- • Joined ESPN in 2011
• Covered two Olympics, a pair of Rugby World Cups and two British & Irish Lions tours
• Previously rugby editor, and became senior writer in 2018
Had you given Diego Maradona’s jersey to any England fan after that 1986 World Cup quarterfinal, chances are they’d have either torn the blue Argentina jersey to shreds, or set it on fire. Now the one worn by Argentina’s Maradona when he scored two of the most famous goals in World Cup history will set a world record price at auction for a match-worn jersey.
Those two goals, in Argentina’s 2-1 victory over England, are etched in World Cup history. The second, where Maradona snaked from the halfway line, through England’s defense, was voted Goal of the Century by FIFA. The first is infamous. Maradona got ahead of goalkeeper Peter Shilton and, as the two jumped, Maradona palmed the ball into England’s empty net — known as the “Hand of God” goal. On April 22 it was put up for auction by England midfielder Steve Hodge, who swapped shirts with Maradona after the game.
Auction house Sotheby’s put an estimated £4-6 million price (approximately $5-7.5 million U.S. dollars) on the item and within hours, the first bid had come in at the £4 million mark. When the additional buyer’s premium, overhead premium, and Value Added Tax are factored in, the shirt will, on May 4, likely sell for the second-most spent on an item of sports memorabilia in history.
This listing hasn’t been without controversy. Maradona’s own family claim it’s not the right shirt, saying the one Hodge has kept since 1986 was in fact the one Maradona wore in the first half of the match, instead of the one he swapped into for the second half when he scored both goals. Sotheby’s, in turn, says it has gone through “extensive diligence and scientific research on the item” to prove it is in fact the correct shirt.
“There has been interest, I can’t say any more than that,” Sotheby’s Brahm Wachter, vice president, and head of streetwear and modern collectables, told ESPN. “You could have Maradona fans who will be interested, but you could have traditional sports memorabilia collectors — I think it’s an amazing moment in football history.
“So, you could have someone who really loves that sport, who wants the item and feeling like they own the moment as when you look at it, it does invoke some emotion. It could be as simple as that.”
The shirt was made specially for that quarterfinal, played on June 22, 1986 in the blistering Mexico City sun. The story goes that Argentina’s cotton jerseys were too heavy for the heat, so manager Carlos Bilardo and Ruben Moschella, the team’s technical assistant, searched for an alternative option. “We ran from one side of the city to the other with a backpack,” Moschella later said in the book Maradona: The Boy. The Rebel. The God. He came back with two choices, one a darker blue and the other a lighter shade. The decision was made by Maradona who strolled in, saw the lightly striped, blue number, saying: “We’ll beat England in that one.”
Then it came down to local seamstresses. They had to sew on the Argentina badges and, because Moschella could only find numbers made for American football uniforms, iron on the numbers. If you look at the Maradona shirt in Sotheby’s, you can see the badge looks like it’s only loosely attached to the fabric — the edges slowly peeling away because of the rushed, hand-stitched sewing. The numbers on the various shirts are also uneven and are a bizarre, sparkly silver color.
“The numbers were a joke,” Maradona wrote in his book, Touched by God. “When we went out on to the field, some of the guys had sparkles on their face because the numbers were silver and sparkling. If it had happened to rain, like it had in our match against Uruguay, it was going to be a real disaster: we wouldn’t know who was who or what position the others were playing.”
After a nervy first half, Maradona’s infamous goal gave Argentina the lead in the 51st minute, following it with that astonishing solo effort four minutes later.
After scoring the goal, Maradona beckoned for his teammates to come and celebrate so they could mask the dubious nature of how it came about.
“I couldn’t reach [the ball], and Shilton was there, and I couldn’t head it,” Maradona said to the BBC. “I started running, and Shilton didn’t realize, and the one who told him was the sweeper [Terry] Butcher as he saw my hand. When I see the linesman running, I go out shouting ‘goal!’ And I looked behind and the referee had taken the bait.”
Maradona later said his first came “a little from the head of Maradona, and a little with the hand of God.” But there was a wider significance behind this, according to Maradona. The match came four years after the end of the Falklands War, between Great Britain and Argentina, over disputed territory in the south Atlantic Ocean. After a 74-day conflict, Argentina surrendered to the British, and Maradona would later say this goal was revenge for that conflict.
It was Hodge’s hooked clearance that gave Maradona the opportunity to palm it beyond Shilton, and Hodge later wanted to get the Argentinian captain’s shirt.
“I thought, ‘I won’t be here again, I’ll try and get a shirt,'” Hodge told FIFA. “I shook Maradona’s hand but he was being mobbed so I thought, ‘I’ll leave it.’ As I went down [to the changing rooms] Maradona was walking with two of his teammates. I looked him in the eye, tugged on my shirt as if to say ‘any chance of swapping?’ He came straight across, motioned a prayer and we exchanged shirts.”
The shirt stayed in Hodge’s possession and was put on show at the National Football Museum in 2002. There it sat, among some of the greatest memories and mementos of English football, as the thorn in this national sport’s side. England finished fourth in the 1990 and 2018 World Cups, but haven’t won the tournament since 1966.
Hodge was consistent in rejecting offers for the shirt. Speaking in December 2020, just a month after Maradona died, Hodge told the BBC, “I have had it for 34 years and have never once tried to sell it. I like having it. It has incredible sentimental value. I’ve had people knocking on my door non-stop and the phone’s constantly ringing from every TV and radio station, and even foreign stations.
