We all remember our first World Cup; the excitement and anticipation felt as a child when you experience wall-to-wall football for a month. This week I have decided to compile my personal A to Z of Mexico '86, including Maradona, Lineker, and a green mascot that nearly saw me develop an addiction to chocolate.
The 1986 World Cup winners and worthy of the title. Maradona will be discussed at various other points in this A to Z, but the contributions of Sergio Batista, Jorge Burruchaga, and Jorge Valdano should not be underestimated. Of course Argentina relied heavily on one man for inspiration, but it was hardly their fault that they had the greatest player in the world.
Boys of '66
Everywhere you looked before and during Mexico, there would be references made to England's triumph twenty years earlier. As proud as I was of this, even at a young age I became aware of how suffocating this must have been to the current crop of players. It is a problem that has not gone away in the many years of hurt to have followed my first World Cup.
The Boys of '66 documentary hosted by Michael Parkinson on ITV, the Summer of 66 on BBC1, Hindsight on ITV with Gordon Banks and Jack Charlton, and a repeat of Goal (the 1966 World Cup film) were all pleasurable viewing for me, and I lapped it all up like many other English football lovers. Yet surely there was a fine line between rightly celebrating that glorious occasion, or dwelling on it far too much?
I think we all know the story by now. 51 minutes into their quarter-final, Argentina and England remained 0-0, both teams cautious as the match drifted along, neither willing to give an inch. England were particularly edgy, knowing that the little maestro Maradona may have a trick or two up his sleeve to separate the teams. Quite literally as it transpired.
Just what Steve Hodge was trying to do when he lobbed the ball back towards Peter Shilton is beyond me, but as the ball floated in the Mexican air it became apparent that Shilton and Maradona were about to be involved in an aerial battle. Maradona's leap was impressive, Shilton's less so, the Argentinian beating the keeper to the ball and sheepishly wheeling off in delight as the ball bounced into the net. England's players were incensed, myself and Barry Davies confused, Tunisian referee Ali Ben Nasser even more so. And then the painful truth.
Maradona's handball - I refuse to give it the title he bestowed upon it - left a sour taste in the mouth. At first my anger was directed towards Ben Nasser, after all, how could he have missed something which appeared so blatant to all the nearby England players? But then I channelled my ire at the main culprit.
After England lost 2-1 I immediately went up to my room, found the picture of Maradona on my World Cup wallchart, and emblazoned the word 'CHEAT' across his chest in Blu-Tack. That showed him! Mind you. he didn't look too bothered by my actions on Sunday June 22 when he was proudly lifting the World Cup aloft in Mexico City.
I won't dwell on this section too long, as if you want a much better and more detailed account of the fine Denmark team at the 1986 Mexico World Cup then I suggest you purchase the excellent Danish Dynamite book. But what a refreshing and exciting part of my first World Cup they were, even if the experience was all too brief.
I knew a little of the Danes from Euro '84, yet this was my first real look at them, and what a sight to behold. Their signature match was the 6-1 demolition of ten-man Uruguay, full of football that I had rarely seen before, ranging from Michael Laudrup's lone waltz to a fine team goal finished off by Preben Elkjaer.
Their 2-0 win over West Germany seemed proof that here was a country that truly could claim the big prize. But their historic moment was costly on two fronts: Frank Arnesen's sad sending-off led to a crucial suspension, and the win also set up a last sixteen meeting with their old foes Spain, instead of a slightly easier fixture against Morocco (see Vulture).
I was truly spoilt that Mexico '86 contained so many superb goals. Fantastic solo efforts from Maradona (twice) and Michael Laudrup. Thunderbolts by the likes of Aleinikov, Senor, Josimar (twice), Chang-Sun Park, Rats, Soon-Ho Choi, and Belanov. Great team goals finished off by Tigana, Lineker and Careca. And a scissor kick from Manuel Negrete that was so good that it will soon be immortalised with its own statue outside the Azteca Stadium.
