Don’t stop Tardelli

Don’t stop Tardelli

This post is an “emotional transfer” experiment.

Any psychologist could explain how who we are is the result of experiences that were instrumental in developing our personality; the soul is like film in photography and the bright moments we live, especially when we are kids or teenagers, leave permanent marks on it. From the moment we step into adult age, we keep eating Proust Madeleines for breakfast, every day. Most of the time, we just pretend we don’t care… we’re big guys (or girls) now.

“From the moment we step into adult age, we keep eating Proust Madeleines for breakfast, every day. Most of the time, we just pretend we don’t care…”

Those marking episodes are often very personal and would hardly make sense if we tried to explain them to our acquaintances. Still, individuals that grew up at the same time and place share collective memories. There is a scene in the movie “Goodbye Lenin!” where the main character desperately looks for perished stocks of pickles, easily available in East Germany during the cold war. His mom felt in a coma before the Berlin wall collapse and had recently awakened; surrounding her with Communist era memorabilia, he wishes to recreate for her an emotionally comfortable landscape. Whoever grew up in Eastern Germany and neighboring countries still associates old Trabant cars, pickles, and certain Communist songs to childhood: if childhood was good, they will smile when they see a Trabant.

In this post, I will share with people who grew up in other places, one of the most defining moments for Italians, especially men, today in their mid-40s. I would like you to feel at least a little bit what we felt in that long summer of 1982.

I was born in Puglia, southern Italy, in July 1972 and back then I just turned 10; outside of Italy, the eyes of the world in the summer of ’82 were probably looking at the short and deadly Falklands war between Argentina and Great Britain; I remember TV constantly reporting huge casualties on both sides.

I should not say, but in Italy, we really did not care about the Falklands war. If you found yourself walking on Italian streets on the night of 11 of July, you would have thought that some strange bomb had killed the whole country population while leaving buildings, cars and everything else untouched. That night we were ALL watching the football World Cup final.

Italy had a difficult preparation for the competition and was clearly an underdog. In the second round robin, we faced the two best teams, Argentina and Brazil and no one would ever have bet a dime on us. Surprisingly, we won both matches. Yes, in Italy, when speaking about the 1982 football World Cup squad we say “We”. You would believe that there were 50 million Italians on Spain pitches that summer. Still today, some of us mentally spend a few refreshing minutes on those sunny pitches every year.

“In Italy, when speaking about 1982 football World Cup squad we say “We”. You would believe that there were 50 million Italians on Spain pitches that summer.”

So we find ourselves playing the final against the Deutschland team, packed with stars and led by mighty striker Karl Heinz Rummenigge.


Paolo Rossi scored our first goal and deserves a story of its own. Then at the sixty-ninth minute, Gaetano Scirea passes the ball to Tardelli, just outside of the penalty area. He adjusts it on his left foot and, while fading, shoots a precise, beautiful, strong strike which the keeper cannot reach.

And then Tardelli starts running across the field. The whole Italian team runs after him but for a long moment, no-one can catch him. Marco Tardelli keeps screaming his incredible joy in the air. This image is timeless and still moves our souls almost 35 years later. Every Italian ran with Tardelli that afternoon; we were young, bold and shameless and we would have loved if that run could never stop.

Marco Tardelli and Claudio Gentile at 1982 football world cup in Spain

“Every Italian ran with Tardelli that afternoon; we were young, bold and shameless and we would have loved if that run could never stop.”

Many years ago, I read a collection of short stories by Gabriele Romagnoli and one of the novels was a tribute to that precise moment of summer of ’82. It’s a dialog between two players, in a locker room lost in the middle of some Italian province. I’ll do my best to translate without making too much of an offense to the writer.

Don’t stop Tardelli

They are the last two, all the others are already in the corridor, waiting to get on the pitch. The right wing is nervously tying and untying his shoe strings, then he beats his cleats on the ground.

The left-wing rolls his head back, closes his eyes and holds the hanger.

Right wing is ready to go; he is almost getting up but left wing starts talking, still.

