Gazza and Golaco! Our unforgettable 90s love affair with Italian football
13:13 GMT, 22 November 2012
Golao! It’s Portuguese for 'fantastic goal', but for football fans growing up in the 1990s it had a different meaning.
It meant the start of Channel Four’s unmissable Football Italia programme on a Saturday morning.
My kids thought it was actually 'Go Lazio'. That didn’t matter. What did matter was waiting for the bouncy ball around the Italian themed Channel Four logo, listening to the theme music – it was 'I’m Stronger Now' by Definitive Two – and waiting for the evocative shout that meant the programme was about to begin.
Scroll to the bottom for video of the opening credits and a stroll through memory piazza
When in Rome: Paul Gascoigne won over the Lazio fans by scoring in the derby
At the helm: James Richardson
Maybe we started falling for all things Italian after somebody at the BBC brilliantly chose Nessun Dorma as the theme music for the 1990 World Cup.
But if anything extended the romance from four all too short summer weeks into a 16-year love affair, it was James Richardson’s brilliant presentation of the country’s domestic football each weekend.
And Gazza. Of course. You couldn’t forget Gazza.
On Thursday night he’s heading back to Rome as guest of honour to watch Lazio play Tottenham in the Europa League, and what better reminder that the 'daft as a brush' genius, whose tears in Turin helped lift English football from its lowest point, was also responsible for a revolution in the way TV presents the game.
Gascoigne had co-operated on a
documentary with production company Chrysalis charting his fightback
from injury to enable his move to Lazio to go ahead, and when it was
finished said to the producer Neil Duncanson it was a shame nobody would
be able to see his games now he was fit.
Neil asked the Italian Federation for the rights to cover Lazio’s
matches, was told he could have the whole of Serie A instead, and so the
show was born.
And what a show. The first coup was for Richardson as the affable, easy going presenter to put Gazza at ease and suddenly England’s most iconic footballer was a TV man too.
Each Saturday morning we shared his Italian adventure with him, driving round Rome in open top sports cars, wandering behind the scenes of Lazio’s training ground, or sitting outside pretty pavement cafes.
Let's talk football: Gascoigne and presenter Richardson dealt with the big issues in Serie A
Outside broadcast: Gazza spoke to the viewers – while driving through the streets with the top down
That was part of the secret. It was the first football show that moved you out of a studio and took you from your front room into a different world.
Richardson would sit with his cappuccino and a couple of croissants on the streets of Milan or Genoa, holding up the pink pages of the Gazzetta dello Sport to bring us the headlines, and chatting through the games and the goals to come.
On a cold, wet, winter’s morning it was pure escapism.
At its peak it pulled in nearly a million viewers every week, and while Match of the Day might have never lost its place as the must-see football programme on British TV, Football Italia ran it a mighty close second.
There was always a competition to win a trip to Italy to see a game, but it felt like you were there anyway.
Fancy a coffee: Richardson never went hungry or thirsty when he presented Football Italia
Italian football then was where the riches were, and where Europe’s best players flocked to perform.
They didn’t encourage characters in English football in those days.
It was the age of 4-4-2 when words like 'workrate' and 'industry' were becoming the buzz phrases for our coaches.
And POMO, the position of maximum opportunity, which basically meant you lumped the ball as far as you could and chased after it.
The Italians played with the ball at their feet. They caressed it. They passed it.
Milan had the money to pull in Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard. And they had showmen like Fabrizio Ravenelli who folded his shirt over his head every time he scored a goal.
They had crowds full of passion with gigantic flags who brandished firecrackers. Even the refs had character, with the boggle-eyed Pierluigi Collina bringing out red cards with a flourish of his right arm.
Dutch courage: AC Milan had (from left) Frank Rijkaard, Marco Van Basten and Ruud Gullit in their ranks
It ran from 1992 to 2002 on Channel Four, then limped through a few more seasons on Eurosport and Bravo before the plug was pulled on the last programme in 2008.
Maybe by then the Premier League’s money and glamour had seduced us away from the romance of Italy, or maybe we all just grew up and moved on.
But Football Italia will always have a special place in our memories.
And how fitting it will be if Gazza and the rest of the crowd in Rome tonight get to shout for one more time: Golao!
What an intro – Football Italia had a proper tune at the start