8.3 seconds, 28 years ago. That’s all it took for part-time footballer, part-time computer science student Davide Gualtieri to score San Marino’s most famous goal against England, a goal that remains the second fastest in World Cup history. England failed to qualify for the 1994 tournament and Gualtieri’s goal was the definitive one that ended Graham Taylor’s time in charge of the Three Lions, as he resigned just six days later.
The Hand of God, Iceland in 2016 and the entire managerial reign of Steve McClaren. It’s fair to say England have not been short of embarrassing moments during their long and not-so-illustrious history, but this one topped the lot. But forget the negativity, this isn’t about England, or even Taylor’s woes, this is the story of Sammarinese legend Davide Gualtieri.
Let’s go back to 17 November 1993 and set the scene. In the early nineties, San Marino had a population of just 25,209, roughly the same as Fleetwood has today, and had been an official member of Fifa for just three years when they served the Three Lions their most embarrassing moment. The landlocked country to this day is still the worst international team in the world according to the Fifa rankings, so John Motson’s immortal words from that day have haunted England fans for 27 years...“England needing to win by a seven-goal margin and hope Poland can do them a favour in Poznan against Holland. [Whistle blows] I’m sure you’re aware now of what is at stake. Bacciocchi number nine picks the ball up straight away and San Marino launch the first attack… Oh, and a mistake by Stuart Pearce, and San Marino have scored! I don’t believe this!”
Motson may have had the viewers, but on Capital Gold radio, Jonathan Pearce was providing some hilarious commentary magic of his own. “Welcome to Bologna on Capital Gold for San Marino versus England with Tennent's Pilsner, brewed with Czechoslovakian yeast for that extra Pilsner taste and... ENGLAND ARE ONE DOWN!!”
For Davide Gualtieri, scorer of San Marino’s most famous goal, this would be the peak of his otherwise inconspicuous footballing career, yet he’d never have to pay for a Pilsner in his hometown again. He played for just three clubs Juvenes, Pennarossa and Tre Penne, all in his homeland, across his career and just nine times for his country. However, pouncing on Psycho’s mistake has not only been seen 500,000 times on YouTube, but given him legendary status in the micro-state.
Pearce, despite his error and England’s anger after the game, was kind enough to give Gualtieri his shirt after the game, a piece of sporting memorabilia that now takes pride of place in the 49-year-old’s home. These days he may have lost his head of hair, but he still regales anybody and everybody about that famous night, always with the same heartwarming grin on his face.
“They called him ‘Psycho’, but I wasn’t scared. I just ran past him to score my goal,” he told The Times. Three years after that famous finish, Gualtieri began a venture of his own, starting up a computer business after years of being a salesman. Now perched on the top of a mountain, both physically and metaphorically, his business provides a stable internet connection to journalists for San Marino’s games. If only they could relive his goal all over again.
He called time on his footballing career at the ripe old age of 38, finishing his club career 10 years after his final international appearance, as a peaceful life in the mountains with wife Caterina beckoned. It hasn’t been all quiet though, Gualtieri and his family have unsurprisingly received a lot of love from Scotland fans, who took it upon themselves to treat his brother to a meal and drinks when he was there on holiday!
However, 2009 wasn’t the last we saw of him on a football pitch as he featured in ITV’s Harry Heroes this year, putting together a team of retired San Marino players to take on the ex-England legends.
David Seaman finally put that ghost to rest as he counted aloud through the first eight seconds of the game, celebrating loudly when his clean sheet was intact after the time had elapsed, instead of picking the ball out of his net as he had done nearly three decades ago. Gualtieri beamed throughout the game, despite a 5-3 defeat, delighted to revel once more in his 15 (or should that be 8.3) seconds of fame.
San Marino have still never won a competitive game, even all these years on, and goals are hard to come by. In the meantime, San Marino’s finest moment belongs to a humble computer store owner named Davide Gualtieri.