Interviews

Gary Lineker on Italia 90: "Really, it boiled down to Germany being jammy"

Gary Lineker

The Golden Boot winner tells FFT that he doesn't mind not breaking England's all-time goalscoring record – his one regret is that the Three Lions didn’t go all the way in Italy

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England topped Group F but only won one game. Did that worry you? 
You’re just happy to reach the knockouts. It’s simpler then – you need to win and your opponents do too. Belgium were very tough in the last 16. Platty’s goal was unbelievable... sensational.

What do you remember about Cameroon?
We were 2-1 down, so to get and score two penalties was amazing. I got clipped and I thought: “My God, a penalty!” We hadn’t had one for four years! Platty said “If you don’t fancy it, I’ll take it”. I thought, “Bollocks to that, I can’t bottle it”. I was massively relieved when it went in. I was thinking how the press would have slaughtered me if we’d gone out and I’d missed.

I always practised the same penalty over and over the week before in case I got one, and I hit that same one. Before the Cameroon game, when a lot of the press were at training, I deliberately practised a penalty I wouldn’t take. And the Cameroon goalkeeper went exactly that direction!

Did England, as Platt says, not expect to beat West Germany?
People talk about the German winning mentality, but I don’t buy that as the reason we lost. They were a very, very strong side; so were we. They got lucky on the day; we didn’t.

We were exhausted. Even on the morning of the game, my legs felt almost gone. We’d had extra-time against Belgium and Cameroon, and West Germany had an extra day off. Physically we’d been running on empty. Despite all that, we did enough to win. Their goal was flukey. If that chance had gone in off the inside of the post in injury time, we’d have been in the final. Really, it boils down to them being jammy.

What do you remember about your equaliser?
To do something that crucial on that stage was incredible. As it turned out, we lost, but at that moment it felt huge... wonderful.

Did you think Gazza should have been substituted after the booking?
I get asked this question more than anything else ever. I didn’t want Bobby to take Gazza off, I just wanted him to keep an eye on him. We needed him on the pitch.

How did you feel when it went to penalties?
I thought we’d win. We were strong at penalties. But theirs were all perfect. During the tournament, Peter Shilton and I noticed how many penalties went down the middle. We said: “Why doesn’t the keeper wait and see? If the ball goes anywhere near him, he can save it.” Shilton decided that if we got to a shootout, he’d stay on his feet. And every German penalty went in the corners!

How did the players console Waddle and Pearce?
You put an arm around their shoulder but they don’t know you’re there. You can’t say “It’s your fault, you prick!”. It wouldn’t be the right moment...

In your documentary with Bobby Robson he holds up thumb and finger a centimetre apart and sighs: “We were this close, Gary, this close...”
It’s the one thing Bobby and I would look back on and regret. It still rankles. I don’t care about Bobby Charlton’s scoring record, but we were within a whisker of a World Cup final. We’d have won it too. Argentina were shot.

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