Maradona arrives at Sunderland: what REALLY happened when the great man landed on Wearside

Deep in the neighbourhood of Palermo, just a short(ish) bus journey from his family home in Lanus, one of the more significant moments in footballing history went down.

by GMac88 Tuesday, 05 June 2018 08:16 PM Comments

Deep in the neighbourhood of Palermo, just a short(ish) bus journey from his family home in Lanus, one of the more significant moments in footballing history went down.

"Ah way Lads?" A puzzled Diego Maradona murmured as he stared across the poker table, into the eyes of a man about to shaft him for 50 pesos. 

"No, it's 'HA way THE Lads, a place of true culture and cash. If yer as good at footy as yet reckn, get yersel owa there."

The river card was end game for the 17 year-old Argentine who, surprisingly remained unmoved that his naff wage packet from Argentinos Juniors was about to be handed straight to an English traveller. For Diego had won much more than money during the encounter - he had won his fame and fortune.

Without an agent, Maradona got on the blower directly to Jimmy Adamson. But, without much experience in the English language the conversation ended after Maradona mistaken an order Adamson was placing at the local butchers in Barnes for a direct threat on his life. Other versions of the event suggest that Diego merely ran out of cash to continue the call, such was the extortionate price of an overseas call back in 1977. Either is a perfectly plausible story if you ask me.

The talented young footballer was not to be denied his dream move to the big time.

He smuggled himself onto a discreet navy ship that had docked in Sud which just happened to be leaving that evening. According to Maradona's best mate's dad they were checking in on Adolf Hitler. He was a raging alcoholic (the dad, I can't comment on Hitler) but we're led to believe his word was worth a few mars bars. Which in today's money is obviously quite a sum.

Back on the ship Diego discovered that, rather unfortunately, he suffered heavily from sea sickness and spent most of the journey projectile vomiting distances which have never been seen. 

It would be the turning point of his career as he shed a full stone in weight and developed core strength that would blow away any modern day Ninja Warrior course. Sources on board say that near docking in Portsmouth he stunned a helpless seagull flying overhead such was the power and accuracy developed throughout the voyage. It was that insane core strength that would help Maradona to develop a centre of gravity which, coupled with natural ability, tormented defenders for the next two decades.
Genuine image of Maradona after he signed for Sunderland.

The next part of Maradona's journey is quite grey. It remains unclear exactly how he travelled from Portsmouth to Sunderland and rumours range from £1 Megabus to Railtrack - though the latter seems unrealistic given the timeline suggests little delay in the Argentine's arrival in the North East.

Arrive he did. However, the long journey to Wearside had taken its toll on Maradona who looked like he'd lived on the streets of London for weeks during the height of winter. After the realisation and acceptance that there was not a Sunderland airport, he needed new clothes. Rather conveniently for this story, C&A happened to be accepting Argentine pesos at the time. Diego purchased a pair of brilliant white flares and opted for nothing else but a grey tank top.

The eventual face-to-face meeting between Maradona and Adamson was far more fruitful than their prior phone call. The forward opted for a charades-style communication method given his limited English and the deal was done. History was about to be made. The FIFA Player of the Century was a Sunderland player.

Scandal would immediately follow, however, as Adamson misinterpreted Maradona's attempts to describe himself as an overseas player. The Sunderland manager thought Lanus was 'one of those posh parts of Cornwall' and subsequently did not obtain the relevant documents to allow Maradona to play for the Rokerites. It did, however, explain the sudden appearance of pasties in the team's lunch menu and relieve concerns over the authenticity of said pasties given that Maradona did not opt for one during any of the few training sessions he apparently took part in.

Maradona was deported from the country and sent back to Argentina. And thus, a story of tragedy robbed us of one of the greatest players of all time alongside the likes of Pele, Lionel Messi and, of course, Jeff Whitley. 

We'll never know just how many European trophies Sunderland would have secured with Maradona leading the line.