28 years after its staging, Italia ’90 continues to perpetuate so much nostalgia that the topic is almost fallow; there is nothing new to write.
Thankfully, All Played Out isn’t just the story of the tournament – or at least not the football – but a layered, first-hand account of its mood and surroundings. Pete Davies enjoyed an enviable level of access and seemed to have the trust of most of Bobby Robson’s players (and Robson himself) and that certainly helped, but the book’s most enduring passages nearly all deal with the fans.
It’s quite a bleak picture. Davies’s great skill, though, lies in not treating that travelling English fanbase as an homogenous group. There were troublemakers, bystanders and those who were just plainly foolish and he takes great care in creating that separation. As he does when apportioning blame for the ugliness, too: yes, evidently some of the policing was extremely heavy-handed, but Davies isn’t afraid to describe some of the self-perpetuating idiocy or attack the fantasies constructed on tabloid front-pages.
He sees a lot of the tournament, too. Many of the games, of course, which he describes with an infectious enthusiasm, but also places, people, ineffective bureaucracy and hostile attitudes. Whether intentionally or otherwise, he does a fine job of betraying just how poisonous the English presspack were and forgoes the conventional omerta to describe some of their hypocrisy.
Actually, All Played Out makes Italia ’90 sound like a nightmare. A fantastic adventure, perhaps, but one which stretched Davies to his physical breaking point and which also appeared to test his patience on an almost daily basis. It’s a wonderful story, certainly, but it’s made – and has been allowed to endure – because of his unwavering honesty. There’s never a point at which the reader senses that he has tactfully looked the other way or hidden what he really feels about a particular situation and it’s that, rather than any footballing minutiae, which makes this the tournament’s lasting companion.