The mere mention of Maradona's name makes me smile and reminisce.
I was 10 in 1986, when Maradona inspired his team to win the World Cup in Mexico. I remember that summer being sunny and hazy. My life revolved around football. My brother and friends would play morning, noon and night on the field across the road from our house, only stopping for drinks, snacks, lunch, dinner and for a 10p mix up from the ice-cream van in the evening.
Sometimes there would be a few of us and we'd play what we called 'pass-y shoot-y' where someone would go in goals and the other 3 of us would pretend we were in a game, making up moves and skills and I would commentate.
Other times we would play 'world cup / cuppy' where there would be a keeper and he would throw or kick it out and 5 or 6 of us would justle for the ball and then attempt solo runs to get a goal, or you could poach/mooch around the goal hoping for a rebound. You had to score a goal or two to get through to the next round, someone would go out and eventually you would have 2 players in the final. Sometimes we would play 'cuppy doubles'.
And then, usually in the evening, there would be enough players for teams. Anything from 4-a-side to 8-a-side. Even kids who didn't like football would get pulled into make up the numbers. The field was where everyone in the estate would go to hang out; either playing or watching football. There are hardly any kids in the estate any more as most people who stayed there in the 80's still stay there. The kids have long left and now have kids of their own.
I always feel sad when I see new estates being thrown up with no patches of grass or playing fields for the kids to play on. Every patch of ground is used for housing, it's shame.
Back in 1986 there wasn't a great deal of football on TV. Scottish football was really highlights on Sportscene on a Saturday night and then Scotsport on STV on a Sunday. There would be the occasional live match, I always seem to remember the Skol (League) Cup Final being live on TV with a couple of thrillers between Aberdeen and Rangers.
So when the World Cup came around it was like a feast of football! Maradona was just sensational. He would set off on solo runs regularly, either winning fouls, or creating space for his team mates. And then of course there were the goals.
Maradona scored 5 goals and created 5 goals during Argentina's run to winning the World Cup. Despite all kinds of attempts to stop him, by fair means or (largely by)) foul, he was simply unplayable.
Watching Maradona was as exciting as anything I can remember. You were willing him to get the ball to see what he would do with it. His low centre of gravity (5ft 4), stocky legs, insatiable desire to run forwards through walls of defenders, riding high tackles, waltzing round people with a dink of the shoulder, lifted not only his team, but his country and football fans around the world.
Maradona looked great too; the number 10, the Puma King boots, playing with the iconic Adidas Tango ball. I've enjoyed watching classic footage and seeing some incredible images being posted on social media.
A young Diego checking some records in 1980
After his breathtaking solo run against England everyone wanted to 'do a Maradona' out on the park across from our parents. There was a distinct lack of passing and crossing for a while as everyone set about trying to beat the entire team on their own.
Post World Cup football fans set about trying to get footage of Maradona. I remember we bought a VHS documentary on the world cup as well as VHS cassettes of Italian goals of the season and things like that.
Maradona carried his World Cup form into the 1986/87 season with Napoli, leading them to their first ever Serie A title. It should be noted that no team from the south of Italy had ever won, the league had been dominated by northern teams like AC Milan, Inter, Roma and Juventus.
The streets of Napoli erupted, murals were painted, mock funerals were held for AC Milan and Juventus and 9-months later a whole host of little Diego's were named in Maradona's honour.
The club were runners up for the next two seasons before regaining the title in 1989/90, also winning the UEFA Cup in 1989.
In short, Maradona transformed Napoli, he lifted a club and a city. The effects of his time there are still rippling today, as evidenced by the outpouring of grief in the form of a celebration of his life when news of his death broke.
Maradona was struggled through the 1990 World Cup with an injury, but he still captained his country to another final, his will to win almost as important as his skills.
Maradona's career and life was eccentric and erratic post 1990. It had been for a while, but his talent and achievements masked what was going on off the field. He seemed hell bent on destruction, determined to live life at 100 mph. A couple of years ago a video of Maradona out his tree dancing with his eyes shut ended up becoming a Facebook account - the same video every day over dubbed with all kinds of songs. It was briefly amusing yet it became painfully sad, too much of his life became sad. You just wanted to see him fit and healthy, using his influence and skills within the game.
I'll always remember Diego Armanda Maradona for that 4-year period from 1986-1990. He shone brightly before it, he offered glimpses of genius afterwards, but for that 4-year period he was the most exciting individual player I have ever seen.
Depending on what you are using to read this blog (phone /tablet/laptop) here are a couple films that highlight the genius of Maradona. There are many more on YouTube
- Every assist and goal during the Mexico 1986 World Cup
- His best goals and skills with Napoli