Thursday 14 December 2017

Stevens retains vivid memories of 'Hand of God' controversy

Sligo Rovers’ assistant manager, Gary Stevens.
Sligo Rovers’ assistant manager, Gary Stevens.

Sligo Rovers assistant manager, Gary Stevens, still has vivid memories of one of the most controversial incidents in World Cup history.

The former Spurs defender was a member of the England squad which fell victim to Diego Maradona's infamous 'Hand of God' goal in the quarter-final of the 1986 tournament.

"The memory never goes away," says Stevens.

"The goal has become an iconic part of World Cup history for all the wrong reasons.

"Maradona came out afterwards and described it as the 'Hand of God' and that put it in the history books for ever.

"If he hadn't made that statement, I think the whole thing would have been forgotten about along ago.

"Ironically, his second goal in that game was one of the best ever scored in the World Cup and it hardly ever gets a mention."

Stevens was an unused sub in the dramatic match and didn't have a clear view of the incident.

He explains: "It was difficult to see from the dug-out but I knew there was something wrong when Peter Shilton came to punch the ball clear and suddenly it was in the back of the net.

"It all happened so quickly.

"Maradona was quite subtle in the use of his hand.

"In fairness to the match officials, they didn't see the handball. And if they didn't see it, they couldn't give a free against Argentina."

Maradona struck again for a second goal later in the game and although England pulled a goal back near the end, they couldn't force an equaliser.

"It was a devastating way to go out of the World Cup," admits Stevens.

"A lot of the England lads were very annoyed after the game and they had to be segregated from the Argentina players.

"For me, the big disappointment was that we were so near and yet so far.

"Had Maradona's goal been disallowed, we might have won the match and gone on to the semi-fnals.

"It's not something I think about all the time but, of course, the Maradona goal always comes up for discussion every time the World Cup comes around."

Stevens made a couple of substitute appearances in the 1986 World Cup and won a total of seven caps for England.

He says: "I was a versatile player. In one game for England, I played in a three different positions.

"Perhaps, my versatility went against me. Had I been a specialist in one position, I would probably have won more caps."

His most memorable game in the 1986 World Cup was the round before the quarter-finals when England beat Paraguay 3-0.

"Glen Hoddle and myself combined to create one of the goals for Gary Lineker.

"We were three Spurs lads so we claimed that one for the club,", he recalls.

He felt he had done enough to earn a place in the starting line-up against Argentina in the quarter-final and there was even talk in the build-up to the game that he might be given a man-marking role on Maradona.

"A couple of the lads were carrying injuries and I felt I would be in the team.

"In the end, the manager, Bobby Robson, decided not to go with a man-marking strategy on Maradona.

"When the team was announced, I wasn't in it. It was disappointing but I still wanted the lads to do well."

Looking ahead to this year's tournament, Stevens says Brazil and Spain are obvious contenders while he believes Uruquay are a very strong team too.

Belgium and Holland could have good tournaments but he can't see them winning the trophy.

He believes England are in a very difficult group.

"If they manage to get out of the group, anything could happen. There will certainly be plenty of suprises along the way and maybe England will provide some of them," he says.

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