FOLLOWERS of the roundball game were cheered last week by the appearance of Diego Armando Maradona at Twickenham as Argentina fell gallantly to Australia in the rugby World Cup semi-finals.
The Wee Man was in the stands, joining in the singing and banging his hand on his heart. It was a wonderful sighting of the most accomplished footballer I have ever watched. I first saw him on June 2, 1979, at Hampden Park when Argentina, the world champions, trundled up to the national stadium to contest a friendly. At 18, Maradona was simply astonishing.
This was a Scotland side that bristled with genuine talent. There was Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen, David Narey, John Wark, Asa Hartford and others. The diminutive Maradona was head and shoulders above them all.
He scored too but he spent the afternoon confounding Scottish players and entertaining the 61,918 Scottish fans. I was one of them. I stood in the ‘Celtic end’ with my mates, ironically most of them Rangers fans, in the midst of a carry out so large it deserved its own traffic system and should have been designated with a postcode. As the tins of lager were demolished, the mood of merriment was increased with young Diego dancing around defenders or simply bouncing off them. His left foot was like a claw that seemed to keep the ball safe from the most belligerent of defenders. He could not be stopped by heavy tackles and cruised through the match while greeted with waves of applause. He later donned a Scotland shirt to take the applause from the crowd but at one point in the match he stopped when a roar of acclaim rolled down from the terracings. He seem surprised that an ‘away’ crowd could give him such praise.
But it was impossible not to be enchanted by him. He was not just peerless with a football but in love with the football. He caressed it and nurtured it. One could see it meant everything to him. In turn, he meant everything to the football fan. It was impossible to resist his charms.
Maradona went on to win a World Cup single-handedly in 1986 but was consumed later by drug scandals. He was bright and animated at Twickenham last week, But I will always remember his day in the Hampden sun.