To get the juices flowing ahead of England’s adventure in Russia each week in Football Fancast we’re going to be looking back at a unforgettable moment from the Three Lions’ World Cup canon.
This time out we revisit a late, late pluck from the sky that sent a nation into carnage.
He of the smooth gear changes from midfield and a face like a children’s TV puppet. In his seven years as an England player he was always going to pop up with a late winner at some point and be the national hero: his all-action playing style made that inevitable. As it was he waited for the 119th minute of a defining game in a defining tournament.
We are of course back in Italia ’90. Previously Gazza had Cruyff-turned the Dutch and Gary Lineker had pooed on the pitch against the Republic of Ireland but still managed to bundle home a crucial opener. Ahead lay a five-goal thriller against Cameroon in the quarter finals and the Turin tears of a flawed genius. In the here and now was Belgium, maybe not the vintage generation that delighted the 80s but still with Gerets and Scifo. The Red Devils frustrated England for the most part and posed a genuine threat the rest of the time. As a goal-less, tense game bled into extra-time it was destined to go to pens.
Only right at the death England got a free-kick, central and nearly 40 yards out. A dink into the box landed in the vicinity of the Aston Villa midfielder and he pirouetted to hook the ball across goal, confounding a Belgium defence who pretty much remained stationary throughout, perplexed by the oddity of the movement. And as the ball sailed past Preudhomme and rippled the net carnage ensued back home as millions began to believe that something special was possible: hell it was happening before our very eyes.
Platt’s last-gasp decider in the last 16 can be historically viewed as England’s Big Bang. It beckoned in the modern era and closed the door to hooliganism and drab, grey skies. It was quite a moment.
Indeed it was a moment so iconic that it can be broken down into three distinct vignettes each epochal in their own right.
First there was Gazza’s free-kick that he had won himself when a typically marauding run was illegally curtailed by Gerets. Chris Waddle fainted to take it quickly but Bobby Robson’s backroom staff was screaming from the touchline for the delivery to be a floater courtesy of Gascoigne’s magic right boot and thankfully their voices carried. The set-piece is seared into our memories not just because of the delicately dinked chip that landed so perfectly, nor even for the priceless goal it produced. No, if you get chance check out the run up, because that’s where the magic lies. A delicately dinked chip usually necessitates two paces, no more, only here Gazza takes a long approach that brings to mind a fast bowler hurtling down to the crease.
Perhaps this explains why Belgium’s back-line, defending in the final minute of a World Cup knock-out game, was so at sea? They were half expecting a thunder-blast from the lunatic Englishman despite the free-kick being indirect.
Then plucked from the air was the goal itself. It was a masterpiece of improvised unorthodoxy and remains startling to this very day even when you’re fully aware of the punchline. “There wasn’t a great deal of power. It was all technique,” is how Platt himself recalls it and the technique was sublime enough to send it spinning away from Preudhomme’s grasp and into the inside of the side-netting. It was an execution made up of several components and all of them had to be precise. They were.
Seeing the ball nestling in the net sent Platt away to the touchline only to fall to his knees on second thought and he was immediately engulfed by team-mates piling on top. Here we get to the third iconic moment, that of Gary Lineker’s reaction when he reaches the mad scramble.
Turning to celebrate with an onrushing Stuart Pearce he does so entirely with his face, an open, shocked visage of sheer joy that was shared by a nation. He couldn’t believe what he’d just seen and neither could we. A big bang happening right before our very eyes.
A successful tournament secured Platt a move to Bari and with his box-to-box intelligence suiting Serie A to a tee he enjoyed several seasons on the peninsula.
England won the hearts and minds of their public with a thrilling joyride to the semi-finals where Germany awaited to do what Germany do. Regardless, two years before the Premier League formed our attitude towards the beautiful game changed for the better. All thanks to Platty, a pirouette and a volley.