Before the ‘Hand of God’ Incident, Diego Maradona Made Headlines for Starting a Riot

In the world of soccer, Diego Maradona is recognized as one of the greatest players ever to set foot on a pitch. He has also always been viewed as a controversial figure for numerous incidents, many of them his own doing. Without question, the most publicized was his handball during the 1986 World Cup victory over England. However, several years before, he was involved in an incident that turned into a riot and ultimately led to his departure from Barcelona. Here’s a look back at that chaotic match.

Maradona’s storied career

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The awards in Diego Maradona’s career are numerous. He started collecting them as a teenager in the late 1970s as the top scorer in the Argentine Primera Division. In 1985, his first season with Napoli in Serie A, he received the league’s award for footballer of the year.   

A year later, Maradona became known to the world for both his spectacular play and his ability to stir up controversy. That year he led the Argentinian national team to its second World Cup title, defeating West Germany in the final 3-2. 

The awards rolled in. He won the FIFA World Cup Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player. UPI named him the International Athlete of the Year. In the years that followed, he maintained a high level of success at the club level, winning a pair of Serie A titles with Napoli, and the UEFA Cup title in 1989.

He retired in 1997, last playing for Boca Juniors in Argentina.   

Maradona and the ‘Hand of God’

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While Diego Maradona earned many well-deserved accolades during his career, he was also a lightning rod for controversy on and off the pitch. His most controversial moment just happened to occur on soccer’s biggest stage in 1986 during a World Cup match between his Argentina team and England.

With the game scoreless early in the second half, Maradona found himself in a one-on-one battle with English goalkeeper Peter Shilton. As both players jumped toward the ball, Maradona’s left hand, which was near his head, connected with the ball and sent it goal-bound. Replays revealed it was a clear handball. Replay, however, wasn’t part of the review process in 1986. The referees consulted with one another and eventually ruled it a goal. 

After the match, Maradona told reporters the goal came “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.”

For years, he denied ever using his hand despite video evidence to the contrary. In 2005, Diego Maradona finally acknowledged he had hit the ball with his hand purposely. 

Maradona gets in altercation that turns into a riot

While Diego Maradona became known worldwide for the “hand of God” incident in 1986, two years earlier, his reputation took a big hit as a member of the Spanish club Barcelona. It all started in 1983 when Maradona was on the receiving end of a vicious tackle by Athletic Bilbao’s Andoni Goikoetxea, which broke his ankle and threatened to end his career.

The following season, Barcelona and Bilbao met multiple times, including the Copa del Rey final. In that match, Goikoetxea made another rough challenge. That alone was enough to upset Maradona. Add into the mix a stadium full of fans taunting him throughout the game, which resulted in a 1-0 loss, and the Argentinian snapped.  

He first confronted Bilbao’s Miguel Sola, who cursed and flashed a derogatory sign at him moments before. Maradona got in Sola’s face and head-butted him. He wasn’t finished. He found several other opposing Bilbao players, elbowing one and kicking another. As players from both teams brawled, fans threw objects on the pitch.  

When the pandemonium concluded, more than 60 people were injured. The incident irreparably harmed Diego Maradona’s reputation in Barcelona. Several months later, he left for Napoli in Serie A. 

And the rest is history.

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