“It has been uncomfortable, and it hasn’t been nice. I have seen articles on the internet and there has been a bit of flak flying around saying I wanted a million or two million and am hawking it around for money. I find it disrespectful and totally wrong. It’s not for sale. I am not trying to sell it.”
But then 16 months later came the announcement in April 2022 the shirt was finally going up for auction. “The ‘Hand of God’ shirt has deep cultural meaning to the football world, the people of Argentina, and the people of England, and I’m certain that the new owner will have immense pride in owning the world’s most iconic football shirt,” Hodge said in the announcement.
When Sotheby’s Wachter — who is in charge of the auction — was asked by ESPN why Hodge decided to sell the shirt now, he answered: “… Steve had this many years, he felt very emotionally connected to it and I think at a certain point he felt the time was right for him…”
When the auction was announced, Maradona’s family questioned its authenticity. Dalma, his daughter, told Agence France-Presse: “This former player thinks he has my dad’s second-half jersey, but it’s a mix-up, he has the one from the first half. It’s not that one. I don’t want to say who has it because it’s crazy. He [Maradona] said it. He said, ‘How am I going to give him the shirt of my life?’ We wanted to clarify that so that people who want to buy it know the truth.”
Sotheby’s refuted Dalma’s comments, saying the shirt had been independently verified by Resolution Photomatching, which looked at the patch. According to that review, there are nuances on the badge, like the black stitching stretching into the yellow of the badge, which is different to the shirt Maradona wore in the first half. The numbers are also far more aligned with the stripes on his second-half shirt than they are on the first-half shirt.
“There was indeed a different shirt worn by Maradona in the first half, but there are clear differences between that and what was worn during the goals,” a Sotheby’s spokesperson said. “And so, prior to putting this shirt for sale, we did extensive diligence and scientific research on the item to make sure it was the shirt worn by Maradona in the second half for the two goals.”
In his book, Maradona said: “On the way to the locker room, one of the English guys — it turned out to be Hodge, but I wasn’t sure at the time — asked me to swap jerseys with him. I said yes, and we did.”
To date, the most money ever spent at auction on a piece of sports memorabilia was the $8.8 million paid at Sotheby’s in New York in December 2019 for the original Olympic Games Manifesto. Next up on the list is Babe Ruth’s 1928-30 jersey with fetched $5.64 million in 2019 followed by a set of golf irons Tiger Woods used to win all four majors between 2000 and 2001 which sold for $5.516 million on April 10.
The initial £4 million bid on the Maradona jersey means the final price would be close to £5 million (equating to just under $6 million, once the buyer’s premium, overhead premium, and VAT are factored in).
“Babe Ruth’s was a seminal jersey,” Wachter says. “Jackie Robinson’s jersey went for above $4 million (sold at auction in 2021), those are hallmark players. When I think about the key moments in the greatest players’ careers, like Tiger Woods’ best year — what would Michael Jordan’s ‘Last Dance’ game-six jersey go for?
“The Last Dance changed the entire sports memorabilia market. I think that was huge — it coincided with the pandemic and people wanting nostalgia, but that show in some ways created this unbelievable nostalgic feeling from so many people. We saw the trading card market soar, and we’re now seeing that people are beginning to see that game-worn is historically undervalued in the market.
“When you’re looking at somebody’s career, this is the moment for [Maradona]. By many people he’s considered to be the greatest ever, so I felt like this would be the right price.”
The previous highest price for a piece of football memorabilia was the Sheffield Football Club Rules — the world’s oldest football rulebook — which reached £881,250 (then equivalent to $1.24 million) in 2011. One of the four original FA Cups sold for £478,400 in 2005.
Overall, the most sought-after items in the market are centered around England’s 1966 World Cup triumph. The holy grail is Bobby Moore’s shirt from that final — its whereabouts are unknown — while Geoff Hurst’s 1966 World Cup final shirt is owned by Nigel Wray, the previous custodian of Saracens rugby club. Despite numerous offers, Wray says he will never sell it. Wray also has Moore’s shirt from the 1970 World Cup, seen famously in a photograph of Moore with Brazil’s Pele.
A replica of the Jules Rimet Trophy went for £254,400 ($350,000) in 1997, while Nobby Stiles’ 1966 World Cup winner’s medal was purchased by Manchester United for £188,200 ($313,000) in 2010. Defender Alan Ball’s medal sold for £164,800 ($260,000) in 2005.
“The 1966 World Cup seems to be having some desire in the market for items from there,” Wachter said.
But for match-worn football shirts, the £140,000 ($220,000) paid in 2002 for Pele’s 1970 World Cup final shirt was the most spent on a match-worn football jersey. This Maradona sale completely shifts the market.
“Football, considering the global audience, is undervalued,” Wachter said. “There is a fanaticism collecting game-worn items in the U.S., but aside from something like this which is like an artifact, that same feeling could still travel to other parts of the world.”
At 11:01 a.m. ET on May 4, the online hammer will come down and Maradona’s shirt will have a new owner for the first time in 36 years. The buyer will likely be anonymous, but records will be broken. Two years after his death, Maradona will have completely changed the football memorabilia market.
“I hope it won’t be the pinnacle of my career, but it will be bittersweet,” Wachter says. “I don’t think I’ll ever get to handle something which is so drenched in historical, personal history or anything like this ever again. And whoever buys it, it’ll probably never surface again.”
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