Pete Sixsmithdips into his rich memory bank once again and finds himself back in Mexico, for the 1986 World Cup. Read on to discover how one legacy of the tournament had Mr Sixsmith, as teacher turned goalkeeper, picking a World Cup ball out of the net four times …
Twenty years on from the triumph at Wembley, England set off for Mexico thinking that they had a half decent chance. Bryan Robson’s shoulder and Diego Armando Maradona’s hand put an end to that.
It should have been in Colombia, but the Colombians ran out of money and it was transferred to Mexico (again). The proximity of wealthy footballers and Colombia’s best known export was a disaster waiting to happen.
Once again there were 24 teams, but FIFA scrapped the second group stage and went back to a last 16. There were some good teams involved as well as Scotland and Northern Ireland. The poor Scots were drawn in a “Group of Death” which included Uruguay, a team that made Revie’s Leeds look like the St Custard’s Second XI. If memory serves, they had a player sent off in the first minute of their goalless draw with the Scots.
Little did we know that this was to be the last World Cup where a real USSR team appeared. They looked good with Vassily Rats (don’t these foreigners have funny names?) outstanding along with Oleg Blokhin and Igor Belanov. Now they could play …
I watched this one in the flat with a number of late night kick offs which turned into heavy drinking sessions and led to bleary eyes, bad breath and foul tempers the next morning – and that was just the students.
England were led by Bobby Robson and he made a real mess of it at the start. There were demands for his removal after wretched performances against Portugal (0-1) and Morocco (0-0). Fortunately, he was able to fall back on the budding managerial talents of Terry Butcher and John Barnes and they suggested some fiendishly clever tactics which fans of ourselves, Celtic and Tranmere were probably exposed to, but failed to understand.
He was hampered by problems with Bryan Robson’s shoulder which was put out more times than Andy Carroll is from a nightclub.
Going into the last group game against Poland, the tumbril was rumbling away and the future SBR was having abuse heaped on him by the usual suspects in the Sun, Mirror etc. Enter one jug eared striker who notched a hat trick in 34 minutes, saved the nation’s bacon and guaranteed himself a seat on the Match of the Day couch for ever and ever – or does it just seem like that?
After seeing off Paraguay (Da Silva watching Sesame Street, Riveros throwing stones at chickens), Argentina were waiting for England. There was still bad feeling after the Falklands conflict, a war which the Argentinean writer Jose Luis Borges described perfectly as “Two bald men fighting over a comb”, and the patriotic stakes were high for this one. Flags were waved, insults were prepared and look what we got.
Of course he handballed it. The referee was on his blind side and it should take nothing away from that wonderful second goal, where he left Butcher, Reid and several others in his slipstream. But it was cheating. Not as bad as Schumacher four years earlier, but enough to put England out.
I was howled down at work in both staffroom and classroom for saying that I thought they were the better side and my patriotic credentials were severely tested. But to be honest, England had never really threatened and even though the Crisp Man pulled one back, we were a poor second to a pretty decent team.
I missed a few games in this tournament as my mum was undergoing treatment for cancer in Newcastle and I performed my duties as and when I could. She “liked that Peter Beardsley because I feel sorry for him having such a big chin”. Hmmmmm.
We could have had a Belgium v France final; instead we got Argentina v FDR (West). Maradona scored another fabulous goal against the Belgians, FDR beat France yet again on penalties, although this time they failed to beat any French players up with iron bars.
The final was a good one. I watched it with my mum, who was at home, and she really enjoyed it. Argentina went 2 up, the first goal being scored by Jose Luis Brown – a real Argentine name that one – but the FDR levelled through Rumenigge and Voller, before Jorge Burruchaga – much better Argentine name – notched the winner.
Twenty four years on, I don’t think we can begrudge them their win as they were a very good side and they were emerging into democracy after the wretched years of the Junta.
One footnote: a few weeks after the Finals, we had a staff game against our deadly rivals from Spennymoor Comp. We engaged one Mr George Courtney to referee it. He turned up, as immaculate as ever, but with his own ball.
What’s that we asked? “Oh, I got it after I had refereed Mexico v Paraguay. It’s the match ball”, boomed George. So, I may well be the only person on this site to have picked a World Cup Finals ball out of the net four times – although we won 6-4. How about that.
Schillaci, Gazza and a desperate search for palm wine.
* Photo of 1986 ball – not necessarily the one Pete hailed out of the net during Spennymoor Teachers v Ferryhill Teachers -courtesy of Shine 2010‘s Flickr pages.