Wednesday, 2 June 2010
My World Cup Memories - Part Two, Mexico 86
Four years on from the bewildering experience of Spain 82 and the World Cup had moved on to South America and Mexico. I was now 12 years old and far wiser to world football. Unlike the previous World Cup, this one could not sneak up on me with little time to fully take in what the month-long festival of football really meant before it exploded in all of it’s colourful splendor, played out it’s drama and died in a flash. In fact, this time around I’d followed England’s qualification for the greatest tournament on earth. My excitement was steadily building many months in advance.
Once again, my ‘Mexico 86’ reference book was read back to back, over and over as I familiarized myself with yet new countries and their whereabouts, national flag and footballers. Out had gone countries like Honduras, Peru and El Salvador and in their place on the world stage were intriguing national teams like Iraq, Morocco and South Korea. Like the previous World Cup, I stared wide-eyed at the stadia from where the football would take place. If Barcelona’s Camp Nou - with it’s 94,000 capacity - seemed big, then you can imagine how awe-inspiring the sight of the mighty Azteca Stadium in Mexico City was for a young lad who was already developing a fascination with football stadia! When full, it would take some 114,600 people to fill it! I was used to a few hundred each week following my local non-league team: I just struggled to comprehend the sheer size of the Azteca.
Mexico had created a thoroughly likable World Cup mascot in ‘Pique’, who was dressed in the national team colours with a huge moustache and big sombrero. He was commonplace in kinder eggs at the time. It was some years later that I realised he was a jalapeno pepper! Perhaps the Mexicans alternative mascot should have been their very own striker Hugo Sanchez, who seemed to find ways of spectacularly overhead licking everything! Searing heat was once again a feature throughout the whole tournament. Advances in technology had bought better quality TV pictures and sound, with the clarity of the colour enhanced by the Central American sunshine.
The time difference meant that I’d miss the weekday early afternoon games because of school, but I’d be home in time for the second round of daily matches, of which, in the group matches at least, England thankfully featured. I don’t recall much about our first two games (a defeat and a draw), other than Robson going off in agony holding his shoulder against Morocco and me thinking the world was coming to an end. Thankfully, a 3-0 victory over Poland, via Gary Lineker’s hatrick, was enough to see us in to the last 16, where England tasted the Azteca experience for the first time in this World Cup v’s Paraguay. We won 3.0, although I don’t recall a single thing about the game (it’s likely I was at school).
Our reward for the Paraguay victory was another visit to the mighty Azteca, and a quarter final v’s Argentina. The game - played early afternoon on a Sunday - gripped the nation as memories of the Falklands conflict a few years earlier still evoked intense emotion. Typically, the red top newspapers went to town. This was Maradona’s Argentina. The Azteca was packed to the rafters (in fact, a report at the time stated over 121,000 were thought to be present, well above it’s official capacity noted above, and more than the final itself). In terms of world football, games just didn’t get more meaningful. This game possibly represents the one and only time I can remember my entire family sitting down to watch a TV game together. Even my sister watched! I had my Dad’s seat: the best position in the house for viewing the TV. In many respects, I was as excited about seeing Maradona as watching England. The left-footed, tiny-but-stocky, big haired Argentine with the low centre of gravity had left me spellbound in the tournament so far as he looked to be almost single-handedly carrying the full weight of Argentina on his back. And then, in the space of 90 minutes, two very different moments that would be etched in football history forever. Firstly, the ‘Hand of God’. I make no apologies as a very proud Englishman to say I have always been embarrassed by the English response to that ‘goal’ (in many ways, a non-typical English response that was hyped up by the poor quality newspapers of the day). I just couldn’t fault Maradona. I was twelve years old and I deeply admired his cheek, defiance, arrogance and will to win. I would argue with anyone that had Lineker committed the same offence up the other end we’d have called him a hero. But for all the criticism that came with the first goal, even the hardiest of England fan could not have done anything other than admire the second. For me, it remains the best goal ever scored (I take in to account the occasion and stage). Maradona’s run was far beyond genius: beyond imagination. I had never seen such genius with the football. You could have put the entire English nation in front of Shilton that day and the world’s greatest footballer would have gone through us all. He was unplayable and unstoppable. Above all else, I wanted with all my twelve year old heart for England to win, but the truth was that day belonged to someone else…El Diego!
By the way, in only one Englishman have I ever seen that sort of maverick natural brilliance, albeit on a much-reduced level - comparatively speaking - and I will cover Gazza in my next post.
Maradona scored twice again in the semi final v’s Belgium, avenging the shock 1-0 reverse at the hands of the same opposition in the previous World Cup. The necessity to be educated scuppered my chances of watching the other semi, of which West Germany proved victorious (knowing me, I was staring out of my school classroom window daydreaming of lifting the World Cup, wishing the hours away).
So on to the final. In England we were torn on who to support: our arch-enemies, West Germany, or the Argentines, who had so controversially (in the opinion of many) knocked us out the competition. For me, it was easy; I wanted Maradona to lift the World Cup. The final was a gripping affair with West Germany fighting back from 2-0 down to draw level via Rummenigger and the stereotypical caricature of a German, Rudi ‘The Spit’ Voller. Not long after the equalizer Maradona waved his magic wand once again sending Burruchaga through to score the winner for Argentina.
Mexico 86 had passed with so many memories and emotions imbedded in my young mind. Next up, Italia 90. The lump is forming in my throat as I write…