Check them out for yourselves on this YouTube video of the BBC's Top Twenty Goals of the tournament, complete with a Top of the Pops style countdown.
France v Brazil
For the second World Cup in succession, the match of the tournament would involve the Brazilians. Their quarter-final with European Champions France may have lacked the overall quality of their Italian heartache in Spain, but it had drama in bucket loads. And unfortunately for Brazil, elimination was again their reward for providing such entertainment.
All looked so easy initially for the South Americans. Careca gave them the lead after 17 minutes and both he and Muller later hit the post, as France clung on, desperate for half-time. France were lucky to be only one down, so you can imagine the psychological effect of their equaliser on 40 minutes through the unusually quiet Platini.
To their credit, Brazil brushed themselves down, Joel Bats performing admirably in goal, saving from Junior (twice), Socrates (twice), and again from substitute Zico. But it would be Zico who would spurn the best chance, Bats again the hero, as he saved a penalty from the Brazilian with 17 minutes left. It gave us an extra half hour of thrilling football too.
France grew in the match, Tigana and Bossis going close, before Brazil's keeper Carlos took centre stage. Rushing from his line to thwart Bellone, Carlos pulled the Frenchman back, basically preventing the striker from putting France 2-1 up. Astonishingly the Romanian referee Ioan Igna did not even award France a free-kick, French disgust almost compounded when Brazil broke and Socrates somehow missed an open goal. It was a frantic minute that neatly summed up this breathtaking tussle.
"So, deplorably, to penalties," as Brian Glanville wrote in his marvellous Story of the World Cup book. "Two years' hard work by both teams would now be decided by an irrelevant lottery". Socrates missed Brazil's first kick, Zico was more successful second time around, and Bellone gained revenge on Carlos when his penalty hit the post and rebounded in off the keeper's head. Platini skied his penalty over the bar, but Julio Cesar hit the post, and when Fernandez scored, France were again in the semi-finals.
What a match, and how excited was I to flick through the Christmas Radio Times later in the year to see that Channel Four were repeating the match at 10am on January 2? I was as excited as a kid at Christmas, I can tell you.
Group of Death
There seems to be some dispute as to when this term was first used, but in my view the original and the best Group of Death was Group E at the 1986 World Cup. 1982 finalists West Germany, 1984 European Championship semi-finalists Denmark, current South American champions Uruguay, and Scotland made up the quartet, with no obvious weak link.
Younger readers may be surprised that Scotland could be classed as a member of the Group of Death, but their subsequent displays demonstrated that there was no whipping boy in this group. They may have been missing Hansen and Dalglish for differing reasons, but the Scots were no mugs.
The group did not disappoint, with some of the main talking points featured elsewhere in this blog. You had the drama of West Germany's late equaliser against Uruguay; Scotland's stereotypical brave but fruitless performances in the Denmark and West Germany matches; the brilliant Danes exposing ten-man Uruguay; ten-man Uruguay frustrating Scotland for 89 minutes; Frank Arnesen's sad sending-off against the West Germans.
Ultimately the Group of Death only had one casualty, but I'd argue till the Scots come home that you will have to go a long way to matching this group in the first round of a World Cup (cue countless examples in the comments section).
I'm struggling to record many amusing moments from Mexico '86 - please remind me of some if I have missed any obvious ones - but an incident that made me chuckle happened in the Scotland-West Germany match. Gordon Strachan had given the Scots a surprise lead when he made his way towards an advertising board to celebrate. "We'd watched previous games on the television," explained Strachan. "We'd noticed that a lot of the players who had scored goals were jumping over the hoarding boards". If Strachan was planning on doing the same, he soon discovered a problem.
"When I scored I've realised that the board was too high for me to leap across anyway", Strachan admitted. Undeterred, he shaped as if to jump over the board before placing one leg up on top of it, in a genuinely funny moment. A memorable celebration in a tournament of disappointment for Scotland.
