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"Maradona was a phenomenon" - verdict from a man who played against him

Words by Rob Chilton

After the death of Diego Maradona aged 60, ex-England midfielder Trevor Steven remembers the famous match against Argentina at the 1986 World Cup

England veteran Trevor Steven was part of the England team who were knocked out by Argentina at the 1986 World Cup. Now 57, Steven was on the pitch for both Maradona’s quarter-final goals: the infamous handball incident and his second, a sensational dribble and finish past England goalkeeper Peter Shilton. Capped 36 times by England, Steven enjoyed huge success at club level for Everton and Glasgow Rangers. He spoke to EDGAR about that memorable Maradona match in 1986.

What was Maradona’s status before the 1986 World Cup?

He was the best player in the world at that time. He was a phenomenon, a living legend who was completely different to anybody else playing at that time. He was a master. Maradona was still quite young at that tournament [he was 25] but everybody knew about him and his impact on football was already incredible.

Maradona puzzles the England defence

What struck you about his style of play?

You watch that famous clip of him warming up before a Napoli match – his teammates are doing serious stretches and he’s doing keepie-uppies and a sort of salsa dance. He was built to play football. He had a small but unbelievably robust frame; his centre of gravity was somewhere around his knee caps.

What do you remember about the build-up to the quarter-final?

The backdrop to that game was the Falklands War so the intensity was increased. I remember the heat too. It was Mexico City, 110 degrees, midday kick-off at altitude. I played for about 80 minutes before John Barnes came on for me. It wasn’t a great game, it was scrappy, but we had to keep it that way because if we opened up we knew Maradona would punish us.

Talk us through his first handball goal.

I didn’t actually see it. The ball looped up from Steve Hodge and I saw Peter Shilton coming out to get it. I looked away in anticipation of where Peter was going to punch the ball. I looked back and Peter had his arm in the air and the ball was in the net. I thought to myself, 'What happened?' We were a wee bit angry but we had to pack our bags and go home the next day.

That infamous handball

What are your memories of his remarkable second goal?

About half a dozen England players tried to get near him and couldn’t. The strength Maradona had to hold people off, the energy, the balance, the composure and vision to do what he did was amazing. To run with the ball at that pace – he just accelerated all the way. Then, when the moment came, he showed incredible calmness to take it round the keeper. All those guys – Terry Fenwick, Terry Butcher, Peter Reid – they all say now they wished they had brought him down.

Are you proud to have played in that famous match?

I was lucky and very privileged to have played for England in two World Cups. Looking back on my career, two games stand out: the Hand of God game and the semi-final of the 1990 World Cup in Italy. What we did under Bobby Robson was a great achievement. I don’t talk about my career much, but if people bring up the Maradona game in 1986 someone will say, ‘Trevor played in that match.’

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