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Diego Maradona 

Swindon's connection to the mercurial football artist

WARNING: CONTAINS WORDS & RECOLLECTIONS SOME TOWN FANS MAY FIND DISTRESSING
 
Well, here we go again.

Exactly 15 years on to the day since we heard the sad, final blow of the whistle for George Best (see 'Good, The Bad & The Bubbly link below), it's now Diego Maradona's turn to take a pew in heaven's version of the Legends' Lounge.

And in customary style, here's arguably the world's greatest footballer's loose connection to Swindon, or Swindon Town Football Club to be precise.

Saying that, when you hear that Sheffield United apparently were a VAR call away from signing the teenage "El Pibe de Oro" ("The Golden Boy") in the 1978, then who knows. We can only dream that the League Cup would have been truly ours in 1980, for sure.

Ossie Ardiles

Probably our best-known connection to SN1, and one player that Diego often fondly described as 'like an older brother to me', was the first man to take Swindon to the promised land.

Ossie brought 'Samba-style' football to the County Ground in 1989 when he became player-manager, in sharp contrast to Macari's successful long ball game.
 
 
It saw the Town playing with the attacking flair clearly influenced by Ardiles's experience with Argentina.

This included a 'diamond' 4-4-2 formation with left-sided, right-sided, attacking and defensive midfielders.
 
It was like Alan McCloughlin was our Mario Kempes - but without quite the height or the hair. But he did score goals.

The resut was a play-off final win over Sunderland in 1990 and 1st Division football for the first-time ever in STFC's history.

But, alas, as we all know, Ardiles never got to try his South Amercian silky approach and tactics on the likes of Man United the following season after Town were found guilty of financial irregularites and demoted two divisions (rescinded to one, on appeal) as punishment.

Town's ex-manager, indeed, was a huge influence on a young Maradona before all the fame, trophies, controversy, booze, birds and cocaine.

He was what in footballing parlance is called a  'proper arm around the shoulder' when Diego joined the the World Cup winners team in the early 80s.
 

The Town's Argy legend roomed with Maradona on international duty and in the '82 World Cup and when it came to Ossie's testimonial in '86, just days before the World Cup in Mexico, there's not many people that can pick up the phone to the best player in the world and get him to don his boots (borrowed, by the way) for a proper kick about just off Seven Sisters Road.

But much to Argentinian FA's annoyance and disapproval, that exactly what he did for his 'brother'.
 

By all accounts, Diego wanted to wear his famous No 10 shirt, so Glenn Hoddle (see below) gave him his. And a brief, dream-like midfield partnership of Ardiles, Hoddle & Maradona graced White Hart Lane for one-night only.

They beat Inter Milan 2-1. Like all footballing legends of the time, the evening ended with Ossie and Maradona's new entourage in a night club.



Glenn Hoddle

Arguably Swindon's greatest-ever manager and England's greatest-ever midfielder that never-really-was, is the only player to have experienced both sides of Diego Maradono's mercurial footballing character first hand - please ignore the pun - literally just weeks apart.

Firstly, he had the honour and exhilaration of playing wingman to the Golden Boy at the testimonial for teammate Ossie Ardiles (described above) on a clear, spring evening at White Hart Lane.
 

"As soon as we got on the pitch, the ball was the interpreter between me and him. We just gelled, it was quite an incredible evening and I loved every minute of it," he said of a memory that he clearly cherishes.

And then, just a month later, he suffered the agony of watching his new, telepathic footballing 'friend' reach out with the 'Hand of God' to score against England on a blazing hot, sauna of an afternoon in Mexico City he would rather forget.

A pre-VAR abomination that was cruelly followed by one of the greatest goals in the history of the game - Diego's dazzling dance through the Three Lions' statuesque midfield and defence before slotting past a diving Peter Shilton still chuntering from the handball five minutes earlier.

The World Cup Quarter-Final against England in 1986, defined Maradona as a footballing hero come good, as well as a blatant back-street cheat who could pick your pocket as soon as you weren't looking. Someone who would do anything to win.

All at Hoddle and England's expense.
 

"I actually saw it [the handball], not everyone did," described Hoddle, this week, speaking about the two goals Maradona scored in quick succession.

"It was the rascal in him that did that [the first goal]. Then, the second goal he scored was just out of this world. In many ways, that summed up Diego, he had the genius in him.

"For me, he was the greatest player, I think, that's ever touched the planet."

And from Glenn Hoddle, that's saying something.

