Diego Maradona and Peter Shilton

I know this probably makes me a bad person, but I found myself slapping my thigh and laughing uproariously when Peter Shilton was interviewed on t’telly last night. He was a tremendous goal-keeper but he has put on some serious weight with the years.

But I wasn’t laughing at his stomach – no, Virginia, I would never do that. I was laughing at the way he remembered Maradona.

You’ll have seen the clips of THAT GAME, when Argentina beat England in the World Cup of 1986. The first was the famous Hand of God goal, where in live action it looked as though Maradona had headed the ball, but slo-mo made it look much more likely that Maradona punched the ball into the England net.  The second was when Maradona picked up the ball around mid-field, went past his marker as if he wasn’t there,  slid through two or three England defenders, rounded Peter Shilton as he grasped at air, and flicked the ball into the back of England’s net.

Poor Peter has still not quite got over that first goal, although I suspect his grief is really rooted in the second, where Maradona made a monkey of him and the entire England defence line. Cheating, Peter said. Not admitting the truth. Not apologising. Not, well, not cricket, really.

My mind goes back to Thierry Henry, who did something similar to the Ireland team, using his hand to turn the game in France’s favour.  Do I hate Henry? Not really. I’d wish someone had kicked the shins off him afterwards but I wouldn’t hold a grudge. After all, it’s not a hanging offence, and besides, both players, particularly Maradona, did it in such a blink-of-the-eye way, it was like watching a conjurer rather than a footballer.

The English are famous for their stiff upper lip and being good sportsmen. Where does the eternal replaying of England’s World Cup win of 1966 fit into that? The truth is, we Irish really really like it when England get stuffed. And nobody stuffed them more comprehensively than Maradona: first with a dazzling deception and then with a dazzling, unforgettable run.

Like George Best, Maradona spent his later years getting as much drugs and sex into his system as time and stamina would allow.

I think Don Marquis’s poem ‘the lesson of the moth’  summarises Maradona’s dance of life beautifully.

the lesson of the moth

i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into

an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense

plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity

but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself

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