……….Enrique to Maradona…….different class………DIFF-ER-ENT CLASS!……….when they talk about the great players of international football this man will be on a pedestal……….. everyone in the stadium, fans, commentators, pressmen, everybody on their feet in acclamation of one of the greatest goals ever in the World Cup, all from the feet and brains of one man………Diego Armando Maradona….’!
The unmistakable voice of RTE’s Jimmy Magee, ‘the memory man’, sticks in the mind, the passion, the emotion, ‘different class’, he captured the moment in a dramatic style for all time. Forgive me for indulging in a little nostalgia as I recall the life and times of possibly the greatest player of all time, certainly in that special group of Pele, Messi, Georgie Best, Garrincha, Puskas, Di Stefano, the street kid from a shantytown, Villa Fiorito in Buenos Aires who became a God-like figure in Naples and Argentina, sadly Diego Armando Maradona was dead at 60, dying on the same day as another flawed genius Georgie Best on the 25th November, the lights dimmed, it was a JFK moment, the world mourned, but like James Dean or Marilyn Monroe, he will live forever!
Three finals in 12 years and winning two is exceptional, in World Cup history only England and Spain once, Argentina, Uruguay and France 2, Italy and Germany 4 and Brazil 5 have won the biggest tournament on the planet, only eight countries in 90 years, the elite in football and unfortunately, I have to include England in that despite ’66, every game at Wembley, a dodgy Russian linesman, and repeats on tv every Xmas and all that.
But when the two teams arrived in Mexico for the ’86 World Cup there was a lot of history between the two countries, despite Spain being the colonial power in Argentina the British invaded both Buenos Aires and Montevideo in 1807-08 during the Napoleonic Wars seeing it as a proxy for Spain, the Argentines as the song ‘Admiral William Brown’ goes, ‘ran the British out of Buenos Aires’, Brown from Mayo and he is still celebrated in Argentina as Admiral of the Argentine Navy, las Islas Malvinas, Argentina.
After Argentine independence from Spain relations with England became cordial for a long time but there was always resentment that the British still claimed the Malvinas or the Falklands as known in the UK, these islands which are just 1,500 kilometres from Argentina but 8,000 miles from Britain and contain more sheep than people led to what became known as the Falklands/Malvinas war in 1982.
Argentina had taken over the islands but Thatcher and her Government sent an ‘armada’ halfway around the world to defend the Falkland islanders, these people bear comparison with those in Gibraltar or the Shankill Road, they are hardly Latin American.
In a conflict of vicious engagement 250 British soldiers were killed, 750 wounded and five islanders whilst 350 Argentine soldiers were killed, 1,500 wounded and 300 Navy Cadets were drowned when the British sank the Belgrano in a flagrant act of international piracy as it was outside the exclusion zone.
The conflict created world headlines and the Irish Government were the only one in Europe not to back the British, it lasted 74 days with the British claiming victory amidst xenophobic hysteria as the ‘armada came home. In Argentina, there were mixed feelings as the conservative Government used the conflict to create populist support after years of internal conflict when thousands of left-wing opposition leaders and activists were murdered and ‘disappeared’, in due course the Generals would be thrown out of power and democracy prevailed but the Malvinas left a sour taste in Argentine hearts and that was paramount when England came to meet Argentina at World Cup ’86.
Besides the political rivalry there was also football history, back in ’66 England played Argentina on the way to winning the Jules Rimet trophy, in the last eight-game England, won 1-0 and the Argentine captain Rattin was sent off in a tough game, afterwards Alf Ramsay the England Manager called the Argentines ‘animals’, it didn’t go down well by the River Plate.
So we arrive at June ’86 and a titanic tussle between the two protagonists from the recent conflict, the game was built up as Argentina seeking revenge for the defeat at the Malvinas, for the rule Britannia brigade who follow the England team it was a time to gloat over the Falklands, the two teams arrived at the last eight-game again with considerable ease but there was tension in the air as the teams took the field, Maradona led Argentina out and Peter Shilton England, pennants exchanged, the teams played as they lined out, it was a hot day in the Azteca stadium as indeed it was in Termon which I’ll come to later.
The first half was a fairly even affair although Argentina would have the better of the play, there were clashes on the terracing as indeed there was on the streets leading to the stadium, and the game was just as tough. Within ten minutes of the game restarting two moments of contrasting, quick thinking and unadulterated brilliance would turn the game Argentina’s way and confirm the title of the world’s best player on Diego Armando Maradona.
Firstly a quick attacking movement through the heart of the English defence seen Maradona overhit a pass to Valdano but Terry Fenick tried to clear it but sliced the ball in the air towards Shilton’s nets, Maradona continued his run and jumped with Shilton, it was an uneven battle, Maradona’s 5’5” in comparison to Shilton’s 6’1′, 8 inches of a difference and the big keeper’s natural advantage of his reach with his arms, undeterred the diminutive but built with great upper body strength Maradona somehow reached the ball milliseconds before Shilton and the ball sailed into the English net, as we all know now the ‘Hand of God’ had seen Maradona send the ball into the net like the Gooch in his heyday, the English players protested but to no avail, no VAR in those far off days.
The African referee said he didn’t see it and the goal stood, years later Maradona said ‘it was symbolic revenge against the English for the Malvinas’. Something overlooked in the build-up for the first goal by the magnificence of the second was that Maradona left about 6/7 England players in his wake for that goal as well.
