GOLACCCCIO: Remembering Football Italia

Before Italy's reputation was trampled by bunga bunga, high government bond yields and Nancy Dell'Ollio, it's altogether more respectable face was a little something tucked away early on Sunday afternoons, transporting viewers from the living rooms of Wrexham to the terraces of Turin.
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The beauty of Football Italia was its stubborn refusal to be anything other than itself. It was a thinking man's football programme. No tactics truck or fanzone. Just football, much of it really rather dull. And therein lied its charm.

It wasn't all about baldy anchor James Richardson, peerless though he was. There was also the eccentric back three of Luther 'don't call me John' Blissett, Butch Wilkins, Kenneth Wolstenholme and just ahead of them, in a roving free role, Paul Gascoigne who, when he wasn't spraying a garden hose about like it was his own massive dong  gave really rather endearing interviews about how he was missing Jimmy Five Bellies and Newcy Brown.

Gascoigne always wore a slightly beleagured look. Like he didn't quite know how he'd arrived at Lazio, or how long he was supposed to stay. A daft exchange student who'd missed the coach to the airport.

If I were given control of Match of the Day, the first thing I'd do is fill a people carrier full of Shearer, Lineker, Hansen and Lawrenson, drop them off at the nearest golf club, then swing by big Luther's house and reunite team Italia. Match of the Day would be watchable again. I'd even let Gazza bring his fishing rod.

Gascoigne always wore a slightly beleagured look. Like he didn't quite know how he'd arrived at Lazio, or how long he was supposed to stay.

What would the Football Italia drinking game look like?

Banners glorifying Serbian paramilitary leaders spotted in the crowd. Last person to shout 'Forza Arkan' must down drink.

The phrase 'Divine Ponytail' is used, usually accompanied by a shot of Robert Baggio nonchalantly slotting a penalty into the top corner. One finger.

Viewers feel an erotic frisson as players share an affectionate kiss during a substitution. Two fingers.

James Richardson eating a delicate finger pastry while leafling through Gazzetta dello Sport at kerbside cafe in Rome and trying not to look like the smuggest man in the world. All drinks must be downed.

And was it me or were they made of more solid stuff back then? Can anyone imagine Boban or Baresi struggling to put on a bib? Or Didier Drogba playing on with a broken arm as George Weah did for AC Milan against Bordeaux in a Champions League game in 1996?

And was it me or were they made of more solid stuff back then? Can anyone imagine Boban or Baresi struggling to put on a bib?

One on-field memory sticks out above all others. I can't remember who was playing but I seem to remember one of them was in sky blue in a half empty stadium ringed by a running track. That was it the set menu, the Sunday furniture. A sky blue team in a half empty athletics stadium. Lets say it was Empoli, and the other team was Brescia. Empoli always seemed to be playing Brescia.

After sitting through sixty particularly tedious minutes, a remarkable thing happened - players on both sides suddenly started playing on their heads.

Twenty two players suddenly bouncing along on their heads with no obvious effects on their footballing abilities, and Wolstenholme carrying on like it was perfectly normal. Ball in the air, an endless series of scissor kicks, the whole pitch an inverted trampoline. I was transfixed. It was the best ten minutes of Italian football I've ever watched.

Then it started to get a bit uncomfortable, the blood was pushing at my eyes and I was struggling to get my breaths in and out. Mum was telling me to get down. Sadly, there was nothing for it and my and I had to uncartwheel myself down from the sofa and let the room settle back into its normal shape.

Funnily enough, I've never used that tactic again. For one thing I'm not sure I'd be able to physically manoeuvre myself into a position where I was standing on my head on the sofa again. But I'm glad I've remembered it - after all, England are playing at a major championships this summer.

In fact, a childhood watching Football Italia is a godsend for anyone with even a mild inclination to watch England in a major championships. It did wonders for my patience. In fact it's responsible for a whole generation of men having improbably high boredom thresholds.

Contrast with kids growing up these days. The Daily Mail might put it down to high grade skunk and turkey twizzlers, but isn't the real reason for their inability to sit quietly that they've grown up in a world of Football Italia-free Sundays? Now the same Sunday afternoon space is occupied by Super Nanny US, and a load of other garbage.

Apparently James Richardson now does a rather good podcast. I won't be tuning in. Or more specifically, I won't be tuning in til he does it from a kerbside cafe in Rome with big Luther and the gang.

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