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How Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal sparked lifelong feud between the referee and assistant… who was tormented to his dying day by decision that helped end England’s 1986 World Cup dream – as Argentinian star’s shirt sells for £7.1M

  • Argentine Maradona scored infamous ‘Hand of Goal’ during World Cup quarter-final match against England 
  • The match took place in June 1986 in Mexico City, just four years after the end of the Falklands War
  • Game was refereed by Ali Bin Nasser and assistant Bogdan Dotchev, along with other linesman Ulloa Morera
  • When Maradona made the handball neither Bin Nasser or the Dotchev, who was closest, raised concerns
  • The goal stood and England lost 2-1 after Maradona’s second strike, which was dubbed ‘Goal of the Century’
  • Bin Nasser and Dotchev blamed each other for allowing the goal to stand and never spoke directly again
  • Dotchev passed away aged 80 in 2017 after being haunted for the rest of his life by failure to raise his flag  

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They were the men who could have changed history – if only they had disallowed the world’s most famous goal in front of more than 100,000 fans. 

When Diego Maradona scored his infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in the 1986 World Cup, the match’s Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser and his Bulgarian assistant Bogdan Dotchev exchanged hesitant glances. 

Even though it was then unclear if either man had seen the Argentine’s foul, it was obvious from the reaction of England’s players that something was drastically wrong in the stadium in Mexico City. 

But the two men did not communicate on the pitch – in part because the referee spoke French and English and Dotchev German and Spanish – and instead blamed each other for failing to act. 

The goal was given and, after speaking through a translator in the dressing room after the match – which England lost following a second goal from Maradona’s – Bin Nasser and Dotchev never spoke ever again.

Instead, in the nearly four decades that have followed that momentous match, the two men continued to place the responsibility on each other for allowing the goal. 

Dotchev, who died aged 80 in 2017 after being haunted for the rest of his life for failing to act, finally admitted in 2014 that he had seen Maradona punch the ball beyond England keeper Peter Shilton. 

But he told the Bulgarian media that world governing body FIFA did not then allow assistants to discuss a decision with a referee, and added that if a European had been put in charge of the game, Maradona’s goal would have been disallowed.  

Bin Nasser insisted in 2001 that his assistant had been ‘better placed’ than him and he ‘decided to trust his judgement’, adding that he believed he ‘had a good game’.  

In an interview later in life, Bin Nasser, who is now aged 78, continued to blame Dotchev, saying that his assistant ‘did not raise his flag’. 

He also revealed that, for three years after the match, the Bulgarian would ‘write him a little note’ every year. He claimed it read: ‘My brother, my colleague, there was only the hand of Shilton’. 

Yesterday, the shirt that Maradona was wearing during the match against England was sold for a record-breaking £7.1million. 

The late football icon, who died in 2020 aged 60, swapped shirts with England midfielder Steve Hodge and the former player had owned the treasured item ever since until yesterday’s sale. 

They were the men who could have changed history - if only they had ruled out the world's most famous goal in front of more than 100,000 fans. When Diego Maradona scored his infamous 'Hand of God' goal against England in the 1986 World Cup, the match's Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser his Bulgarian assistant Bogdan Dotchev exchanged hesitant glances. Above: The moment that Maradona handballed the ball beyond England's Peter Shilton during England's match against Argentina

They were the men who could have changed history – if only they had ruled out the world’s most famous goal in front of more than 100,000 fans. When Diego Maradona scored his infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in the 1986 World Cup, the match’s Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser his Bulgarian assistant Bogdan Dotchev exchanged hesitant glances. Above: The moment that Maradona handballed the ball beyond England’s Peter Shilton during England’s match against Argentina

Even though it was then unclear if either man had seen the Argentine's foul, it was obvious from the reaction of England's players that something was drastically wrong. Above: Nasser (centre), with Dotchev (right) and other linesman Ulloa Morera

Even though it was then unclear if either man had seen the Argentine’s foul, it was obvious from the reaction of England’s players that something was drastically wrong. Above: Nasser (centre), with Dotchev (right) and other linesman Ulloa Morera

Yesterday, the shirt that Maradona was wearing during the match against England was sold for a record-breaking £7.1million. Pictured: The shirt on display at Sotheby's in London before it was sold

Yesterday, the shirt that Maradona was wearing during the match against England was sold for a record-breaking £7.1million. Pictured: The shirt on display at Sotheby’s in London before it was sold 

Maradona scored his infamous goal – the first of the game – in the 51st minute of the match against England, who were managed by the late Bobby Robson. 

Television replays, which were being watched by an estimated one billion people around the world, clearly showed how the player had used his left hand to push the ball above and beyond Shilton 

Four minutes later, the player dribbled past five shell-shocked England players: Peter Bearsley, Peter Reid, Terry Butcher, Terry Fenwick, Butcher again and then goalkeeper Shilton. 