If the first goal has been a constant irritant to the English ever since, and only to them it has to be said, the second goal has gone down in the history of football as the greatest goal ever scored. Another four minutes had passed when Hector Enrique passed the ball to Maradona in the Argentine half about 60 yards from the England goal, the little Argentine ‘general’ left Peter Beardsley and Peter Reid in his wake, Terry Butcher twice in his slipstream and Terry Fenwick’s haphazard last stand defending before rounding Shilton and leaving him on his posterior as he slammed the ball into the net, it was a goal for the ages, a goal of such scintillating beauty that it was like a mixture of Chopin, Van Gogh, Michael Angelo, Picasso and Gaudi, best summed up by the famous commentary of Uruguayan journalist Victor Hugo Morales.
‘Enrique passes the ball to Diego, Maradona has it, two men on him, he steps on the ball, then goes down the right flank, the genius of world football, he leaves the wing and feints to pass to Burruchaga, but still Maradona, genius, genius, genius, there, there, there, there, Goaaaaaaaal! Goaaaaaaaal! I want to cry, oh holy God, long live football, what a goal, Diegoal! Maradona, it is to cry for, excuse me! Maradona in a memorable run, in the best play of all time, cosmic kite, which planet did you come from, to leave so many Englishmen behind, for the country to be a clenched fist crying for Argentina? England 0 Argentina 2, Diegoal, Diegoal, Diego Armando Maradona, thank you God for football, for Maradona, for these tears, for this, Argentina 2 England 0’!
It was a magical moment, England pulled one back through Lineker but it was Argentina and Maradona’s day, and even if we shouldn’t mix football and politics it did feel in a way as revenge for the Malvinas.
On a personal level, I was sat at home watching the game on my own, I think the wife was awayto the beach at Marble Hill with the kids. It was a stifling hot day and the front window was open and outside on the street, my next-door neighbour, big Eugene, was working at his car engine, he was an overhead camshaft merchant, a stock car racer as a hobby, no interest in football, once when I said to him there wasn’t much to stock car racing only ‘a few bangers going round and round in a field’, Eugene retorted, ‘there’s not much to football only 22 grownmen running round and round in a field after a bag of wind’, everyone to his own.
Anyway, after Maradona’s hand passed the first goal into the English net I gave a cheer but nothing to compare to the second goal when I let out the biggest roar which might have been heard at Doon Well, I did a bit of a jig around the living room and looked out on the street where Eugene was up to his elbow in engine oil, ‘What the fcuk happened’ he said, I replied, Maradona had scored a goal for the ages, Eugene looked at me as if he was surprised that Madonna played football, I retired to the living room and a glass of wine as he checked the oil with a dipstick, probably how Shilton felt that day.
When the news broke about Maradona’s death I thought of the life the little Argentine had lived, he was 60, Georgie Best was 59, they died on the same date if you believe in fate and stuff, both led a life of electrifying brilliance and pathos, both grew up in working-class streets and embraced the game of the working class, they both became superstars and a genius with a ball but also descended into a world of drink in Georgie’s case and drugs in Diego’s case, with the genius, also comes the flaws, they go hand in hand, most footballers are just athletes in the modern era, the sadness of the real genius is that they become an oxymoron in their own lives, Best and Maradona, Gazza and Jinky Johnstone, blessed with skills that mere mortals only dream off they then succumb to the evils their superstardom provides, it’s sad, at the end of the day they are only working-class kids from the tough streets.
I grew up at the end of the Pele era, he also was a genius, I lived through the Georgie Best era and Jinky of course, flawed geniuses as well, later on came Gazza and in a limited manner Paul Byrne at Celtic, a Dub who found the celebrity status too much! But there was no one like Maradona, his career started at Argentinos Juniors when he was 15, then Boca Juniors before heading to Europe and Barca for a world record fee, it wasn’t a perfect fit at the Camp Nou where everyone is a superstar although he scored 22 goals in 36 games.
Then a move to Napoli for another world record fee and the place where he became a God! In seven years he scored 81 goals in 188 appearances in Serie A where scoring goals was at a premium but led the Napoelese to their first Serie A title and a second title within a few years and also the UEFA Cup, it was incredible stuff, the Italians in the south, the poorest part of Italy, the home of the Mafioso, they were looked down on by the industrial north, they couldn’t compete with Juve, AC or Inter Milan, that is until Diego Maradona arrived and drove them to success, they revered him in Napoli as a God, the narrow streets around Naples have wall murals of Maradona everywhere, he was from Argentina but also a son of Naples.
Maradona played out his career at Sevilla, Newell’s Old Boys and Boca Juniors, his alma mater of sorts, and had an unsuccessful period as Manager of the Argentine national team, his life had been lived to excess in the extreme, but at all times he was conscious of where he came from, he was a working-class kid from the wrong side of town, his idols weren’t some pampered poncy rich kid who flaunted their wealth with pompous greed, Diego had Che Guevara and Fidel Castro tattooed on his arms, he was at home in the La Bombonera stadium in the La Boca area of Buenos Aires, home of Boca Juniors, it’s the only stadium in the world I could compare to ‘Paradise’, the atmosphere like nothing else and when Maradona was there he was a God, RIP Diego, a footballing God.
Paddy McMenamin was born in Belfast with Donegal and Tyrone parents. He spent the 70’s in Long Kesh. He has been going to Paradise since the Benfica game in Nov. 1969. He lived in Donegal for 30 years but now lives in Galway. He returned to University at 50 and became a secondary school teacher of history and English.
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