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1/1 and 1/1
1/1 and 1/1
It was a bright day, but we were in the shadow of a Kerry Otto, so big it had a weather system of its own. The boys from St Ninians, a fascinating hamlet on the outskirts of Stirling, went to Hampden to see the world champions, and a young man in particular, who had been anointed a great man, but without our permission.
It was June 2, 1979. These were the days when it was obligatory to drink in the stands. Those were also the days before Twitter, before that interweb thingy, and as simple as exchanging two layers of paint or a moving atom in a time while watching Argentine soccer.
But in newspaper interviews, Diego Armando Maradona had been promoted, with profiles that indicated that he might have been on the squad that had won the World Cup the year before. He was 18 now, so how good had he been?
As cans vanished at a whip round for the NHS with the ease of Tory MPs, the St Ninians verdict could have been thirsty work. But the verdict was rapid. Diego’s been a genius. He skirted around defenders, bounced off opponents, slithered through passes and then scored, twitching his left foot at the near post, right in front of the uncovered terrace where we stood dazed by a combination of alcohol and beauty before slamming the ball in.
There was a moment, I swear, when Diego realized earlier in the game that unexpectedly the belligerent crowd had become almost treacherously friendly. The’ Hampden Roar’ had become the’ Hampden Acclaim.’ A collective, joyous, raucous cheer erupted after one match, followed by applause. Having passed the ball to a friend, the young player seemed to pause, glance around, and realize that he was not only the center of focus, but also the host of a magnificent party.
Of course, for the greatest player I’ve ever seen, yesterday it all ended. It’s something for a pub on rainy evenings to discuss the greatest player of all time, but I’ll never forget that day in the sun and what it meant to me.
There were more than just signs of what he was going to become at the time. He was already, in reality, fabulous. History offered him nothing but needless glamour. His incomparable brilliance and, most importantly, his will to succeed are testified by two observations. First, for nearly 100 years, Napoli has been around and has won Serie A twice. Of course, Maradona, in both seasons, was the king.
Secondly, the ‘Wee Man’ won the 1986 World Cup almost single-handedly (see what I did there). He had eager and competent accomplices such as Jorge Valdano and Jorge Burruchaga, but we would still be demolishing the Kerry Out if Diego had been placed into the 1986 Scotland squad.
The first stanza of a heroic poem, including glory, loss, redemption, further failure and crippling glory and redemption, was also given by Hampden in 1979. Not only did it show him as extravagantly talented, but also as resolutely generous. The boy from the barrio cheered when he laid out the pass for Leopold Luque to win, as if his lottery numbers had been drawn and Mama could finally sell the chickens. This reaction was proof of two core characteristics. Diego Maradona enjoyed winning. Diego Maradona was a player for the team. He was respected by those who played with him. This is not an unavoidable genius corollary. Don Bradman, for example, the greatest batsman of his time, perhaps of any time, was loathed by some of his Australian teammates and disliked by others.
Maradona, on the other hand, was revered in the dressing room for his generosity and for the belief that his individual achievements only mattered if the collective won. Valdano, an excellent player who perhaps best conveys what it means to be a top player, was at Maradona’s side as he ran through the English defense to score that goal. It was a goal, of course, just as a glorious, life-affirming sunset is simply a trick of the light.
Valdano said, “Diego apologized to me. He could see me all the way unchallenged, but he couldn’t find a gap to get the ball to me. Even on a run like that, he still has the time to look up and see me.”
Diego also had the time to party like Caligula at a bachelor party. He was inclined to cocaine and less inclined to training sessions. He was always a poor boy, despite the riches he accumulated and lost. He was suspicious