34 years on, Peter Shilton still doesn't understand the greatness of Maradona 1 month ago

34 years on, Peter Shilton still doesn't understand the greatness of Maradona

If he doesn't get it now, he never will

Wednesday, November 26th, saw us greeted with the news that we all knew would eventually come, even if we refused to acknowledge it. Diego Armando Maradona, one of the greatest footballers and compelling characters to ever grace a football field, had died at the age of 60.

Maradona's career was filled with highlights. From that famous warm up prior to a Uefa Cup semi-final, in which he showed more skill with a football in the space of 10 minutes than most players do during their entire lives, to his one-man show that was the 1986 World Cup - he never ceased to entertain.

For the people of England, though, Maradona will mostly be remembered for that goal. The Hand of God. That moment when all 5 foot and 5 inches of Maradona rose above Peter Shilton, the 6 foot goalkeeper moored to the ground as if the universe was telling him, 'Nah mate, sit this one out'.

It was not his greatest act in that game - that would be his second goal, during which he waltzed through the entire England team and left Shilton once again lost at sea (though this time horizontally) - but it was his most controversial.

And crucially, for a nation which we increasingly realise savours nothing more than being in a position to bemoan unfair treatment from history, it was the moment on which they could hang that defeat.

When Peter Shilton was approached by the Daily Mail to write a piece following the death of Maradona, there would have been no doubt in anyone's mind what the article's hook would be.


There would be little nuance, little attempt at perhaps - as strange as it may be - viewing the death of a true icon through the prism of anything other than a nation which will never forgive, and never forget.

And so it was, the headline of the piece telling you all you needed to know: 'Diego Maradona had greatness, but no sportsmanship... He never apologised for cheating England in the World Cup quarter-final, instead he used his 'Hand of God' line'.

This should be no surprise. The front pages from much of the tabloid press - each adorned with some version of 'He Is Now In The Hands of God' - lend credence to the Original Thought Theory, which posits that anything you've ever said or thought has already been said or thought by someone else before.

Surprising? No. Illuminating? Yes. Because it illustrates that all these years after that moment, all the nights and mornings and lived experiences and reflections on times gone past, many still don't understand the greatness of Maradona.

Shilton's retrospection on that moment, like many of his compatriots, tends to focus on the qualities he and his compatriots possessed, but which Maradona lacked. Honesty, sportsmanship, respect for the rules.

The moral fortitude of the gnarled, virtuous Englishman versus the wily, untrustworthy street urchin from Buenos Aires.

A clear head, unbothered by the harsh reality that this tiny man has out-jumped you to punch the ball into the net, can hopefully see the truth; that the only trait which England and Shilton possessed and which Maradona lacked was naivety - naivety that football is a game played by gentlemen who wouldn't cross the line to win.

But in football, lines are made to be crossed, and it is at the discretion of the officials to notice it. Maradona knew this. And he walked along that line, regularly crossing it whenever it took his fancy, throughout his career and his life.

Maradona's awareness of this, and the knowledge that even he - the best player in the world at the time - was not above dirty tricks, was distilled in that moment. So, too, was his greatness.

Shilton should not be chided for being angry about what happened, anyone would be. But one would have hoped that after all these years and with England's great foe now tragically deceased, that this anger might have eventually made way for respect and recognition.

This clearly isn't the case, and for that it would be tempting to mock or condemn him. But, perhaps, at a time when the world is collectively and joyfully reflecting on one of the greatest ever, all Shilton truly warrants is our pity.