25 years ago today a 12 year old boy crouched on the floor in front of the living room television set deep in the heart of West Cork, Ireland. Clutched in his arms was a cheap imitation of the official FIFA Adidas Tango football. Eyes firmly fixed on the TV, the young football fanatic wiped away a few snots and then watched transfixed as Diego Maradona single-handily knocked England out of the Mexico 1986 World Cup.
Diego’s opening goal should not have been allowed as the diminutive Argentinean leapt for a ball with England’s goalkeeper Peter Shilton from a poor Steve Hodge lofted back-pass. What happened next was beautifully captured by photographers both behind and alongside the England goal amid the sweltering Mexican heat in the Azteca Stadium.
The iconic image of Maradona out-jumping the English goalkeeper to the loose ball was reproduced across the globe on the front pages of the following day’s newspapers. In the picture Maradona’s raised left arm can be clearly seen flicking the ball over the out-rushing Shilton’s right glove before delicately rolling into the English net.
Following a cursory look towards the referee the Argentinean Captain took off in defiant celebration towards the adoring Argentina fans gathered near the corner flag. There was Diego Maradona, the defining player of his generation with his fists pumping, bouncing up and down and smiling at getting away with such a blatant handball.
“What? But that’s a handball!” screamed the 12 year old watching the TV screen in West Cork. “Handball” screamed every English supporter in the packed stadium. “Handball” screamed every England supporter watching on TV and in packed bars back home. The English players’ protests were led by Peter Shilton who raced towards the match referee Ali Ben Naceur from Tunisia with his arm outstretched mimicking how Maradonna had unfairly flicked his effort into the net.
Centre-back Terry Fenwick and midfielder Peter Reid joined in the protests but to no avail as the Tunisian match official appeared to be the only person in the ground (and on the planet) who hadn’t seen the incident.
When pressed by the English players on his way back to the centre-circle to restart the game Maradona merely shrugged his shoulders and acted as if nothing untoward had happened. Getting away with such blatant cheating caused outrage in England yet in South America a player ‘conning’ the referee was merely seen as part of the game.
The 12 year old West cork native watching the grainy images from Mexico on his TV immediately sets about recreating the incident by jumping into the air and flicking a battered Tango ball across the living room. The stray ball knocks some toys off the couch and draws the ire of the youngster’s father who admonishes the Maradona wannabe before warning against any future attempts at such South American ‘codology’.
Within minutes of cheating England out of an opening goal Diego Maradona cemented his status amongst the pantheon of world football with a mesmeric second effort.
Gaining possession in his own half the Argentinean Captain embarked on a slaloming solo run that ripped the English defence to shreds. Bobbing and weaving his way past Trevor Stevens, Terry Fenwick and Terry Butcher Maradona left a trail of flailing English players in his wake before slipping the ball under the body of Shilton for a truly magical effort.
Maradonna’s effort brought the stadium to its feet. England manager Bobby Robson could only shake his head in admiration as the South Americans celebrated as if they had already won the trophy. They would do so within a fortnight.
Peter Reid chased the Argentinean maestro all the way from the other half of the pitch and was still struggling to get back by the time Maradona found the net. Crouched over in pain from his efforts the iconic Everton midfielder could only look on forlornly as Maradona was engulfed by his teammates.
Gary Lineker pulled a goal back before the end (and would finish Mexico 86’ as top scorer) but it proved too little, too late as Argentina held on to win 2-1 and progress to semi-final meeting with Belgium.
As soon as the final whistle shrilled the 12 year old West Cork youngster immediately set about re-enacting the Maradona goal. Carefully placing teddy bears throughout the hallway the child danced and swivelled around the mock English defenders all the time murmuring ‘different class, different class, different class’ in reference to legendary RTE commentator Jimmy Magee’s depiction of the goal.
The re-enactment was concluded with the youngster hammering the fake Tango football off the front door and racing up the stairs, arms aloft screaming ‘goallllllllllllllllll’. It was a scene repeated by children all over the world that day and for many years afterwards as Maradona solidified his position as the World’s greatest footballer.
It is hard to believe that Maradona’s goal is 25 years old today. The passing of time has not diminished the Argentinean’s unique effort and it remains engrained in the minds of anyone lucky enough to have witnessed the goal on TV.
The opening effort against the English is known as the ‘Hand of God’ but the second and match-winning strike is simply referred to as ‘that Maradona goal’. Quarter of a century on the day Maradona ‘single-handily’ beat the English before going on to rightfully claim the FIFA World Cup proved the high point in a tempestuous career for one of the best players ever to grace the game.
Those goals and more importantly Diego Maradona will never be forgotten.