Terry Fenwick

Without dwelling on the misery of that day at the Estadio Azteca, we can't, unfortunately, recount Diego Maradona's World Cup wonder strike without a mention of one Terry Fenwick.

22 June 1986 was a full 7 years before the then-England midfielder signed for the Robins in 1993, before going on to play 28 times for the Reds in a 3-year stay, but every Town fan must have said the same thing when he signed - and shouted and pointed at THAT goal being replayed over-and-over on TV this week - 'why didn't you tackle him, FFS!'

Certainly, when we ended up conceding 100 goals in our one-time meander in to the Premiership with Fenwick in defense, it was a phrase heard in the Arkell's Stand on more than one occasion, we can confirm.



For it was Fenwick who caught the brunt of criticism for failing to stop Maradona's mazy run to the penalty area - especially as he appeared to 'breeze' past our former defender just before pulling his left-foot trigger past Shilton.

Certainly, the sweating & panting Peter Reid didn't exactly extole himself in his desperate attempt to keep up with the weeble-like Diego, either, but Fenwick not even 'getting a boot in' when he had the chance did not go down well at all in the sitting rooms and pubs across the country.

“The ball was stuck to that left foot, you couldn’t get it off him," Fenwick admitted this week.

"I tried to intimidate him but he was always there, ready for more. I didn’t say two words to him but he was chatting to me from start to finish.

“That was the confidence of the man. He knew he was better than the rest. What a player.”

In fairness to Fenwick, what many don't realise is that he had already been booked for a foul on Maradona very early on in the game (below, the first to a record three yellow cards in a World Cup by any player) and feared a first-half sending off if he had taken him down.
 

But he did freely admit one thing.

“Diego left me bitter and twisted for years to come after that game. He ruined my international career in 90 minutes."

Néstor Lorenzo

Or Néstor Gabriel Lorenzo to be exact.

For when players sitting on the hallowed benches in the STFC home changing rooms deep under the Arkell's Stand talk of their medals in front of their peers, not many can say 'Here's mine from the World Cup Final'.

Assuming he didn't throw it away, of course.


He not only made the starting line-up alongside Maradona for the 1990 final in Rome (that's him, top left), which Germany won 1-0.

In a bad tempered game, he was lucky enough to be among the nine Argentinians who finished it.

Talk about how things have changed at Swindon, get this....

After Italia '90 and after an attempt by Brian Clough to sign Lorenzo for Nottingham Forest fell through, our man Ossie Ardiles signed the defender for Swindon Town, initially on loan before eventually making the deal a permanent one.

Lorenzo played 27 times for Swindon scoring twice – one on his debut at the County Ground against Portsmouth F.C. in a 3–0 win, and one away at Watford F.C. in a 2–2 draw.

Ahhh, the lure of the mighty County Ground!

Napoli

As all that have followed the wall-by-wall coverage of Maradona's death this week will know, the Argentinian legend spent an incredible, roller-coaster 7 years playing for Napoli in Seria A between 1984-1991.

A city he was a hero, almost with mythical status.


But it was also a place and a time that changed him from a young, bright footballer taking the world stage by storm in to a drug-taking, highly controversial personality mixing with all the wrong people.

The slide to what we saw most recently and his final days with his best friends Jack Daniels & Johnny Walker effectively began in southern Italy.

So, if anyone is in any doubt what a place Napoli was and how seriously and emotionally they take their football, and how much pressure Maradona would have felt playing there despite the rags to riches and fame, then Swindon's experience of beating them in 1970 pretty much sums it all very nicely.

In short - they don't like losing!

As reported by our brave foreign correspondent from the, then, Evening Adver, the game didn't end well, when the Napoli supporters realised the Anglo-Italian Cup was heading to a trophy cabinet in north Wiltshire with 15 minutes to go and Town 3-0 up.
 
 
Swindon Advertiser, 28 May 1970

"Only minutes from the end of the game in Naples, with Swindon holding a comfortable three-goal lead, raging fans went on the rampage.

Hundreds of concrete bench seats were torn up and smashed into small chunks which were thrown onto the pitch sending players and officials scurrying to the other side of the field for safety.

Fires were started all around the stadium as the hooligans raged out of control. Bottles and blazing cushions were thrown as the match dissolved in chaos 12 minutes from full-time."


Yep, match abandoned and no celebration for Rogers, Smart, Trollope and co. in a nice, downtown Trattoria for the Robins.
 
Needless to say, we haven't been back since.
 
RIP Diego Maradona
30 October 1960 - 25 November 2020
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