FA's first-ever press officer from Halesowen remembers Italia 90 heartbreak
Glen Kirton is hoping Gareth Southgate's side can triumph in Sir Bobby Robson's honour.
It was 28 years ago when a grey-suited Sir Bobby Robson walked out into the Stadio delle Alpi in Turin with England on the cusp of a first World Cup final on foreign soil.
What followed was a game etched in the memories of England supporters and replayed on television over and over for anyone too young to remember or yet to be born.
There was Gazza’s tears after a booking which ruled him out the final, Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddles’ penalty misses and the disappointment and then acclaim.
And there to see it all, sat alongside Sir Bobby on the coaches’ bench, was the Football Association’s first press officer, Glen Kirton, who was born in Halesowen and schooled in Stourbridge.
Tonight, almost three decades on, Mr Kirton, aged 71, will be watching England in a semi-final again this time from home, but with the same nervous excitement.
“We all thought if we could have got past West Germany in 1990, we would have gone on to win the World Cup,” said Mr Kirton, who served the FA for 25 years.
“There was real buoyancy ahead of the game, with the hosts Italy going out to Argentina. But sadly it was just not to be and the team, which was full of big names, was left gutted.
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“This England team today has a younger, fresher look about it. I’m sure they will have the same nervousness, but they haven’t carried the weight of expectation that the 1990 team had.
“I think this has worked in their favour so far, and I’m convinced we have every chance of winning it.”
Mr Kirton may well not be a name known to many, but his face might be familiar, often on the shoulder of various England managers going about their press duties.
He began his career at the country’s biggest sports association in 1971 as competitions secretary, before being appointed the Football Association’s first press officer in 1977.
He worked closely with former managers Ron Greenwood, Sir Bobby and Graham Taylor.
In 1988 he was made head of external affairs and later was appointed tournament director of Euro 1996.
After leaving the FA, he moved into sports marketing and even management, working on the FIFA World Cup sponsorship programmes and media services at cricket world cups and the Mayor of London’s Media Centre for the London Olympics.
But his life had more humble beginnings.
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He was born in Stourbridge Road in Halesowen to parents Jack and Hilda and went to school at Stourbridge Road Juniors, where he also played for the school’s football team.
He then went to King Edward VI College in Stourbridge and then the University of Kent, where he studied French.
He went on to live in London, but was always a regular visitor to Halesowen to see his parents and Birmingham City, where he still a season ticket holder.
Now he watches the England team’s relationship with the media with interest. “This year it seems to have changed,” he said.
“Back in the 1980s there was always a feeling of ‘us and them’. There was a group of journalists who would follow the England team and dig up the rubbish and had no interest in football.
"We called them the rotters. But, whether it’s because of social media or whatever, things have changed.
“The team and those who work with it seem to have made a positive effort to manage media relations and they’ve been rewarded with the backing of the press as well as the country.
“Gareth Southgate presents a warm and totally professional image and he and the players deserve all the success that they’ve had so far.”
Mr Kirton added: “I hope we can do it, partly for Sir Bobby who cared so much and was such a gentleman.”