Not a lot to say about this one, really. Suffice to say that we should all be saddened by the death of Luciano Pavarotti yesterday. In a football context, he was recognised as a passionate supporter of the game, having had a brief career as a professional player for Modena in Italy, before switching his career to opera singing. It is, however, for his performance of “Nessun Dorma” that was used by the BBC for the 1990 World Cup that he will be best known.
It’s difficult to properly explain the effect that “Nessun Dorma” had on football in 1990. After Heysel, the Bradford Fire and Hillsborough disaster, English football was in a pit of depression by the 1989-90 season. After their disastrous performance at Euro 88, the press were clamouring for Bobby Robson’s removal, and a tough group in the World Cup finals (Holland and Ireland were regarded as both potentially sticky wickets for a team short on confidence). As the tournament wore on, though, something changed. An average looking England team fluked their way to the semi-finals, beating Belgium in the last minute of extra-time and Cameroon thanks to two penalties, and put in their best performance against Germany before losing on penalties.
Off the pitch, football, the game of bores, yobs and idiots, was subtly being repackaged as the sporting form of ballet. In truth, Italia 90 was a terrible tournament – the worst since Chile in 1962 – but the strains of Pavarotti singing “Nessun Dorma” played its part in shifting people’s perception of the game. This was sport as art, as high culture, and the knock-on effect was to send Pavarotti into the top ten in the UK singles charts. Since then, we have slid slowly back into boorishness but, that summer, “Nessun Dorma” was the brilliantly unexpected soundtrack to long, warm days of unforeseen optimism and hope. Luciano Pavarotti’s voice played a crucial role in changing the image of English football for the better, and we should all raise our glasses to the memory of a man that was, ultimately, a football fan, just like you and I.
One more time, here’s “Nessun Dorma”.