When Bryan Robson dislocated his shoulder whilst playing for Manchester United against West Ham, a nation held its breath. Without Robbo our hopes seemed greatly reduced, England's reliance on their Captain Marvel meaning we anxiously awaited updates and crossed fingers as the tournament neared. There was no positive energy or touching of newspapers/television screens back in 86. Once Robbo made the plane for Mexico, we just sat back and hoped for the best.
Inevitably every time he went into a tackle or challenged an opponent you feared the worst. Even more inevitably, the fears of England's fans were realised. In the shambolic Morocco match, Robson fell awkwardly in the first half, and when he didn't get up, you knew immediately that there was a problem. Robson's shoulder had again popped out, his World Cup over, although at the time it appeared as if England's was too.
England recovered before their Maradona-inspired pain in the quarter-finals. How they could have done with a fit Robson though when Maradona set off on that amazing run of his for that goal. He may well have got a lot closer than Peter Reid at least.
His star may have only shone briefly, but what a revelation the Brazilian full-back Josimar was. A rasping drive past Pat Jennings (on the Irish keeper's 41st birthday, and on Josimar's debut) was then followed by a belter against the Poles in the second round. For a boy brought up on solid but unspectacular British full-backs, Josimar was foreign to me in more ways than one.
Not bad for a player who only made the squad when Leandro pulled out, and was a reluctant selection of the coach Tele Santana in Brazil's last group match. After the World Cup the offers flooded in from Europe, with Josimar voicing his approval about a move to England (before playing for a Rest of the World side against England at Wembley in 1987).
A move to Sevilla was not successful, however, and in Josimar's own words he wasted his talent. But it would be hard to criticise one of the heroes of Mexico '86 for living the dream and making hay whilst the sun shone.
I'm not sure FIFA really considered my feelings when the hosting of the World Cup was eventually awarded to Mexico in 1983 (Colombia were the original choice, but that is probably a story for another blog). How was I supposed to enjoy my first tournament when I couldn't even watch all of the games?
The England situation was particularly frustrating. Two 11pm kick-offs (British time) in the group stages meant I would have to wake up the next day and either get the bad news off of my dad (Portugal) or rely on TV-am for the good stuff (Poland). And in the days before the Internet and Ceefax (in our house at least), finding out scores from non-British matches was not a straight forward task.
My 7-year-old son recently bemoaned the fact that he won't be able to watch every game of Brazil 2014. I feel his anguish.
It may be hard to believe now, but Gary Lineker was under pressure and experiencing a goal drought before Mexico. The situation for player and country was hardly helped when England stunk the place out against Portugal and Morocco, meaning a date with destiny awaited in the final group match with Poland (see Useless).
Lineker entered this match without a goal in his last six internationals, but the next 90 minutes changed his life (and Bobby Robson's) forever. A first-half Lineker hat-trick propelled England into the second round, and when another two followed against Paraguay, Lineker was all of a sudden in line for the Golden Boot.
His sixth goal of the tournament against Argentina clinched the deal - he was agonisingly close to a seventh late on - and by the end of the World Cup Lineker was hot property. So much so that Barcelona came calling and signed England's new star for £2.8 million.
And to think it could have been so different without that Poland game. Potentially no Barcelona, no 48 England goals, no Walker's Crisps adverts, and no anchoring Match of the Day. Now there is a sobering thought.
I may have detested the little genius at the time, and wasted Blu-Tack on him (see CHEAT), but if I'm ever asked who I think is the greatest footballer ever then I'll always answer Diego Maradona. It may be a little simplistic to state that the man single-handedly won the World Cup for his country, but that is what it felt like at the time. Think of Mexico '86 and Diego Maradona always springs to mind.
