Argentina Flag Football Hitting Back of Net

The ‘Hand of God’ Ball Is For Sale & People Aren’t Happy

For England fans old enough to remember, the ‘Hand of God’ is a truly infamous incident and one that serves as a painful reminder about just how important VAR is in the modern game. For almost everyone else with even a passing interest in football, however, Diego Maradona’s successful effort to punch the ball out of Peter Shilton’s grasp is an iconic moment in World Cup history.

Admittedly, many will quietly disapprove as it was ultimately an act of cheating but there was something breathtakingly outrageous about it. Here you had one of the best players in the world using an outstretched arm to score a goal and managing to get away with it. Respectful? No. Legal? Definitely not. But it is undoubtedly one of the biggest moments in the history of the World Cup.

Some moments in sports at so big that they become an ever-present feature in the game, surviving across future decades. When it comes to football, Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ is one of these as it is still referenced by professionals and amateurs alike today. When Thierry Henry used his arm to control the ball in a World Cup play-off with Ireland back in 2009, setting up what would be the decisive goal, the press were quick to draw a link. In the aftermath you saw headlines such as ‘The New Hand of God’ or the rather more derogatory ‘The Hand of Frog’.

Although Maradona was not the first footballer ever to intentionally use his arm to set up a goal, it is the Argentine who has become synonymous with it. Should you ever see someone at the local park slap the ball in with their arm, cries of ‘Hand of God’ may well follow, such is the power of this part of Maradona’s legacy. Half of them will not even know how good a player he once was, just that he’s the bloke that used his arm to score a goal at the World Cup.

Hand of God Items Come At A Premium

Auction Gavel on Pile of Banknotes

Football memorabilia can be worth a fair chunk of money if it was part of an iconic moment or match. With ‘Hand of God’ being up there as one of the most famous footballing moments, certainly of World Cup history, there was an expectation that the ball Maradona punched would fetch a fair amount. For a reference point, just months before the ball went up for auction, England Midfielder Steve Hodge, put up for auction the shirt Maradona had worn that very same match. It ended up in his possession as he swapped his own shirt with the South American attacker after the match.

The Hand of God match-worn shirt fetched a whopping £7.1m despite some claims in Argentina that the shirt for sale was not the one worn by Maradona in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final. Auction House Sotheby’s dismissed claims questioning the shirt’s authenticity and insisted that it was indeed the one donned by the Argentine during the 2-1 win. For many years the public was able to see the very shirt themselves as Hodge loaned it to the National Football Museum in Manchester for over two decades.

Although Hodge stated in 2020 he would not sell the shirt, as it would be disrespectful to do so following Diego’s death, just a few months later he had a change of heart. Why? The ex-England midfielder did not elaborate but this did not stop the shirt from selling for a world-record amount for a sporting shirt. Prior to this, the highest sum paid for a shirt was the £4.4m paid in 2019 for Babe Ruth’s Yankees jersey.

Hand Of God Ball Sale

Mexico 1986 World Cup Azteca Match Ball
Image: warrenski, flickr

With the Hand of God shirt selling for over £7m earlier in 2022, you might think that the ball that Maradona himself handled to open the scoring would have been worth just as much. While still extremely valuable though, the Hand of God ball only managed to attract a top bid of £2m, which was lower than the reserve price meaning no automatic sale occurred. With the auction unsuccessful, the seller began negotiating with interested parties that had bid the most during the auction in the hope of striking a deal.

It was a little surprising that the Adidas Azteca ball did not fetch more given that the initial estimate had been between £2.5m and £3m. This is especially true given that the shirt which sold for £7.1m was only estimated to fetch between £4m and £6m. One (false) assumption as to the difference in value might be that the shirt, unlike the ball, was involved in two iconic World Cup moments. Just minutes after scoring via the Hand of God, Maradona, starting in his own half, weaved his way through the England team before rounding Peter Shilton and slotting the ball home. It is regularly dubbed the ‘Goal of the Century’ because prior to the 2002 World Cup, a large-scale poll on the FIFA website saw this voted as the best goal in the tournament’s history.

