Maradona was the greatest of all time but I still can’t forgive him for that handball, says England legend Shilton

He has played in three World Cups and holds the joint record for clean sheets in finals. But England legend Peter Shilton believes he would have had more than 10 shutouts on the world’s biggest stage had it not been for an infamous incident. Think back to 1986, the World Cup quarter-final in Mexico. England took on Argentina and after a scoreless first half the game came to life when Diego Maradona kicked the ball over Shilton’s head and into the net. It became known as the ‘Hand of God’ and is perhaps the most famous ‘goal’ ever scored.

Shilton, who was visiting Dubai this year for the Maritime Standard Awards at Atlantis, The Palm, as emcee, remembers the 36-year-old moment as if it just happened a while ago minute. “It was a suspicious first half, but at the start of the second half it was perhaps the greatest moment in world football,” the former goalkeeper recalled. “Diego Maradona scored with his hand. I always say he’s the greatest player I’ve played against. But that moment left a bitter taste. We all knew what he did, that was clear and obvious. Peter Reid was next to the referee and he was imitating what Maradona had done, but to our surprise the referee gave the goal away. We couldn’t believe it.

Argentina’s Diego Maradona (left) beat England goalkeeper Peter Shilton with a high ball and scored from the handball during the 1986 World Cup quarter-final in Mexico.

Shilton, who also starred in goal for Leicester, Derby, Stoke and Nottingham Forest, added: “The referee had a bad game – even the second goal shouldn’t have stood as Chris Waddle was the victim of a a foul before Maradona got the ball. And then Gary Lineker was pushed in the back just as he was about to score a header. So the referee missed everything in the game. If we had had VAR at the time, the result could have been very different!

It might have been totally different, but in the end Argentina would win the trophy for the second time. But there was bitterness from the England team because Maradona celebrated as if it was a legitimate goal. “Yes, he was the greatest player ever but he showed no sportsmanship, he never apologized to us after the game. He should have been humbled because the result wouldn’t have changed, but it’s sad that he died so young.

Best goalkeeper

Shilton, widely regarded as England’s best goalkeeper, says he can understand why all the world’s top football clubs and top athletes choose to come to Dubai for hot weather holidays and training. “It’s always great to come to Dubai, the sun is always shining which is not the case in England! The atmosphere here is always relaxing and I always enjoy it when I come here. The facilities here are amazing. It is ideal for clubs to hold training camps here.

Shilton made his debut aged 16 for his hometown Leicester. As an apprentice he says he earned £8 a week and had to do all kinds of work around the club including cleaning the dressing rooms, sweeping the stadium terraces, washing the team kits and also the players’ shoes. “I was in the reserve team and I became the understudy for Gordon Banks who was the England goalkeeper,” Shilton recalled. “I had my chance in the Leicester first team because he played for England three or four times and they didn’t postpone league games at the time so I did my debut in the team and on my debut we beat Everton 3-0.”

His big moment came when he joined Brian Clough at Forest. They had just been promoted to the First Division – what we now call the Premier League – and he won the league that year with the team and they dominated the game. “We won two European Cups – now the Champions League – two League Cups and the Super Cup in three years. It was just magnificent. Clough had an aura around him, he was such a great man “With Peter Taylor, who was his assistant, they complemented each other perfectly. It was like a comedic double act! I got on very well with Clough. He was the best club manager I ever played for and he would have really had to lead England with Taylor, he got the best out of us as a team and we dominated the game.

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Brian Clough (left) and Peter Taylor (right) are Nottingham legends
Image Credit: WikiCommons

The following World Cup, Italia 90, saw more heartache for England. The team reached the semi-finals and faced West Germany. “I think we played very well. They scored a lucky goal, it was a free kick that made a huge deflection on our wall. The ball looped in the air and I was back in train to pedal and I couldn’t knock her down. But we equalized and took the game on penalties and we all know what happened there.

Every England fan knows all too well what happened. Left-back Stuart Pearce kicked his penalty straight at the goalkeeper and Waddle – who had touched inside the post during the game – kicked his high over the bar. “They weren’t good penalties,” Shilton recalled. “I faced four which were all really good penalties. My stomach knotted because I knew my dream of winning the World Cup was gone. But I was proud that we made it this far and when we came back to England we were welcomed as heroes.

He had a hugely successful career, but throughout his playing career he hid a dark secret: his addiction to gambling. “It started as a hobby. I loved horse racing, I also owned horses, but alongside that was the gambling addiction that no one knew about.

Between games and practice, he says there was a lot of sitting time and it was so easy to pick up the phone and bet on a horse. “I must have lost over a million pounds during my gambling career. But when you win it feeds your habit. My wife Steph, who worked in the NHS, helped me to to overcome this addiction. Together we have both done a lot of charity work to help raise awareness of the game and we do our best to help people out there. But it’s growing all the time, it’s getting worse because it’s so accessible there are apps on phones and with one click you have placed a bet when you win you feel good but when you lose you believe you can win and you keep trying and before you to realize this, you have lost a month’s salary. I believe that advertising on football shirts and online contextual advertising must be banned. We must try to protect the youth.

Greater Qatar kick off

With his playing days far behind him, Shilton – who has played a record 125 times for his country over a 20-year period – is happy to watch the action and eagerly awaits the big kick-off in Qatar. But he feels he gets too much negative press for no good reason. “I think we have to judge the tournament once it’s over. We have to give him a fair chance. The stadiums and infrastructure are superb. It’s world class. Yes, it’s weird to stop the season halfway, it’s the first time in fact. And yes, there have been player injuries from too many games. There is all that to take, but let’s not prejudge. A lot of money and effort has been invested in it in Qatar. We are here now, give everyone a chance. It could be a real success and I hope so. It would be great for the Middle East.

He obviously wants England to win it, but is worried about the form of Gareth Southgate’s side ahead of the tournament. The Three Lions reached the semi-final of the 2018 World Cup and then the final of Euro 2020. But their form in the Nations League has been poor. “It’s a concern for me. We go into the tournament in Qatar maybe not in our best shape. But everything can change and with the team we have with Jack Grealish, Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane, we have a team solid. I think we have a very good chance. We have a good mix of youth and experience and we should do very well. Fingers crossed – we are capable of winning but I also think that Brazil also have very good chance.

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England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford needs to eliminate errors for the team to have a good tournament.

It will all depend on Jordan Pickford’s form between the sticks and as a former England number one, Shilton will be keeping a close eye on the Everton stopper. “He’s the best goalkeeper we’ve had, he’s played well for England and hasn’t let the team down. When you play international football you just can’t go wrong as a goalkeeper Mistakes are what people remember, especially in big tournaments.

All England fans – and especially Shilton – will be praying that Pickford will stage a mistake-free tournament and that the team final will finally bring home the trophy. Since 1966, England have not tasted World Cup success, but having done very well in the last two tournaments, perhaps Southgate and co can go even further this time.