Marco Tardelli screamed as if he were the medium for the emotions for the entire nation right at that moment. There, on a summer night in 1982, the world watched as the Italian defender perfectly illustrated what it feels like to score in the biggest game there is. At the same time, he demonstrated what football means to the billions who watch it as more than just a sport. It was the first game of football I remember watching, and in the many (too many some might say) games I’ve watched since on TV, in bars or on the terraces, this moment of elation is still unsurpassed by any subsequent celebration.
By the start of the 1990s, goal celebrations would take on an entirely different property and hold a unique power to ruin the moment. When Lee Sharpe scored a belter against Arsenal in the 1992 League Cup, the viewing public thought, “Blimey, what a goal” — seconds later he wheeled away with his new Elvis/gunslinger celebratory dance and that same public thought “Blimey, what a ****” and admiration evaporated just like his bank balance would later do. The gulf between footballer and fan felt irretrievably wider from that point on and only grew with the passing of time.
The celebrations ceased to be an organic expression of joy and more the trigger point for the start of a routine, like sad put-upon Butlins staff who were contractually obliged to break into the Birdie Dance every time the P.A. played that wretched song. Even in the recent Champions League Final, when Cristiano Ronaldo scored a meaningless penalty in the dying minutes of extra time (with Real Madrid already 3-1 up), it transpired that his celebration was part of a marketing strategy. Shirt off, growling and flexing like the guy in the gym you hope accidentally soils himself mid-grunt, it was all to create some footage for Ronaldo: The Movie.
As Spanish journalist Jose Felix Diaz pointed out, “…the reason has little to do with the sport itself and with another facet that for many is killing football – the marketing.”
But Tardelli, that was different. Tardelli’s reaction wasn’t something he had rehearsed with his titwit mates on the training ground. It was the pure explosion of emotion. It was the real deal; unfiltered, unvarnished and untainted by any pre-prepared shenanigans or “Look-at-me” histrionics. He would say said afterwards: “I was born with the scream; it didn’t just emerge at that moment. You live your life and have some good experiences and some bad ones. Then it all comes out at that moment.”
Almost 32 years later it’s still one of football’s most enduring moments, and if anyone ever asks you what the World Cup (or just football) means to people, then show them the Tardelli scream.