My life has long been linked with that of Diego Maradona — and not in the way I would have liked. But I am saddened to hear of his passing at such a young age. He was undoubtedly the greatest player I ever faced and my thoughts are with his family.
We thought we were ready for Maradona on that day back in 1986 in Mexico City. A World Cup quarter-final against Argentina was the biggest game many of that England team had ever played and he was their most dangerous player.
There were no special plans for him, no man-marking. We just said we would watch his runs, try to cut him off and not let him get into his stride. For almost an hour it worked.
Diego Maradona infamously handled the ball to score past England goalkeeper Peter Shilton for Argentina during the 1986 World Cup quarter-final
None of us expected what happened next. How could we? He challenged me for a high, looping ball, but knew he wouldn’t get it with his head, so he punched it into the net. A clear offence. Cheating.
As he ran away to celebrate he even looked back twice, as if waiting for the referee’s whistle. He knew what he had done. Everybody did — apart from the referee and two linesmen. I don’t care what anybody says, it won the game for Argentina. He scored a brilliant second almost immediately, but we were still reeling from what had happened minutes earlier.
For the first time in the game, we let him get a run on us and he scored. It was a great goal but we were in no doubt — without the first goal he would not have scored the second.
The pair shake hands before the encounter in Mexico City that Argentina would win 2-1
It has bothered me over the years. I won’t lie about that now. People say I should have cleared the ball anyway and that I let a smaller man outjump me. That’s rubbish. He had the run on me but that can happen.
He wouldn’t have punched it if he knew he could head it, would he? Of course not. So I am OK with all that.
No, what I don’t like is that he never apologised. Never at any stage did he say he had cheated and that he would like to say sorry. Instead, he used his ‘Hand of God’ line. That wasn’t right.
It seems he had greatness in him but sadly no sportsmanship.
Maradona followed up the handball with an incredible solo run goal to put Argentina 2-0 up
Over the years, there were a few attempts to get the two of us together in the same room.
My approach to that was always the same — that I would be happy to do it if I thought he was going to apologise. I would have shaken his hand. But I was never given any indication that was likely to happen.
Once I was asked to go on a talk show with him in Argentina. But again it didn’t feel right. I felt it was all going to be a bit of a gimmick so I stayed away and I think I made the right decision. Gary Lineker went over some time after that for a TV thing, but every time he thought he was going to meet Maradona, he never showed up. I wasn’t surprised.
Most of the England team who played in Mexico feel the way I do to this day.
Gary Lineker, who scored England’s consolation goal that day, pictured with Maradona just a few months later in September 1986