Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Hand Of... Oh God, Not Again!

Being British I can bear a grudge with the best of them. I like nothing better than to nurture some perceived grievance and to slowly plot some revenge I will probably never enact. It's a national pastime, probably up there with whinging and moaning, we clearly all love to hold grudges.

This said, even I know where to draw a line. Time is usually a great healer, is there any point in wanting to piss on the grave of a school bully when you haven't seen that oaf in almost 30 years? Similarly one might think that English sports writers could move beyond the shadow of the war whenever we face Germany in any fixture. Guys, it ended 60 years ago and war is not the basis for puns. Not now, not ever.

Naturally we enjoy the schadenfreude (tactical use of Deutsch word, use the link to look it up if you need to) of some enemy or other coming to grief, even when we played no part in it. We also seem to relish the downfall of the famous or fatuous thanks to our build 'em up, knock 'em down mentality. Thus, there is Maradona. One-time king of football, latterly known for his drug problems and carrying enough blubber that he looked like he had two baby elephants wrestling in his tracksuit.

It's a fact that Maradona was one of the most gifted footballers to grace the grass of many a pitch, but you'll rarely read about that in England. Instead, I can guarantee, that accompanying any text about him will be some reference (usually in the headline) about the World Cup Goal he scored against 'us' using his hand. Since he then referred to it 'tactically' (if not tactfully) as the 'hand of God' this will usually, if not always, feature in the article.

Picking, at random, Tuesday's edition of The Times there was a mention of 'the hand' on the back page followed by two articles inside which also referred to it. Three mentions within three pages. All papers have also carried quotes from Terry Butcher, one of England's 'defenders' that day, who says he'll never forgive Maradona for that goal.

You might think that Butcher would be happy about the nature of the infamous goal, generally because it obscures the memory of Maradona and his cohorts running rings around the England defence and Butcher in particular. Yes, it was cheating and it caused some pain at the time, but those of us who go to football on a regular basis see similar injustice every week and England have had dubious penalties and other decisions go in their favour on a random basis before and since then.

The main problem about the 'hand' goal, apart from its ongoing repetition in the press and the stain on Maradona's ability, is that it frequently allows us to forget about Maradona's other goal in that game - one of the best you'll see in any match, World Cup or otherwise.

MARADONNA - BEST GOAL IN HISTORY (YOUTUBE)

Can we please remember Maradona the genius, skipping at least six challenges as he picks up the ball in his own half and dances through the England defence before escaping the desperate lunge of Butcher himself to slot the ball home? This is a moment of football history we should all rejoice in, despite the fact that it was against England.

Sadly, we're not that magnanimous. On You Tube vids of the 'hand of God' goal have been viewed over a million times, but the better goal (above) has been seen on a far less frequent basis. How ridiculous is that?

In case you didn't know, the 'hand of God' goal was scored in 1986. 22 years ago, the common thread between Argentina and Germany is of course that we've been to war with them both. We have one Remembrance Day per year for real heroes and genuine hardship, but it seems that there are many more opportunities to dredge up ill-feeling and petty grievances.

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