So, the shirt that Maradona wore that day comes with double appeal as it was a match with two breathtaking moments in a tournament Argentina went on to win. This is also true of the ball though as the very same one was used in both incidents. In modern football, we may be used to a multi-ball system, with new balls replacing old ones the moment they are booted out of play, but this was not the case back in the 1986 World Cup. Video footage shows that the same ball was used for the entire match and as such, this cannot explain the difference in valuations.

It is likely that the main reason, therefore, is that the shirt is specific to Maradona. With his number stuck on the back, it is unmistakably his whereas the ball can only be narrowed down to a specific tournament upon first inspection. Visually the shirt simply looks more appealing too, it has deteriorated very little and has that retro design that many people today still enjoy. The Adidas Azteca ball however has deflated over time, as balls do, and the auctioneers did not want to re-inflate it as this would damage the interior of the ball. As far as aesthetic appeal goes, a sagging football is not high on the list.

Why The Outrage?

Referee Sitting on Pitch with Football

We have established why the Hand of God football is worth less than Maradona’s match-worn shirt but why has it been the source of outrage? This is purely because of the person who is selling it. When England midfielder Hodge decided to auction the Hand of God shirt, there was no controversy, even though just a few months prior he explicitly stated he would not sell it as the sentimental value is too high. The man selling the ball though was the man who refereed the game, Ali Bin Nasser.

The Tunisian official has something that is largely so valuable because of his own mistake. It therefore rubbed some England fans and players up the wrong way when he decided that after all these years of keeping it in his cupboard, he wanted to cash in. Had money from the auction gone to a charitable cause, no doubt people would not have minded but reports in the news indicated the 1944-born referee intended on giving the profits to family members. As for the question of why now? The response given was that it just ‘felt like the right time’ but perhaps it was sparked by seeing the Hand of God shirt sell for £7.1m a little earlier.

Gary Lineker, who played and scored in the match, was particularly irritated by the prospective sale. Speaking on TalkSport he said, “I’m so thrilled the ref will cash in on his cock-up”. The former Leicester and Tottenham forward also queried how the referee ended up with the ball although it is hardly unusual for a referee to take the match ball back down the tunnel. The assumption that this ball is only worth something due to the referee’s mistake is also not completely true as even without this, this is still the Goal of the Century ball. Although it would be worth much less, it is hard to see how the ball responsible for the greatest World Cup goal would not sell for a decent fee.

Now, you could argue that without the Hand of God goal being allowed, Maradona would not have scored his second but let us not open up that can of worms. Ultimately, you can see why England fans are irritated but Bin Nassar was not acting in a corrupt way, he simply could not see the incident clearly and the linesman was happy for the goal to stand too. Yes, it was a mistake but it was an honest one so why not let the now-retired referee cash in?

How High Does ‘Hand of God’ Ball Rank Among Most Expensive Football Memorabilia?

Blue Sold Stamp

Although it did not actually sell, due to the reserve price not having been met, had the £2m top bid been accepted, the Hand of God ball would have become the second richest piece of football memorabilia ever sold. Only Maradona’s match-worn shirt commanded a higher fee and this itself blew all existing records out of the water. Prior to this, the most expensive football history sale had been the Sheffield Football Club Rules, Regulations & Laws booklet produced in 1863, which sold for nearly £900k followed by the oldest surviving FA Cup (used between 1896 and 1910) bought by Manchester City owner Sheik Mansour for £760k.

It just goes to show how iconic the Hand of God moment is, that both the shirt and the ball attract such high bids compared to other football memorabilia. Even the shirt worn by Geoff Hurst during the 1966 World Cup final, which went unsold, only had an estimate of between £300k and £500k while teammate Alan Ball’s World Cup winner’s medal sold for £252k in December 2022.