The second strike became known as the ‘Goal of the Century’. 

A goal at the other end by Gary Lineker was not enough to rescue England and they lost the match 2-1. 

After the match, Robson told how the first goal was ‘dubious’ and the second one was ‘a miracle’. 

‘We have lost to a very good team. It is not easy and we have done the very best we could do,’ he added. 

The infamous handball gained its nickname after Maradona’s first words following the match, in which he said the goal was made ‘a little with the head of Maradona, and a little with the hand of God’. 

The game was also remembered for the animosity between England and Argentina, both on the pitch and among fans. The match was being played just four years after Britain’s victory in the Falklands War. 

Before the football began, Argentine fans booed the England national anthem and there were sporadic skirmishes between fans during and after the game. 

Reacting to the ‘Hand of God’ goal, Shilton said afterwards: ‘It was such an obvious handball. The referee and the linesman looked at each other but neither would be positive. Maradona took a chance and got away with it.’  

After the match, Bin Nasser, whose name is also spelled Bennaceur, said: ‘I had to make the decision at the time, I was the spot. 

‘I have not watched any of the replays or looked at the paper. The referee is the man who must make up his own mind and stick by his decision. That is all there is to it. It is part of the game.’ 

Bin Nasser insisted in 2001 that his assistant had been 'better placed' than him and he 'decided to trust his judgement', adding that he believed he 'had a good game'. Pictured: Bin Nasser in 2020 holding a loft a signed Maradona shirt which the former player gave him during a 2015 visit to his home in Tunisia

Bin Nasser insisted in 2001 that his assistant had been ‘better placed’ than him and he ‘decided to trust his judgement’, adding that he believed he ‘had a good game’. Pictured: Bin Nasser in 2020 holding a loft a signed Maradona shirt which the former player gave him during a 2015 visit to his home in Tunisia

Dotchev, who died aged 80 in 2017 after being haunted for the rest of his life for failing to act, finally admitted in 2014 that he had seen Maradona punch the ball beyond England keeper Peter Shilton

Dotchev, who died aged 80 in 2017 after being haunted for the rest of his life for failing to act, finally admitted in 2014 that he had seen Maradona punch the ball beyond England keeper Peter Shilton

Maradona is seen shaking hands with England captain Peter Shilton before the match kicked off. Behind them is referee Bin Nasser and Dotchev

Maradona is seen shaking hands with England captain Peter Shilton before the match kicked off. Behind them is referee Bin Nasser and Dotchev

: Captains Diego Maradona of Argentina and Peter Shilton of England attend a coin-toss prior to the World Cup Mexico Quarter Final match between Argentina and England

: Captains Diego Maradona of Argentina and Peter Shilton of England attend a coin-toss prior to the World Cup Mexico Quarter Final match between Argentina and England

Match officials Bin Nasser, Ulloa and Dotchev are seen lining up alongside players before the match kicked off in Mexico City

Match officials Bin Nasser, Ulloa and Dotchev are seen lining up alongside players before the match kicked off in Mexico City

The players from Argentina and England walk onto the pitch during the 1986 FIFA World Cup Quarter Final on June 22, 1986 at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, Mexico

The players from Argentina and England walk onto the pitch during the 1986 FIFA World Cup Quarter Final on June 22, 1986 at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, Mexico

Maradona is seen scoring his second goal against England, which came just four minutes after his 'Hand of God' punch

Maradona is seen scoring his second goal against England, which came just four minutes after his ‘Hand of God’ punch

The moment that changed football forever: Maradona punches the ball beyond England's Peter Shilton and into the back of the net

The moment that changed football forever: Maradona punches the ball beyond England’s Peter Shilton and into the back of the net

He also claimed that he had missed the handball because haemorrhoid treatment had effected his sight.  

The referee was speaking in French because of his inability to communicate in English. The language barrier also meant that he could not explain his opinions or decisions to players. 

Despite Bin Nasser seeming to take responsibility for allowing the goal in his comments immediately following the match, years later he pinned the blame on Dotchev. 

‘I was waiting for Dotchev to give me a hint of what exactly happened but he didn’t signal for a handball. And the instructions Fifa gave us before the game were clear – if a colleague was in a better position than mine, I should respect his view,’ he said. 

Dotchev then hit back with his claim that a European referee should have been put in charge of the game. 

The 1986 tournament was Bin Nasser’s sole World Cup experience. Outside of the world of football, he worked as an engineer. 

Dotchev had been a professional player in the 1960s and had played in the Bulgarian first division. He also had a degree in finance. 

In 2001, on the 15th anniversary of the match, Bin Nasser told an Argentine newspaper: ‘After Maradona scored I hesitated for a moment, but then I saw Dotchev running towards the centre of the pitch. 

