16 win over Belgium had he not had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside.
And, here, former Liverpool star Barnes talks us through his Italia ’90 experience from goals to Gazza and rapping to regrets.
It is often forgotten that there was a lot of media pessimism towards the England team before the 1990 World Cup. What was it like to be at the centre of that situation?
“I was used to it, because it was a feature of being an England player back in the 1980s and 1990s. Every time we went to a tournament, there was a lot of negativity surrounding England for a lot of things which went on off the field. It made us stronger, we had good togetherness, good spirit and a never-say-die spirit.”
England fans fondly remember Italia ’90 due to that team spirit. Why do you think the squad as personalities clicked as a group?
“We were very close. I do not think there were the egos there are now. Back then, you had players like Bryan Robson, although he got injured, who was the best player in England but he was just one of the lads. That was the way football was.”
What about the fun and games in England’s time off at the World Cup? What sort of things did you do to socialise during the tournament?
“We had a horse racing evening when Gary Lineker and Peter Shilton were the bookmakers but the most important thing was that we were there to play football. To alleviate the boredom, we had things like the racing day and others as light-hearted relief. But that was not important, as far as I was concerned. You were there to play in a World Cup.”
Paul Gascoigne transcends Italia ’90. How was your experience of having Gazza as a team-mate?
“He was a lunatic! He was always making you laugh by doing crazy things. It was probably not the best preparation to be doing crazy things, jumping out of windows, sneaking out and doing whatever he did but Gazza was a young boy then. Gazza was who he was; he emerged out of that World Cup. Was he one of the main players in the early rounds? No, not necessarily, but he was a happy chap.”
Italia ’90 was Sir Bobby Robson’s last tournament in charge of England. What made him such a great boss?
“He was a fantastic manager, because you wanted to play for him. Not only did he have a respect but he had a real empathy and a love for everybody. He was a lovely man. I do not think managers and players have that relationship anymore. Bobby was just a humble man who wanted you to do well.”
That World Cup as a whole was a very defensive tournament, averaging just 2.21 goals-per-game. As an attacking player, did that make it tough to play?
“When you got the ball, you tried to do what you could but it was difficult. But it is about whether the team wins or not; not whether you are the star of the team. I was part of the team.”
Not many people remember you could have been the hero in the win over Belgium but you had a volley disallowed. Replays showed you were clearly onside when you ‘scored’. Were you disappointed?
“That is probably the most disappointing thing, because I was not offside. But, once again, we got through to the quarter-finals against Cameroon and so I was not disappointed at all. It was a fantastic World Cup.”
How disappointing was it to only be able to watch the semi-final against West Germany after being ruled out through injury?
“It was frustrating. However, I was pleased that we were there. The squad had a real feeling and desire for the team to do well even though some players were on the bench. There was a real squad mentality. Viv Anderson went to two World Cups and never got on the pitch.”
We cannot let you go without asking about ‘World in Motion’, England’s 1990 World Cup song by New Order on which you sang a rap…?
“It helped that the team did well and the nation had an empathy with the team. Everything came together; it was iconic. It was a fantastic song and the relationship the fans had with the England team at that time meant they adopted the song. Even now, people still talk about it. I was on the radio with Ed Sheeran the other day and we did a little rendition of my rap.”
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