Sunday 3 January 2021

Fame! I'm going to live for not long enough, I'm going to learn how to die young!

Diego Maradona's death this year came on the same day (November 25th) as George's Best's in 2005; also on this day, amateur 'southpaw' Rocky Bilbao overcame Spider Rico in Philadelphia, 1975; and on this same day in 1974, my former Arlon Printers Sunday League strike partner Lee Eveson was born.

Three of those men earned a reputation, globally or locally, for enjoying 'interesting' nights out. The other two men are made up. Two of the non-fictional beings are popularly regarded as the greatest football player ever, while the other can factually claim to have scored the most goals in the 1998-99 Berkhamsted Sunday League Division 5 season.

Perhaps it is folly that the 38-goal Eveson has never had a book or a documentary made about him; the close attention that both Maradona and Best received from defenders, fans and the press seemed to me, at least - and admittedly through a lager-fuelled blur of resentment - comparable to the relentless stream of women in local nightclubs staking a claim on my team mate and friend. Yet, it is only the Argentinian and the Northern Irishman who can be readily found on film or in print.

Plainly it is the visual form that brings Maradona and Best out into their greatest light. All you need to know about them as super-elite footballers can be found in their skill on screen; the talent so breathtaking it's funny as yet another hoodwinked defender is cruelly exposed; the unique brain in tandem with the quickness of feet; the acute awareness of others and the channeling of that brilliance into a team structure; the willingness to confront ever-present brutality and face it over and over and over again. Words can be interesting to explain some of the pictures, but if you are lucky enough to be blessed with sight, seeing these greats in action is worth more than a million chapters.

Despite having indulged in the world of the footballer autobiography since before 1986, when Maradona turbo-charged Argentina to their second World title, I wasn't interested in El Diego, his book that first came out in 2000. I have been a passionate fan of Maradona since '86 but knew hitherto of his penchant for hysteria and bitterness. As a 10 or 11 year old, I had even enjoyed Graham Roberts' autobiog 'Hard As Nails' (which my dad owned courtesy of his employment in the Press) but, 15 or so years later wasn't tempted to own the publication of, in my humble opinion, the best player ever. Maybe I didn't want Maradona’s irrational spiel to tarnish the physical poetry. 

Great players don't always produce great books. Peter Shilton - whose admiration of Maradona’s on-field conduct is well documented - put one out that even I couldn't be arsed to finish (normally I take less than a week to scoff down an autobiog) and Bryan Robson's was equally heavy on match recollection and light on flawed off-pitch decisions that might have drawn the reader in in the first place.

Yet a couple of years ago I did buy Touched By God, Maradona's account of 'How We Won Mexico '86. Judging by the title, you might expect this book to be an uplifting read of a very special time for Argentinian citizens, but which in reality is a 300 page rant directed at FIFA, Carlos Bilardo and the Argentinian FA, interspersed with passive aggressive digs at Pele and Lionel Messi. The energy of perceived betrayal drives the book like he powered the team to history. 

Sadly, both Maradona and Best died prematurely on their respective days and years, crying foul play, unable to have hurdled all the dark challenges of fame. They will be revered forever, although the end of their stories might offer consolation to a striker born on the same day as their deaths who literally wasn't in their league.                     


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