He warmed-up for what was to follow with three assists against South Korea, before a sublime finish in the Italy game gave us an indication of his love of the big occasion. A wonderful performance in the second round against rivals Uruguay would be dwarfed by his display and goals in the England and Belgium matches. His handball aside, the solo efforts against both would live long in the memory and cemented his status as the greatest player in the world. Maradona had delivered on the biggest stage possible.
He was a little subdued in the final, yet it was still Maradona's lovely through ball to Jorge Burruchaga that set up the winning goal as Argentina threatened to throw away their moment of glory. I hated seeing him lift the trophy, but you had to be completely mad or biased to say that he didn't deserve the plaudits coming his way. Surely the greatest ever display at a World Cup finals tournament by a single player.
I hope I'm not alone in voicing this opinion, but weren't the goal nets at Mexico '86 brilliant? Those huge box-style nets that seemed to stretch behind the goals as far as that wardrobe connected to Narnia. If I had one gripe it was that all the nets were the same at every stadium, but looking at them it seemed to me that the Mexican versions were from a different world, an exciting glimpse at some unusual from a distant land.
Am I alone in this strange outlook on something which is fairly peripheral to the overall enjoyment of the World Cup? If I am, then you'll have to forgive me this particular indulgence.
A lot of the pre-tournament chatter surrounded oxygen, or the lack of it. With many of the matches played at over 2000 metres above sea level, there were fears that the World Cup would be ruined, as players and match officials would understandably struggle to cope with the difficult conditions.
European hopes were dismissed by many experts before the tournament had begun, but the teams did their best to prepare. Denmark practised wearing unusual equipment (oxygen tanks strapped to the players' backs), such was the concern felt by Sepp Piontek. England trained in Colorado, and there was even talk of the players giving up alcohol. Scotland and Northern Ireland were amongst many that also prepared in high altitude conditions. Acclimatisation was a key word in the weeks leading up to Mexico.
It wasn't just the thin air that players had to contend with. The stifling heat, in Monterrey especially, was a major handicap for the Europeans, and it didn't help that games kicked off at noon Mexican time to accommodate television coverage. It may have played a part in Ray Wilkins throwing his toys out of the pram in the Morocco match (see Useless), as I know how stroppy I can get in the midday sun.
The best World Cup ever. Fact, end of, and next. The green jalapeno pepper with the droopy moustache and yellow sombrero is, for me, an unforgettable image of the tournament (unsurprisingly perhaps), and almost resulted in me developing a chocolate problem and spanking all my pocket money.
Some of you may remember that prior to Mexico, Kinder were filling some of their eggs (very few in fact) of their chocolate goods with a plastic model of Pique. Try as I might, I could not get my hands on the toy, getting more and more peeved as the weeks progressed. But then I struck gold in Plymouth whilst on a family holiday, my yells of delight probably audible in Cornwall and Somerset. To me, it felt like a Charlie Bucket kind of moment.
I think Pique still lives at my mum and dad's house (the toy, not the real life mascot). If they have callously thrown him out then I could have a Gazza in Turin kind of moment.
Before I could enjoy Mexico, I was given my first taste of the World Cup through the qualification groups. At the time, this mainly involved watching Sportsnight, Midweek Sports Special, and Football Focus to keep up-to-date with the progress of the home nations, although you would sometimes get sneaky peaks at other European group games.
From a UK (and Republic of Ireland) perspective, the qualification stage was complicated. England twice failed to beat Romania, and were grateful that Northern Ireland pulled off a shock win in Bucharest. Northern Ireland qualified when England failed to beat them at Wembley, amidst claims of fixing from the Romanians and a lot of the England fans at that match.
Mark Hughes scored a fantastic goal in a 3-0 win over Spain, but Wales missed out after a 1-1 draw with Scotland, which was overshadowed by the death of Jock Stein. Scotland then beat Australia 2-0 in a two-legged play-off, yet the Republic of Ireland couldn't make it out of a tough group involving Denmark and the USSR (and including this great match).
