Everybody loved Gazzetta Football Italia on a Saturday morning, but once upon a time, Sunday afternoons were also something to cherish.
Whether it was the welcoming voice of Kenneth Wolstenholme or the eloquence of Peter Brackley. If it was the sight of James Richardson in enviable knitwear at those stadiums, and in those towns and cities. Or just being able to watch Baggio, Batistuta, Mancini, Signori, Zola and Weah with Sunday lunch already eaten— or at least on its way.
Were you a little sore from playing for your Sunday league team that morning, then Football Italia Live could act as your soothing balm.
And if your Sunday league was anything like mine, then Football Italia bore little resemblance to what you had experienced earlier that day.
I mean, did all those lunatics barking instructions from the sidelines even watch Serie A? Were we even playing the same sport?
Anyway, these were probably the best live games from that golden period, and are listed in chronological order:
September 6th 1992 – Sampdoria vs Lazio
Nobody forgets their first time and Peter Brackley and Luther Blissett were perfect gentlemen when Lazio visited Sampdoria on the opening day of the 1992-93 season— now 30 years ago.
It could have been England’s Des Walker vs England’s Paul Gascoigne in the first live broadcast, but Gazza’s recuperation from a knee injury meant that would have to wait.
Instead, we were all witnesses to pint-sized Lazio teammate Giuseppe Signori and his statement of intent. Signori had arrived from Foggia that summer.
His brace here was the beginning of a twenty-six-goal haul that campaign, making him the championship’s top scorer by its end. Beppegol indeed.
October 18th 1992 – Milan vs Lazio
Was this the Anglo-Italian equivalent of Americans in 1964 seeing The Beatles live on Ed Sullivan? For many in the UK without satellite television, it was their first live glimpse at Fabio Capello’s invincible Milan side of the early 90s.
There was the added bonus of being able to judge from your sofa how Gazza fared against Italy’s best.
You also got the chance to see Signori again and watch French striker Jean-Pierre Papin partner Marco Van Basten up front for Milan.
Having joined Milan from Marseille for £12 million that summer, Papin was European Footballer of the Year at the time and was succeeded by Van Basten who won the award in December 1992.
There were also eight goals in total and we all got to know Diego Fuser a little better.
What a time to be alive.
October 31st 1993 – Sampdoria vs Milan
Ruud Gullit haunts Milan on Halloween! A classic really, and a signature game for that entertaining Sampdoria team of 1993-94 spearheaded by the Dutchman.
Gullit had left Milan the previous summer in search of regular first-team football and he certainly found it in Genoa.
Sampdoria’s dramatic comeback revealed the frailties of Capello’s team. Milan promptly went out and bought defender Marcel Desailly from Marseille in November and stuck him straight into their midfield. The effect was instant.
Milan became an impregnable machine and went on to win Serie A and the Champions League that year. But Halloween 1993 was a day that belonged to Gullit. Arguably his most iconic game in the blue of Sampdoria.
December 4th 1994 – Juventus vs Fiorentina
Juventus youngster Alessandro Del Piero first came to the attention of a live Football Italia audience in the spring of 1994 by scoring a hat-trick against Parma.
At the end of the calendar year, he had entered a whole new stratosphere by the way in which he decided this clash with Claudio Ranieri’s Fiorentina.
Newly promoted from Serie B, Ranieri’s team were entertaining to watch and more than played their part in what was a great advertisement for Serie A.
The events of that afternoon also strongly suggested that first-year Juve coach Marcello Lippi was building a winning title-winning team in Turin. And if Del Piero was its emerging talent, then Gianluca Vialli was fast becoming its spiritual leader.
May 21st 1995 – Juventus vs Parma
More for the occasion this one. As this contest turned out to be something of a procession as Juve clinched their first title in nine years.
The Old Lady ending their title drought was significant, but it also turned out to be Roberto Baggio’s last game wearing the black and white stripes.
Baggio’s flame had burned brightly in Turin and he had won the European Player of the Year in 1993. But by 1995, Lippi’s new team had learned to play without him. The emergence of Del Piero meant the club’s hierarchy was content to let Baggio leave for Milan that summer.
Making three of his team’s four goals was not a bad way for Baggio to sign off though. Also, watch out for some iconic Fabrizio Ravanelli and a young Andrea Agnelli at the end.
December 15th 1996 – Inter vs Sampdoria
Another goal feast at San Siro. This was Sven-Göran Eriksson’s last year as coach of Sampdoria and his team was fun to watch in 1996-97.
Juan Sebastian Veron and Vincenzo Montella took to life in Serie A immediately and the evergreen Roberto Mancini was as imperious as ever.
Roy Hodgson’s Inter were going well that year too. Frenchman Youri Djorkaeff was having a fine first season in Italy.
Mancini had very nearly joined Inter in the Autumn of 1996, so it was notable that he had the final say here.
January 4th 1998 – Inter vs Juventus
This was the first Serie A evening fixture broadcast live on Football Italia and it was European football’s most anticipated game so far that season.
League leaders Inter were just one point ahead of second-placed Juventus. Juve were still unbeaten, a streak that stretched into the backend of the previous campaign.
Prior to the game, Inter’s Ronaldo was presented with the World Player of the Year Award on the San Siro pitch.
The clash was billed as a head-to-head between the O Fenômeno and Juve’s Del Piero. Like Ronaldo, the Italian forward was in the form of his life.
The first of two epic encounters that season.
April 26th 1998 – Juventus vs Inter
What is there left to say that hasn’t already been said about this game?
With four games to play, Juventus held a one-point lead over Inter going into the second Derby d’Italia of the season.
What’s most often lost in the Iuliano/Ronaldo controversy is that it overshadowed the fact that it was a great game.
No doubt aided by the relatively early goal for the home team, the pace was absolutely frenetic and it stands the test of time on a second watch.
The drama wasn’t bad either and Peter Brackley and Ray Wilkins were fantastic.
October 3rd 1999 – Lazio vs Milan
Lazio would have been a little irked at seeing Milan take the Scudetto the previous year. It was Erikkson’s men who had led the league for much of the 1998-99 campaign but had ultimately fallen short.
This early season encounter had eight goals and was something of a coming-out party for Milan’s Andriy Shevchenko.
New signing Sheva bagged an impressive hat-trick for the champions and it was a sign of things to come. The Ukrainian proved a prolific scorer during his time in Italy.
Lazio were no slouches either. Their expensively assembled squad would eventually get the job done by the season’s end and win their first league title since 1974.
Guy Mowbray and Paul Walsh were the commentary team for this one.
June 17th 2001 – Roma vs Parma
Fabio Capello’s Roma led the way from beginning to end in 2000-01 and were deserving champions of Italy.
Football Italia was there to see them seal the title in what was the last live broadcast of Serie A on Channel Four.
The arrival of Gabriel Batistuta from Fiorentina the previous summer took the capital club to another level. The Argentine was desperate to land a Scudetto. His new team were just as determined, having seen neighbours Lazio do it the previous year.
Batistuta would end the year on twenty league goals, in what was his last great season in Italy before hitting a steep decline.
But he had done his job and reached the mountaintop and we all got to watch — with Peter Brackley and Joe Jordan taking us through it for one last time.