It was 1986. Mum and Dad bought a video recorder, which enabled us to watch Mexican time football after school in England. One of my first memories was waking up and finding a note on my pillow: “England won. Gary Lineker scored a hat-trick” and if that doesn’t set you up for the day when you’re ten years old, nothing will.
I had only just graduated from a small Weetabix radio (save up tokens, send, wait the obligatory 28 days, receive), a bright yellow thing the size of a large matchbox. On this I had first learned of Gary Lineker’s excellence, listening intently as he scored his first international goal against Republic of Ireland at Wembley (this was 26 March 1985, I now discover; interesting how you can piece your childhood together by these things).
In those days football coverage wasn’t *entertainment*, it was… football coverage. Listening to the match develop through a small plastic Weetabix box, you felt, to borrow the cliche, that you were there in the crowd. The commentary was excitable when we attacked, worried when we defended. It wasn’t about one egotist’s opinions, it was about conveying the action. I loved it. Because you couldn’t see anything every attack felt dangerous, at either end. You didn’t have a commentator telling you how bored he was, you just got action, action, action. Or so it felt.
England marched on through Mexico 86, qualifying after that Poland win and then finishing off Paraguay in the next game, Peter Beardsley springing to mind when I think about that match. Next it was Argentina, and you all know what happened there. My memory is not of Maradona’s brilliance, but of England’s ineptitude: how long do you want to escort this man down the pitch then? Oh, he’s gone all the way and scored. Well done, defence. And just as I think of Beardsley when I think of the Paraguay game, Argentina is about John Barnes, who came on late and ripped Argentina to shreds, pinging over what seemed like cross after cross from that left flank, one of which Lineker turned in, another just evading our heroic centre-forward.
And so England were out, but that didn’t really matter as there was much still to play for. Argentina played Belgium in the semi-finals, and this was a game with quite the family tree: in the first knockout round Belgium beat USSR 4-3, an amazing game (Belgium had beaten Iraq, lost to Mexico and drawn with Paraguay in the groups; Russia had stunned Hungary 6-0 (I have this game on DVD), beaten Canada, and held France with the help of a Vasily Rats screamer). Also in this round, Spain beat Denmark 5-1, the same Denmark that had looked for all the world like champions in waiting in the groups (6-1 against Uruguay, for instance: untouchable (not that the Uruguayans didn’t try), Germany(2-0) and Scotland (1-0)). Then Belgium beat Spain to set up their semi, and got thoroughly unraveled by the genius of Maradona.
In the other half West Germany played France, the Germans awkwardly knocking out Morocco, France getting rid of Italy, *then* France beat Brazil, brilliantly, and West Germany beat the hosts on penalties. I remember parts of all this, but my 10 year old mind seems to have been more in tune with the Argentina (England) half of the draw. Germany beat France, then met the Argies in the final.
It was brilliant. Looking back, I saw the end of the 1990 World Cup Final in Cople Cricket Club clubhouse (having returned from an away game somewhere else), the 1994 Final in my mate Dan’s house, the 1998 and 2002 finals are a blank, but 1986 was there, in our lounge at home. I’m fairly sure of this.
We sat and saw Jose Luis Brown score for Argentina (Brown? Not very Argentinian is it?), then Jorge Valdano sprinted clear to make it 2-0 (the West Germany defence must have been playing a high line to squeeze the game and push Maradona back into his own half). Then the much hyped Karl-Heinz Rumenigge (one of those player I think I never saw the best of) scored from close range after a corner, then so did Rudi Voller, one of those in front of the ‘keeper headers that seemed to be all the rage back then (Carl Shutt of Sheffield Wednesday scored one like that, Lineker did it sometimes, too), and all of a sudden it was 2-2.
The fun thing here was the sporting gods’ next act, to dash West German hopes in one clever through ball. At 2-0 down they were out of it; at 2-2 they had the momentum; then the whole thing was done with, Maradona in midfield, surrounded, an exquisite dink and there goes Burrachaga, on, on, on, then past Schumacher and in, the World Cup decided.