Elsewhere, Belgium beat rivals Holland in a play-off, Germany suffered their first ever defeat in qualification when they lost 1-0 to Portugal, and Hungary won their first five matches before bombing in Mexico.
It may be my fading memory, but I can't recall much coverage of qualification in other world zones. In hindsight though it is interesting to note how close Argentina came to not making Mexico, only a late equaliser in a 2-2 home draw against Peru in their final group match securing them a place. Now that would be an interesting what-if Sliding Doors moment, had Daniel Passarella not scored with nine minutes to go in Buenos Aires.
After the World Cup, and having worn out my video tapes on which I had recorded hours of goals, highlights, interviews and features, I made the decision to purchase the video of the official film about Mexico '86. Hero, narrated by Michael Caine, was not what I expected though. I thought there would be highlights played out to the soundtrack of Davies, Motson, Moore and Helm; I was hugely mistaken.
Confession time: In my disappointment, I took the tape back to WH Smith and made an excuse that the tape was faulty. Tut, tut, I know. Luckily my fib was believed, but I'd like to apologise for my uncharacteristically bad decision-making. I have since heard that Hero is the best World Cup film ever made, and hopefully as I have now matured (ahem) I may well be able to appreciate it more on YouTube.
Of course, World Cup team songs were a little naff in 1986. Scotland's Big Trip to Mexico, Northern Ireland's imaginatively titled Come on Northern Ireland, Denmark's Re-Sepp-Ten, and Germany's Mexico Mi Amor were all examples of classic 80s football songs. I'll let others be the judges of the musical merits of the above, though I have always had a soft spot for the Danish song and won't have a word said against it.
But even I struggle to mount a defence for England's woeful We've Got The Whole World At Our Feet, so poor that it only reached number 66 in the UK Charts. Full of awful whistling and complete with the cheapest video ever, it was a miracle it soared as high as it did.
In 1994, writer and actor Chris England, he of An Evening with Gary Lineker, nominated the song for one of his most hated in an episode of Room 101. His reasons? Well firstly it was just plain bad, and secondly, it contained the line "There's not a single team that we can't beat". The only problem was that the line sounded very much like "There's not a single team that we CAN beat". After England's opening in Mexico, this slightly iffy section of a shocking song appeared to be right.
The team songs may not have been top notch, but the theme tunes for both ITV and the BBC were none too shabby. ITV's Aztec Gold was impressive, although as it was subsequently used for Saint and Greavsie, and The Big Match, I don't quite associate it with just Mexico '86.
The BBC's Aztec Lightning is different, however. Whenever I listen to that on my BBC Sporting Themes CD, I'm transported back to a time when I'd dart around the living room, drilling a sponge ball into the settee, pretending that I'd just won the World Cup for England. I'm not sure which is sadder though; me believing that I was good enough to play international football, or my admission that I own a BBC Sporting Themes CD?
What a nice introduction to the roller coaster ride of following England at a major tournament. Waking up to find out that England had lost to Portugal was a genuine surprise - I'm not sure why, as Portugal had run France close in the Euro '84 semi-final - and as an Arsenal fan, the part Kenny Sansom played in Carlos Manuel's winner was very uncomfortable viewing. But worse was to follow.
Surely England would put things right against Morocco? How naive I was. As the match was on a Friday night, I was lucky enough to stay up and watch it, or at least I thought I was. England were useless, an absolute shower, as Bryan Robson's injury (see Injury), and Ray Wilkins' sending-off proved a microcosm of England's fortunes (even when he threw the ball towards the referee, Wilkins was going backwards, something that he had been lambasted for doing when he had the ball at his feet).
England still had a chance of progressing, but for now the knives were out. A repeat display in the Poland match would see the team return home in shame, but the way they were playing, it looked a distinct possibility. Fortunately it didn't turn out too badly in the end. But I had been warned. England saved the full-on embarrassment for Euro '88.
