When Maradona met Brian Clough
A version of this article was first published in "Forest Review" on Wednesday, 23rd October, 2019 versus Hull City
In this era, debate rages as to who is the best player in the world: Messi or Ronaldo.
In the 1980s, there was little dispute who was the world’s greatest: Diego Armando Maradona.
Some of you may have been fortunate enough to watch Asif Kapadia’s excellent eponymously-named film in cinemas over the summer, featuring the best of 500 hours of never-seen-before footage of Maradona.
For us Forest fans, the most fascinating insight of the Argentine is the grainy footage still available on You Tube of his virtuoso performance against us in monsoon conditions at the Camp Nou on 23rd August 1983.
Helpfully, one of the YouTube videos includes five minutes of his every touch in the match – a pre-season friendly for the Joan Gamper Trophy, an event Barcelona have hosted every year since 1966 against top global opposition (last year, Arsenal lost 2-1 in front of 98,000).
Maradona scores a goal reminiscent of his second - and, of course, only legitimate - goal against England in the 1986 World Cup Quarter-Final, as Barcelona beat us 2-0 to take some revenge for our UEFA Super Cup victory of only three years previously.
The conditions were so farcical that the ball could not travel along the ground due to surface water.
The footage reveals that Maradona employed specific tactics to evade both God’s weatherly intervention and Bomber Bowyer and his team mates.
Repeatedly throughout the match he flicks the ball up off the ground, juggles it five or six times, and then nonchalantly volleys the ball to the feet of a team mate.
The ball always lands in exactly the right position, with the only inconvenience for his colleague being the splash of the ball hitting the water at their feet.
In those days, we frequently played European giants in pre-season friendlies and the match programme would drip-feed the information of our exploits across a number of editions at the start of the season.
So it wasn’t until mid-September 1983 that we got a one-page debrief of the match with Bomber explaining: “We didn’t make any special plans for him – whenever he got the ball four of us made for him but he always got away!”.
“There’s not very much of him but the thing that impressed me most of all was his strength, It’s very difficult to get at him”.
Indeed, the footage shows the only known instance of Bomber being out-muscled as Maradona turns over possession from our erstwhile captain who was arguably one of the fiercest competitors to ever grace our midfield.
For Maradona’s goal, Bomber explained: “He picked the ball up about 25 yards from our goal and in the space of ten yards went past a couple of us. Once he was in the area it was either going to be a penalty or a goal. If anybody had touched him he would have ended up in Madrid!”.
In fact, he beats no less than four of our players, gliding across the water like a superyacht, before rounding Hans van Breukelen and sliding the ball home.
At the end of the match, it was Kenny Swain who claimed Maradona’s shirt, just as team mate Steve Hodge would three years later after that infamous World Cup match.
Bomber remarked that Swain would have followed Maradona into the toilet to swap shirts but Kenny revealed: “It was the boss [Brian Clough] who shouted to me “Get his shirt” … so I did. I thought he might have wanted it to raffle off and buy a player!”.
Hodge’s enjoyable autobiography is entitled “The Man with Maradona’s shirt” and his intro reveals what actually happened when those two geniuses Clough and Maradona crossed paths in the tunnel pre-match.
“You might be able to play a bit….but I can still grab you by the balls!” exclaimed the green-jumpered one.
Which, of course, he then did and strode off to the bench.