NUSADAILY.COM – JAKARTA – “Hand of God” has become the most iconic sporting quote of all time, but the English-speaking world can barely hear Diego Maradona’s poignant reflection on his famous goal in Argentina’s 2-1 win over England in the Mexican World Cup. 1986.
Reuters sports correspondent Rex Gowar was at the Azteca Stadium after the match when Maradona claimed to be the most talked about cheating man in football history.
“It was my first World Cup coverage with Reuters,” said Gowar, who first met Maradona as a teenager in Buenos Aires as a photographer for an Argentine newspaper, reminiscing about Maradona, who died aged 60 on Wednesday.
“We were near the dressing room with a group of Argentine football writers, it was the kind of usual debate you have after such an important game.”
Meanwhile, long before cell phones, social media and 24 hour non-stop news existed, outrage was already brewing after TV replays clearly showed Maradona using his hand to slap the ball past England goalkeeper Peter Shilton for Argentina’s opener in their 2-1 win.
The fact that his second goal he scored minutes later was a work of genius was overshadowed by the wild controversy over his first goal.
As if pouring gasoline into the fire, Maradona then uttered the words which then made big news around the world.
“Un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios (a little thanks to Maradona’s head and a little blessing from God’s hand),” Maradona told several select journalists who sniffed out the day’s famous quote. Quotes are like gold.
“I was part of the shock to hear that quote,” said Gowar, who covered all four World Cups that Maradona participated in.
“The quote came out of us when we questioned him. Nobody knows exactly who he said that sentence to, but of course as soon as I heard the quote I was impressed and of course my editing table was impressed.”
Below: interpretations of the British media
The British mass media tried to learn something from the statement as the scapegoat of his team’s failure to repeat the success of the 1966 World Cup. They quoted a copy of the quote clad in a sense of being the victim of injustice due to Maradona’s blatant deception.
However, considering that there is no official translation, they have not heard Maradona’s confession until a Reuters wire entered their office. Some media outlets, said Gowar, could not believe Mardona had actually said that, perhaps upset that they missed the most horrendous quote of the decade.
When the English football writers were angry, their Argentine counterparts praised Maradona.
“They didn’t try to argue that he used his hands,” recalled Gowar. “They know what happened but find it rude to him, they are impressed that he just got away with it.”
Surprisingly, Gowar almost missed the iconic moment after slipping in his hotel bathroom on the morning of the title match. “After falling with my right elbow which still carries the scar, I put a bandage on and headed for the Azteca Stadium,” he wrote that day.
“Do we Argentines believe that England are just another easy hurdle on the way to their second World Cup title? It’s easy to assume that at this point, but Maradona has a trick as a precaution.”
Sitting in the media stands above, Gowar recounts a moment that will become a part of the sport’s legend.
“My Reuters colleagues were shocked when Maradona, who pretended to head the opener, ran to celebrate the goal. The referee, pointing to the halfway point (foreshadowing the goal), was surrounded by English players demanding a hand ball decision,” he said.
“The press stand which is located upstairs in the third row of the giant stadium and away from the goal where he scored the goal was suddenly in an uproar almost couldn’t believe the referee missed the trick.”
Few journalists can boast of Gowar’s insights into Maradona’s extraordinary career.
He got an exclusive interview with Maradona when he was 19 in April 1980, weeks before he wowed England at Wembley on the then new world champions’ European tour. And he was also in the United States 14 years later when Maradona’s dream of winning a second World Cup was crushed by a positive doping test.
“It ruined our dreams too,” said Gowar as quoted by Reuters. (sak/ant)