Left wing: “What if they did not stop him?”

Right wing: “They did not stop who?”

Left wing: “Tardelli. What if they did not stop him after he scored the goal in World Cup final? You know, we watched that scene a thousand times on TV: he runs shouting, shaking  his fists, runs so fast, those spirited eyes…”

Right wing: “So what?”

Left wing: “Then the others reach him and drag him down. But what if they did not do it? What if no-one stopped Tardelli?”

Right wing: “And? What would have happened?”

Left wing opens his eyes.

Left wing: “If he kept running, with that orgasm inside, if he went out of the stadium shouting, people would have followed. He would have kept running with all that force. He would have never stopped, millions of people behind him, running after a winner who wants to win, again and again. That’s it! If we all followed Tardelli, would that have changed the world?”

Right wing looks at him and shakes his head.

Right wing: “Nothing would have changed, he would have felt down on the sideline. A player is a player and does not get out of the pitch. No-one would have run after him!”

Left wing (nervous): “Oh, really? Well, if today I strike the winning goal, don’t even try to stop me!”

Right wing gets close, puts a hand on his shoulder, looks in his eyes.

Right wing: “No winning goal today, dude. We fixed this match, we’re bound to lose”.

End of the story

Gaetano Scirea died in 1989, in a car accident while scouting local football talents in Poland.

We still call Paolo Rossi “Pablito”, to remember those Spanish nights.

Tardelli eventually got stopped that afternoon, but he never really got out of the pitch. 35 years later, it’s still common to see him running on TV, young, bold, and shameless.

Italy won another title in 2006, after kicking once again Deutschland’s ass. But no football World Cup will be like 1982. Ever.

The Italian squad at 1982 FIFA World Cup

Italian squad at 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain
Italian squad at 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain

Other media on Tardelli and 1982 football World Cup

If you speak Italian and wish to complete the Amarcord experience, you should also:

If you want to understand how Paolo Rossi could be convicted in a match-fixing scandal and then be the best scorer in 1982 football World Cup, read “Viva l’Italia!” on this blog.

Non Fermate Tardelli

Sono rimasti solo loro due nello spogliatoio, gli altri sono già nel corridoio, in attesa di entrare in campo. L’ala destra slaccia e riallaccia le scarpe. Batte i tacchetti sul pavimento. L’ala sinistra tiene la testa rovesciata all’indietro, gli occhi chiusi, le mani aggrappate a due attaccapanni. L’ala destra è pronta, accenna ad alzarsi. L’ala sinistra parla senza muoversi: “E se non lo fermavano?”
“Se non fermavano chi?”
“Tardelli. Se non fermavano Tardelli dopo che aveva segnato il gol nella finale dei Mondiali. Sai quella scena vista mille volte in tv: lui che corre urlando, i pugni chiusi, le gambe a mille, la faccia da pazzo”
“Sì, e allora?”
“Poi arrivano gli altri, i compagni, e lo tirano giù. Ma se non lo avessero fatto? Se non avessero fermato Tardelli?”
“Beh? Che cosa sarebbe successo?”
“Ecco l’ala sinistra apre gli occhi Se avesse continuato a correre con quell’orgasmo dentro, se fosse uscito dallo stadio urlando, e la gente dietro, via, con tutta la forza, senza più fermarsi, milioni di persone dietro uno che ha vinto, con la voglia di vincere ancora. Ecco, se fossimo andati tutti dietro a Tardelli, sarebbe cambiato il mondo?”

L’ala destra lo guarda, scuote il capo: “Non cambiava niente, cadeva da solo sulla linea di fondo. Un calciatore è un calciatore, non esce dal campo. E nessuno gli andrebbe dietro”
“No? Beh, se oggi segno il gol della vittoria, tu non provare a fermarmi”
L’ala sinistra gli si avvicina, gli mette una mano sulla spalla: “Nesssun gol della vittoria, Tardelli, questa partita è venduta. Venduta a perdere”.

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