by Stuart Moriarty-Patten

20 October 1976 – Argentinos Juniors v Talleres de Cordoba.  The debut of Diego Armando Maradona

On 20 October 1976, ten days before his sixteenth birthday, a precocious young talent made his debut for Argentinian side Argentinos Juniors against Talleres de Cordoba.  Diego Armando Maradona was the name of the player, and from that moment on he was to be rarely out of the headlines, both on, and off the pitch

Maradona’s tale is a classic rags to riches story.  Born on 30 October 1960 he grew up in poverty in a shanty town, Villa Fiorito, on the southern outskirts of the Argentine capital,  Buenos Aires.  He had 3 older sisters and 2 younger brothers, Hugo and Eduardo, who also became professional footballers.  Money was so scarce that the young Maradona often didn’t have a ball to play with, but would ask others if he could join in their games.  It was in one of these street matches that the 10-year old Maradona was first spotted by an Argentinos Juniors scout and invited to join the youth squad.  Despite him being smaller than the other boys, its told that he was so good that when he began training there were three people watching on the first day, the next day there were 10, the next day 30, and so on.  The phenomenon that was to become Diego Maradona was beginning to take shape.  As a twelve-year old ball-boy he would entertain the crowd with demonstrations of his ball skills during the half-time breaks at Argentinos matches.  The crowd would respond with cries of “¡Que se quede! ¡Que se quede!”  (Keep him on! Keep him on!).

Although Argentinos lost in his debut game 1-0, as a second-half replacement for Ruben Giacobetti, Maradona gave the crowd something to cheer.  Within five minutes of coming on he nutmegged Juan Domingo Patricio Cabrera, earning himself an ovation from the crowd.  Years later Cabrera thanked Maradona for making him part of the star’s history.  Such is the legend that has grown up around Maradona it is claimed that Argentinos Juniors have never again lost on October 20th.

Maradona continued making regular appearances and scored his first goal on 14 November 1976 against San Lorenzo de Mar del Plata.  He played for Argentinos Juniors until 1981 scoring 116 goals in 168 appearances for them, which is still the record number of goals scored by an Argentinos player.  This included 69 in 72 games during his last two seasons with the club.  He was the top scorer in Argentine football in his last four seasons at the club, before a £1 million transfer took him to Boca Juniors in 1981.  Three years before that Sheffield United had expressed an interest in him but dragged their heels over the £200,000 asking price and missed out.  Instead they signed another Argentine, Alex Sabella from River Plate, for £160,000, but ended the season being relegated to the then Third Division.  What could have been Blades’ fans?

Since his debut Maradona has lived a well-documented turbulent life experiencing the highs of success on the football field and lows of a turbulent life off it.  For many England fans though he will always be linked to the “hand of god” affair when he punched the ball into the net during the 1986 world cup quarter-final.  As a football fan however, I like to think he should be remembered for what followed just four minutes later.  In what has been called the “greatest goal in the history of the World Cup” by FIFA, and voted as “Goal of the Century” in a 2002 poll, Maradona received the ball in his own half, turned, and with 11 touches ran more than half the length of the field, dribbling past Peter Beardsley, Steve Hodge, Peter Reid, Terry Butcher, and Terry Fenwick and finally beating goalkeeper Peter Shilton.

The BBC Radio commentator for the match, Byron Butler, described the goal like so:

“Maradona, turns like a little eel, he comes away from trouble, little squat man… comes inside Butcher and leaves him for dead, outside Fenwick and leaves him for dead, and puts the ball away… and that is why Maradona is the greatest player in the world.”

I don’t think too many people would have argued with that sentiment at that time.