When Emilio Butragueño scored four goals for Spain's in their second round match, not only did he become the first player to do so in a World Cup fixture since Eusebio in 1966, he also crushed the Danish dream. Nicknamed El Buitre (The Vulture), Butragueño showed his predatory instincts that day. Mind you, he was given a helping hand by some suicidal Danes.
Jesper Olsen's part in Butragueño's equaliser has made an everlasting mark on Danish culture, and when Butragueño's knack of being in the right place at the right time gave him a second, Spain were on their way to shocking world football. In truth, Denmark lost their defensive discipline from this point on, Butragueño able to pick over the bones as he easily completed his hat-trick, and then scoring his fourth from the penalty spot.
Butragueño ended the tournament with five goals - his other was against Northern Ireland - and in the Denmark match in particular, he highlighted just how apt a nickname he had earned himself.
"Do you know, the Mexican Wave didn't actually originate in Mexico?" One of the many oft repeated facts that my dad felt I needed to know during my childhood. Of course the old man was right, the Wave first appeared in North America, especially at College Football games, but to many (including me) their first exposure to this phenomenon was at Mexico '86.
"An effect resembling a moving wave produced by successive sections of the crowd in a,stadium standing up, raising their arms, lowering them, and sitting down again". Yes, I did Google the definition. Others would probably prefer to describe it as bloody annoying though.
Uruguay did not make many friends during their time in Mexico. Their manager Borras claimed victimisation from referees; the rest of us were less sympathetic towards some of their tackles that should have had an X-rating stamped on them.
The Denmark game saw Uruguay's first sending-off, Bossio dismissed for an awful tackle on Arnesen after he had already been booked. Da Silva was lucky to stay on the pitch after an horrific lunge on Bertelsen, the Dane stretchered off as Uruguay completely lost the plot.
But the worst was still to come against the Scots. Reduced to ten men after just a minute - Batista's hack on Strachan leaving the wee man in a heap - the Uruguayans proceeded to kick anything that moved, argue endlessly with the referee, and waste time for the rest of the match.
The players naturally celebrated the 0-0 draw and qualification but not many others shared their joy. Booed off the pitch by Mexicans and Scots, even mild-mannered Alex Ferguson had his say. "Uruguay are a disgrace. They have no respect for other people's dignity," moaned Fergie. Uruguay may have exited in the second round, but they certainly left their mark on the tournament.
Yells of delight
Jimmy Hill was not everyone's cup of tea, but could there be any better sound for an English supporter than that made by the co-commentator during England's make-or-break match against Poland? The muffled noises of joy emanating from Hill after each of Gary Lineker's goals echoed the relief of a nation. At last England had clicked.
Naturally a certain degree of impartiality is expected on the BBC, which is why I love Hill's celebrations so much. It showed that he cared as much as us, and that was a reassuring moment during my formative days. Why, even the excellent Barry Davies let his mask slip once.
Zico, Zaki, and Zubizarreta
OK, I'll admit that I struggled to find an entry for Z (X was just as hard), so I figured I could look at three players involved in the tournament and look back on their varying fortunes.
Zico had always been a slightly mythical figure to me, a vital cog of the superb 1982 team which I was just too young to witness. So I, like many, felt cheated when he turned up in Mexico palpably not fit enough after suffering a knee injury. His main contributions were creating and missing a crucial penalty against France (see France v Brazil), so although I finally got to see him, it was only a fleeting glimpse, which still irritates me.
Now on to two keepers. Badou Zaki was a key component of Morocco's side which reached the second round, and it was the stunning stops by Zaki that frustrated West Germany until he was finally beaten by a Lothar Matthäus free-kick in the 87th minute.
Spain's Andoni Zubizarreta certainly performed well against Denmark but it is his part in a comical goal against Northern Ireland that I remember the most. Complete with a sliced kick by Zubizarreta, a dodgy header back to him, and a slip by the keeper, Colin Clarke could not believe his luck. It was the kind of cock-up that Spain always seemed capable of producing before 2008.