Argentina’s Black Sunday/Spain’s Manic Monday


The push towards Stanley was really on. Key battles had been won at Goose Green and Bluff Cove. The Paras, Scots Guards and Ghurkhas were yomping their way across barren wasteland under the first snows of a relatively mild Falklands winter.

Meanwhile, the World Cup kicked off in Barcelona. The tournament could’ve been played in a very different light had the military coup of February 1981 succeeded. About the time I moved to Hawthorns Hill, a group of armed Guardia Civil officers entered the Spanish parliament. Shots rang out and politicians were ordered to get down on the floor. A cameraman managed to film it and the subsequent clip made TV news around the world. Spain waited tensely to see if King Juan Carlos, who was chosen by Franco to be his successor, would support Colonel Tejero’s attempted coup. Tanks rolled onto the streets of Valencia. Seven hours after Tejero and his 200 civil guards entered congress, the king appeared on TV to announce that: “The Crown cannot accept in any way actions that try to interrupt by force the democratic process.”

This key moment for Spanish democracy meant the World Cup would not be played in a dictatorship for the second time in a row. Now Argentina was on the eve of losing a war, and to rub salt into the wounds, they lost their opening match in defence of the World Cup.

Maradona, widely expected to be the star of the tournament, burst forward in the opening seconds, setting up a chance for his side. Playing in the stadium where he would spend the next couple of seasons, the new Barcelona sensation gave us a taste of his pace and trickery, but Diego was still four years away from World Cup glory. Pfaff in the Belgian goal made a great save from a point blank volley. Then the stuffy Belgians shocked the holders, when Vandenbergh, looking suspiciously offside, chested the ball down and shot low past Fillol. Maradona came close to an equaliser with a sensational dipping free kick that smashed down off the crossbar onto the line and Kempes’ follow up was scrambled away by Pfaff. Argentina’s miserable day was complete.

Excerpt from the novel Countries of the World.
© 2011 Steven Porter

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