The Daily Mail's front page proclaimed how England had been beaten by 'Magic Man' Maradona after his 'Hand of God' goal

The Daily Mail’s front page proclaimed how England had been beaten by ‘Magic Man’ Maradona after his ‘Hand of God’ goal

The sport headline - 'Hand it to Diego - played on the fact that Maradona had cheated to score the goal

The sport headline – ‘Hand it to Diego – played on the fact that Maradona had cheated to score the goal

‘And because he was better placed than me I decided to trust his judgment. No matter what happened I still think I had a good game.’

But Dotchev insisted that his counterpart was ‘not well prepared enough’ to referee ‘such an important game’. 

The Bulgarian received abuse in his home country for his part in the match, with some even calling him ‘a national traitor’, he said in an interview. 

After his death in 2018, his widow Emily revealed he ‘withdrew into himself’ after the storm of controversy. 

Dotchev even scrawled ‘Maradona is my gravedigger’ on the back of a photo of the player.  

Emily claimed Bin Nasser had told her husband before the fixture ‘you don’t have to do any work – it will all be my calls’.

‘I’ll never forgive that referee and I’ll never forgive Diego Maradona,’ she said, according to The Sun.

‘After the World Cup our life was ruined. Bogdan withdrew into himself and friends never said hello to me again. It wasn’t a Hand of God for us, it was a kick in the teeth.’ 

Speaking in 2015, Dotchev finally admitted that he had seen Maradona’s handball but claimed FIFA rulings said he should only offer his verdict to the referee if asked to do so. 

‘I saw the Argentinian played with hand. During those times FIFA’s rules allowed to the assistant referee to give his opinion only if asked by the referee,’ he said.’ 

‘The referee admitted the goal even before taking a look at me to check the situation. We never had a communication – Bin Nasser knew only his native language.’

England's players are seen lining up alongside their Argentine counterparts before their respective national anthems were played. Argentine fans booed England's rendition of God Save the Queen

England’s players are seen lining up alongside their Argentine counterparts before their respective national anthems were played. Argentine fans booed England’s rendition of God Save the Queen

Shilton shakes hands with Maradona in front of the match officials. Shilton said after the match: 'It was such an obvious handball. The referee and the linesman looked at each other but neither would be positive. Maradona took a chance and got away with it'

Shilton shakes hands with Maradona in front of the match officials. Shilton said after the match: ‘It was such an obvious handball. The referee and the linesman looked at each other but neither would be positive. Maradona took a chance and got away with it’

The former referee also blamed Maradona for destroying his career and his life. 

He said: ‘Diego Maradona ruined my life. He is a brilliant footballer but a small man. He is low in height and as a person too.’

Unlike Dotchev, Bin Nasser continued working in football and went on to become part of a committee that worked to reform Tunisian football. One of his sons also followed him into refereeing. 

England midfielder Hodge was the player who unintentionally flicked the ball to Maradona before his infamous goal. 

Although he has owned Maradona’s shirt ever since the match, the treasure has spent the last 20 years on loan at the National Football Museum in Manchester. 

It was sold at Sotheby’s on Wednesday afternoon – marking a new auction record for any item of sports memorabilia.

The auction house described the famous blue number 10 jersey on its website as in ‘good overall condition consistent with heavy use, perspiration and athletic activity’ with ‘slight de-threading on hemming on the front bottom of shirt, and minor spots throughout’.

Brahm Wachter, Sotheby’s head of streetwear and modern collectables, said: ‘This historic shirt is a tangible reminder of an important moment not only in the history of sports, but in the history of the 20th century.

‘In the weeks since we announced the auction we have been inundated by sports fans and collectors alike, with a palpable excitement in the air for the duration of the public exhibition – and this unfiltered enthusiasm was echoed in the bidding.

Former England midfield player Steve Hodge with the infamous Argentina shirt in 1997. He and Maradona swapped shirts after the match

Former England midfield player Steve Hodge with the infamous Argentina shirt in 1997. He and Maradona swapped shirts after the match

‘This is arguably the most coveted football shirt to ever come to auction, and so it is fitting that it now holds the auction record for any object of its kind.’

In his autobiography, Maradona, who died in November 2020 at the age of 60, said: ‘It was like beating a country, not a football team.’

And in interviews in later life, he referred to the two referees in the 1986 match as ‘my amigos’. In 2015, he visited Bin Nasser at his home in Tunisia and gave him one of his shirts. 

The former referee posed for pictures with the signed shirt in 2020.  

The previous auction record for any sports memorabilia was the original autographed manuscript of the Olympic Manifesto from 1892, which sold at Sotheby’s for 8.8 million US dollars in December 2019.

It emerged after the sale that Argentina want the shirt’s new owner to let the shirt be exhibited in the South American country on October 30, when Maradona would have been 62. 

Argentine collector Marcelo Ordas broke down in tears after losing out in the bidding process. 

The buyer remained anonymous, but there are reports the shirt’s new owners are from the Middle East and are linked to Manchester City. 

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Source: Daily Mail

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