But beyond the aria’s impact on pop music, “Nessun Dorma” became a sort of uniting thematic element for the stirrings of a new generation of English football. The looks of utter dejection and despair on the faces of Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle after their missed shots in the semifinal penalty shootout against West Germany, the tears that streamed down Paul Gascoigne’s face, all set to the soundtrack of Pavarotti’s thundering tenor set the tone for football’s renaissance in its own ancestral home. In the years to come, England would start to put its legacy of hooliganism to rest, as well as heal from the self-inflicted wounds of Hillsborough and Heysel. The Premier League would emerge and usher in a new, modern era of the game (for better or worse), the fans in the ground would become distinctly more middle class (again, for good or ill), and English football would become a truly global phenomenon.
In “Nessun Dorma,” an aria in which a young lovesick man screams at the heavens in cocksure defiance, football fans found a piece of music which encapsulated everything that made football beautiful— the joy, the pain, the glory, the spectacle, and the heartbreak. In this improbable marriage of high art and low culture, “Nessun Dorma” offers football an artform that comes closest to describing its own spectacle and grandeur.