Soccer memorabilia collectors may need some divine intervention of their own if they want to get their hands on the shirt in which Diego Maradona scored his infamous “Hand of God” goal.
Luxury auction house Sotheby’s announced this week that it would sell the jersey online starting later this month. It is expected to fetch at least £4 million ($5.22 million US), which would make it by far the most expensive football shirt ever sold at auction. The record is currently held by Pele’s shirt from the 1970 World Cup final, which sold for £157,750 in January 2002 (about $222,400 US at the time).
The shirt could also eclipse the record for the most expensive piece of memorabilia from any sport. That currently belongs to a New York Yankees jersey worn by Babe Ruth somewhere between 1928 and 1930, which sold at auction for $5.64 million US in June 2019.
On June 22, 1986, Argentina faced England in the quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup in front of 114,850 spectators at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. Six minutes into the second half, English midfielder Steve Hodge misplayed a ball in his own half, and it looped into the English penalty area. Maradona and English goalkeeper Peter Shilton both jumped for it, and Maradona knocked the ball into the net with his left hand. But, from his angle, the referee thought Maradona had headed it in; he allowed the goal to stand and Argentina took a 1-0 lead.
After the game, Maradona said the goal was scored “un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios” (“a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”).
Maradona scored again in the 55th minute, and Argentina went on to win 2-1. There was no doubt about the legality of his second goal, though, as he dribbled 60 yards and past four England defenders before outmaneuvering Shilton and slotting home the “Goal of the Century.”
After the match, Hodge ran into Maradona near the change rooms and asked him to swap shirts. Maradona agreed, and Hodge had remained the sole owner of the shirt until he decided to put it up for sale recently. It had been on loan to the National Football Museum in Manchester, England, since 2002.
“I looked him in the eye, tugged on my shirt as if to say ’any chance of swapping?’, and he came straight across, motioned a prayer, and we exchanged shirts. And that was it. It was just as simple as that,” Hodge is quoted as saying in the listing on the Sotheby’s website.
Sadly, Maradona passed away at his home in Argentina on November 25, 2020, at the age of 60. He did, however, finally admit to using hand to score the goal in his 2000 autobiography, Yo soy el Diego:
“Ahora sí puedo contar lo que en aquel momento no podía, lo que en aquel momento definí como «La mano de Dios»… ¿Qué mano de Dios? ¡fue la mano del Diego!”
“Now I can say what I couldn’t at that moment, what I defined at that time as The Hand of God. What hand of God? It was the hand of Diego!”
The shirts Argentina wore against England have quite the story themselves. The team originally arrived in Mexico with blue cotton away kits, but found the material uncomfortable in the scorching sun. After beating Uruguay 1-0 in the round of 16, manager Carlos Bilardo sent one of his coaches out to shops in Mexico City to find lighter shirts.
The coach came back with two options that weighed virtually the same, and team officials couldn’t decide between them. That’s when Maradona appeared, pointed to one of them, and purportedly said, “That’s a nice jersey. We’ll beat England in that.”
The coach then went back to the shop and bought 38 shirts. Makeshift Argentine Football Association crests were sewn on the front, and silver numbers originally meant for American football jerseys were ironed on the back.
After beating England, Argentina went on to beat Belgium in the semifinals and West Germany in the final to capture their second World Cup. Maradona finished the tournament with five goals and won the Golden Ball, given to the tournament’s best player.
The auction is set to run exclusively online from April 20 to May 4, during which time the shirt will also be on display at Sotheby’s New Bond Street gallery in London, England.
UPDATE (April 9, 2022): Since news of the auction broke earlier this week, Diego Maradona’s daughter Dalma has come forward saying that the shirt Sotheby’s is selling is not the one in which Maradona scored his famous goals against England.
Dalma says her father changed jerseys at halftime of the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal, and the shirt Sotheby’s is selling is the one he wore in the first half. Both the “Hand of God” goal and the “Goal of the Century” were scored in the second half. Dalma also says she knows who has the second-half jersey, but wouldn’t reveal their identity, only saying that it was neither her nor her mother, Claudia Villafañe, who divorced Maradona in 2003.
But Sotheby’s refuted those claims, telling Forbes in an email that there were “clear differences” in the shirts Maradona wore in the first and second halves, and they had investigated the jersey before putting it up for sale. Sotheby’s said they’d had an independent company photomatch the shirt they’re selling to images of Maradona in the second half of the game, and that Maradona himself described giving the shirt in which he scored the goals to Hodge in a memoir published in 2016. They also noted that the authenticity of the shirt was never questioned in the time it was displayed at the National Football Museum in Manchester.
UPDATE (April 20, 2022): The auction opened online today, coinciding with Maradona’s shirt going on display at Sotheby’s gallery in London. Within the first day, it has already garnered a bid of £4 million ($5.22 million US), meeting the reserve price. It will remain on display and bids will remain open until May 4. A bid of about £4.32 million would have to be submitted for the shirt to eclipse the record set by the Babe Ruth jersey mentioned above.
Feature photo courtesy Sotheby’s