England’s clash with San Marino on Thursday is expected to be a foregone conclusion considering the gulf in class between the two sides. But as we learned in 1993, anything is possible when these two sides meet. The date was November 17th, and the home side got the proceedings underway in front of the smallest crowd England had played in front of in the modern era. Just 8.3 seconds and one Stuart Pearce blunder later, Davide Gualtieri had become a cult hero and England were behind against one of the world’s lowest ranked teams. The iconic John Motson commentary about England needing a seven-goal win and a favour from Poland in Poznan against Holland was almost immediately rendered wonderfully fanciful by an unknown salesman from a microstate with less than 26,000 people living in it.
Ian Wright would go on to score four, and Paul Ince’s double along with a Les Ferdinand goal meant that England got the seven goals they needed. If it weren’t for Gualtieri and Holland winning in Poznan, they may have had a chance at the World Cup. But the undoubted hero of the evening was the 22-year-old, who would end up swapping shirts with Pearce after the game. He told The Times: “They called him ‘Psycho’, but I wasn’t scared. I just ran past him to score my goal.”
The backlash against Graham Taylor’s troops in the UK was immediate. The Daily Mirror ran a front page splash with ‘The End of The World’. Press swarmed the team when they returned to Luton Airport in London the following day. Taylor didn’t last another week in the job. “When the ball went into the net,” Taylor recalled in a BBC interview decades later, “I looked up towards the sky and just said quietly to myself ‘god, please tell me what I have done wrong’.”
Meanwhile, back in San Marino, Gualtieri was continuing his modest footballing career. He would continue playing at a relatively low level for Juvenes, Pennarossa and Tre Penne and earning a career 9 international caps in a career plagued with injuries. In 2000 he was given a silver medal by San Marino’s Olympic federation, and 12 years later the federation honoured him with a plaque at a lavish ceremony.
Years later, in an interview with The Guardian, he admitted that on matchday, he had no idea what an iconic moment had just occurred. He recalled: “I didn’t realise how quick it was. It was only after the game when all the journalists poured down on me that I realised how historic it was. With all the tension we felt in a game of that stature my mind was never going to be good enough to acknowledge immediately what had happened.” He would later tell the BBC that it was a dream come true, saying “I had dreamt about it but I never thought it would happen. It was so hard for us to score against anybody, let alone a team as big as England.”
In the 2012 Guardian interview, he revealed that the goal had made him a cult hero in many different countries, not just his home: “Sometimes I go on YouTube and watch it – I still had hair, which cheers me up,
“I also have a VHS of the game. More often than you’d think there are fans who come into my electronics shop and ask for autographed memorabilia. Sometimes it’s a photo, other times it’s a shirt. So much so that I’ve run out of them. I’ll have to ask the San Marino FA to send me some more over.
“There are some guys from Eastern Europe who send me letters and emails asking for autographs… I think that goal acquired more value also because Hakan Sukur scored a goal after 10 seconds for Turkey in 2002 against South Korea, and that was the fastest goal ever in a World Cup finals.”
His brother even benefitted from some Scottish fans finding out whose family he was a member of when visiting the Highlands years later. “When my brother went to Scotland on holiday,” Gualtieri told the BBC, “they found out who he was and bought him drinks and a meal too.”
Nowadays, the Sammarinese striker runs a computer business called ‘Micronics’ atop the Via Luigi Cibrario in Monte Titano. He is happy to speak with supporters and media members who stop by about his part in footballing folklore, but if you do spot him while on holiday, you’ll need someone with you who knows the lingo because he doesn’t speak a word of English.
San Marino had never won even a friendly match, just three years after being accepted by FIFA, and wouldn’t for another 11 years when they beat Liechtenstein 1–0 in a friendly match on 28 April 2004. They are still awaiting a first ever competitive victory.
Here at NetBet, we’re offering 12/1 odds on San Marino repeating the feat and losing while scoring a goal. For the exact same 7-1 scoreline, we’ve got an eye watering 53/1 offering, although at Wembley Stadium we see it as terribly unlikely that San Marino will find the net at all, let alone break any records. Our price on both teams to score is 33/4, which actually wouldn’t be the worst bet considering that, as Gualtieri proved to us back in 1993, anything can happen in football.