• England star broke down after costly yellow card in 1990 semi-final
  • Gascoigne: “They were the best times for me and I didn’t want them to end”
  • The talented midfielder, then 23, never played another World Cup match

“When things are good and I can see they’re about to end, I get scared - really scared. I couldn’t help but cry that night.”

Paul Gascoigne’s tears became one of the defining images of Italy 1990. Along with his exhilarating performances, they also made him a hero and household name, as England ended that FIFA World Cup™ gripped by ‘Gazzamania’.

The phenomenon reflected that both football and society were changing. As an article in British newspaper The Independent reflected: “Before Paul Gascoigne, did anyone ever become a national hero and a dead-cert millionaire by crying? Fabulous. Weep and the world weeps with you.”

The sobbing had been prompted by a 98th-minute yellow card in England’s epic semi-final defeat to West Germany in Turin. Gascoigne, the Three Lions’ youngest player at the tournament and their star man, knew immediately what that meant. Having already picked up a caution in the last 16 for a foul on Belgium’s Enzo Scifo, he would not be able to play in the Final, if England made it through.

“When I was a young kid playing at my youth club, every night I used to dream about playing football at the World Cup. I lived that dream in Italy,” Gascoigne would later reflect. “When I was shown the yellow card, I knew it had come to an end.”

His manager, Bobby Robson, felt the same sense of desolation. “My heart hit my shoes,” the former England boss said. “Because I realised instantly, that was the final for Paul Gascoigne, out. And that’s a tragedy – for him, me, the team, the country, the whole of football. Because he was so good, and he was superb in that particular match. The bigger the game, the better he got.”

As Gazza’s tears continued to flow after England’s loss on penalties, Robson made a valiant attempt at consolation. “Don't worry,” he told him. “You've been one of the best players in the tournament. You've got your life ahead of you and this is just your first [World Cup].”

Gascoigne had just turned 23 and had the world at his feet. Robson should have been right. The tragedy, of course, is that Italy 1990 was not only Gazza’s first World Cup, but his last – and still represents the peak of a turbulent career.

“I never got the chance to play in another one,” lamented the player himself. “They were the best times for me and I didn’t want them to end. I really thought we were going to win that World Cup. It’s hard to look back because you think, ‘Those were the days’.”

Did you know?
The FIFA World Football Museum’s Italy 1990 exhibit includes a fascinating piece of memorabilia: the yellow card brandished to Gazza by referee Jose Ramiz Wright.