June 23, 2016
Looking back at the Hand of God goal by someone who walked with other soccer gods
By Michael Lewis
Man, is it 30 years already?
Boy, does time fly.
Actually, I wasn't keeping count until I saw something on the web that Wednesday was the 30th anniversary of Diego Maradona's Hand of God goal at the 1986 World Cup.
The goal is something special to yours truly because I was at the game at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City that day, one of only a handful of American journalists who attended the World Cup.
After all, why would anyone have covered the World Cup outside of The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune and some other newspapers? The United States hadn't participated in a World Cup for 36 years and the idea of playing in such an event was, well, foreign, to this country.
I covered the cup for Soccer America.
Let's set the stage just a big.
England and Argentina played for the first time since the Falkland Wars, which was a battle between the two countries over several island east of Argentina in 1982.
There were banners all over the stadium, including ones claiming the Argentine attack was powered by Exocet Missles (those French-built weapons were used by Argentina in the conflict).
Maradona, however, made certain no one would remember what transpired four years’ prior in a 2–1 victory.
Six minutes into the second half, Maradona had tried to play the ball into the penalty area, but English midfielder Steve Hodge out battled the Argentine for the ball and lifted a back pass to goalkeeper Peter Shilton. Maradona and the keeper arrived at the same time and the Argentine knocked the ball into the net with his left hand. Despite protests by the English, referee Ali Bennaceur of Tunisia pointed to the center spot.
Maradona later claimed “the hand of God” scored that goal.
As if to make amends, Maradona embarked on an amazing journey four minutes later. He took possession of the ball 10 yards into Argentine territory. He performed a 180-degree turn that left Peter Reid and Peter Beardsley standing in their tracks. He then raced down the right side into English territory past Ray Wilkins. Terry Fenwick tried to pull him down at the top of the penalty area, but Maradona shrugged him off. Shilton came out of the goal, committed himself and fell to the turf, eight yards out. Terry Butcher tried a last-ditch effort with a sliding tackle under Maradona, who pushed the ball into the unattended net.
Total time: ten seconds. Number of touches: nine.
Even Maradona's opponents were astonished by the performance.
“Today he scored one of the most brilliant goals you’ll ever see,” England coach Bobby Robson said. “That first goal was dubious, the second goal a miracle. It was a fantastic goal. It’s marvelous for football that every now and then the world produces a player like Maradona. I didn’t like his second goal, but I did admire it.”
Let's put 1986 into perspective.
Some journalists had to send their stories back to their respective publications via Zap Mail, essentially a fax device. I was one of them.
The American contingent, all 10 of us, sat together. The press box was, well, less than spartan and seemed to be miles away from the action somewhere near the top of the stadium. We sat on concrete (OK, time to insert a stone-age joke in here, folks) and there were no desks, at least not for us gringos. Thank heavens most, if not all of the games, were not on any sort of deadline.
Heck, there was no wireless or internet to do fast research or a TV to watch the replay. To do so, we had to wait until after the game and press conferences. I gave up my press credential for a tape of the match and we huddled around a TV until we got to the right times of the goals.
I forget how many times we replayed both goals. 10? 20? Ah, it didn't matter as long a we got the details we needed.
An interesting aside: when Maradona batted the ball into the net, I exclaimed, "It's a hand ball!"
I looked at the linesman waited for some sort of reaction, but nothing at all. He never had his flag out. I was astonished.
I have a unique perspective with Argentina-England battles in the World Cup because I attended all three confrontations.
Yes, I was there in Saint Etienne, France in 1978 when David Beckham was red-card for his "supposed" foul on Diego Simeone (years later he admitted he fooled the referee). The Argentineans went on to win the match via a shootout.
And yes, I witnessed the third clash of the titans in the Sapporo Dome in Sapporo, Japan in 2002. This encounter could be called Beckham's revenge as he converted a penalty kick for the lone goal in a 1-0 England victory.
Then came an incredible life-saving incident in the mixed zone after the game.
Wanting to get some words of wisdom from Beckham, I camped out next to a BBC radio reporter friend of mine, who predicted Beckham would likely speak to him. So he appears and I feel that half of Japan has decided to rush towards us as there was a crush of human bodies. I felt the barrier between us cand Beckham started to tip toward the player as I feared the worst -- until members of stadium security rushed in, got on their hands and knees and propped up the barrier -- so the hero of the game would not be crushed (or none or us would, either).
One other thing I remember from that 2002 clash: they ran out of food for the media. I managed to buy a rice ball and some bread, which I brought back to my room after I wrote my story for the New York Daily News. A sushi restaurant was open for breakfast at the airport the next day and I had uncooked fish for my morning meal. Hey, I was hungry and I figured since I was 12 or 13 hours from New York, I figured my stomach would think it was dinner time.
Oh, it was good sushi.
In 1986, we weren't worrying about sushi that sunny, beautiful June day at Azteca, just to make sure we reported both of Maradona's goals correctly, scores that displayed his cunning and brilliance.
Oh, and before I forget:
Happy anniversary, Diego!