Hugh MacDonald: Day in the Hampden sun a teenage Diego Maradona confirmed buzz to Scottish fans
It was June 2, 1979. These were the days when drinking was obligatory on the balconies. These were the days, too, before YouTube, before that Interweb thingy and in a time when it was as easy to view Argentinian football as it was to split two coats of paint or a passing atom.
However Diego Armando Maradona had been heralded in newspaper reports, with profiles recommending he should have been in the team that won the World Cup the previous year. He was now 18. So how great was he?
The St Ninians judgment might have been thirsty work as cans disappeared with the facility of Tory MPs at a whip-round for the NHS. However the decision was quickly made. Diego was a genius. He slalomed round protectors, bounced off difficulties, slid through passes and after that scored an objective, twitching that left foot before knocking the ball in at the near post, right in front of the exposed terracing where we stood dazed by a mixture of alcohol and charm.
There was a minute, I swear, earlier in the video game when Diego realised that the belligerent crowd had all of a sudden ended up being practically traitorously friendly. The Hampden Holler had become the Hampden Praise. After one piece of ability, there was an outbreak of a cumulative, jubilant, singing honor followed by applause. The young player had provided the ball to a team-mate and he appeared to stop, look around and appreciate that not just was he the centre of destination but he was the host of a wonderful party.
Everything, obviously, stopped the other day for the very best gamer I have ever seen. The debate on the best of perpetuity is for the pub on rainy nights however I will never ever forget that day in the sun and what it hinted.
There were more than hints then of what he would end up being. He was, indeed, already fantastic. History just gave him an unnecessary shine. There are 2 observations that affirm to his peerless luster and, most importantly, his drive to win. First, Napoli have been in existence for almost 100 years and have actually won Serie A twice. Maradona, obviously, was the leader in both seasons.
Secondly, the Wee Guy won the 1986 World Cup almost single-handedly (see what I did there). He had willing and able accomplices in such as Jorge Valdano and Jorge Burruchaga however if one had put Diego into the 1986 Scotland team then we may still be destroying the kerry-oot.
Hampden of 1979 likewise used the first stanza of a heroic poem that had glory, failure, redemption, more failure, and deteriorating glory and redemption. It showed him to be not just extravagantly talented however determinedly generous. When he laid on the pass for Leopold Luque to score, the boy from the barrio commemorated as if his lottery numbers had actually shown up and mama can lastly offer the chickens. This response testified to 2 core characteristics. Diego Maradona loved to win. Diego Maradona was a group player. He was liked by those who played with him. This is not an obligatory accessory to genius. Don Bradman, for instance, the biggest batsman of his age, possibly any age, was hated by some of his Australia team-mates and done not like by others.
Maradona, on the other hand, was adored in the dressing room for his generosity of spirit and for the belief that his private efficiency just meant something if the collective dominated. Valdano, an excellent player and possibly the very best to convey the experience of being an elite entertainer, was at Maradona’s side as he careered through the England defence for that objective. It was a goal, of course, in the very same method that a wonderful, life-affirming sundown is simply a technique of the light.
Valdano stated: “Diego apologised to me. He could see me unmarked the entire way however he could not discover a space to get to the ball to me. I mean, even on a run like that he still has the time to look up and see me.”
Diego, too, had the time to celebration like Caligula on a stag night. He was too keen on cocaine and less enamoured of training sessions. He was always a poor young boy, despite the riches he collected and lost. He was suspicious of some who wished to assist, welcoming to those, especially the crime lords in Naples, who utilized, mistreated and then discarded him. There were the scandals of drug tests failed, paternity matches lost and journalists wounded by airgun pellets.
There was the ego that swelled in compassion with his stomach. However there was constantly, at the core, the kid who liked football. It liked him back. In Buenos Aires and Naples, in particular, he has exceeded sporting celebrity to the status of a quasi saint, a benign magician, whose powers drift towards the supernatural. There are not homages to Diego in these cities, but shrines.
They are not alone in this veneration. Hampden ’79 was my baptism in the benign cult of Diego. I subsequently invested the next four years jumping at his goals, wincing at his excesses, and, periodically, praying for his well-being.
There is hence a personal desolation at the death of a 60-year-old guy I never ever met outside a press conference. Why? The response is easy.