Former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton was visiting the Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai this week. Image Credit: Imran Malik / Gulf News

He has played in three World Cups and has the joint record for the number of clean sheets at the finals. But England legend Peter Shilton believes he would have had more than 10 shutouts on the world’s biggest stage had it not been for an infamous incident. Cast your minds back to 1986, the quarter-final of the World Cup in Mexico. England faced Argentina and after a goalless first half, the match was sparked into life when Diego Maradona punched the ball over the head of Shilton and into the net. It became known as the ‘Hand of God’ and it is perhaps the most famous ‘goal’ ever scored.

Shilton, who was visiting Dubai for this year’s The Maritime Standard Awards at the Atlantis, The Palm, as master of ceremonies, remembers the 36-year-old moment as if it just happened a minute ago. “It was a cagey first half but then early in the second half came perhaps the biggest moment in world football,” recalls the former goalkeeper. “Diego Maradona scored with his hand. I always say he was the greatest player that I ever played against. But that moment left a sour taste. We all knew what he had done, it was clear and obvious. Peter Reid was next to the referee and he was mimicking what Maradona had done, but to our utter shock the referee gave the goal. We could not believe it.”

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Argentina's Diego Maradona (left) beat England goalkeeper Peter Shilton to a high ball and scored with his hand at the 1986 Mexico World Cup quarter-final clash.

Shilton, who also played in goal for Leicester, Derby, Stoke and Nottingham Forest added, “The ref had a bad game – even the second goal shouldn’t have stood because Chris Waddle was fouled before Maradona got the ball. And then Gary Lineker was shoved in the back just as he was about to score a header. So the ref missed everything in the game. If we had VAR back then the result could have been very different!”

It perhaps could have been totally different but ultimately Argentina would go on to win the trophy for the second time. But there was bitterness from the England team because Maradona celebrated like it was a legitimate goal. “Yes, he was the greatest player of all time but he didn’t show any sportsmanship, he never apologized to us after the game. He should have shown some humility because the result would not have changed. But it is sad he has passed away so young.”

Best goalkeeper

Shilton, widely regarded as England’s best ever goalkeeper, says he can understand why all of the top football clubs in the world and best atheletes choose to come to Dubai for a holiday and warm-weather training. “It is always great to come to Dubai the sun is always shining which is not the case in England! The atmosphere here is always relaxing and I always enjoy it when I come here. The facilities here are amazing. It is ideal for clubs to hold training camps here.”

Shilton made his debut at 16 for Leicester which is his hometown. As an apprentice he says he was getting 8 pounds a week and had to all sorts of jobs around the club including cleaning the changing rooms, sweeping the terraces at the stadium, washing the team kits and also the players’ boots. “I was in the reserve team and became the understudy to Gordon Banks who was the England goalkeeper,” recalls Shilton. “I got my chance in the Leicester first team because he was playing for England on three or four occasions and they didn’t postpone the league games back then and so I got my start in the team and on my debut we beat Everton 3-0.”

His big moment came when he joined Brian Clough at Forest. They had just been promoted to the First Division – which is what we now know as the Premier League – and he won the league that year with the team and they dominated the game. “We won two European Cups – now the Champions League – two League Cups and the Super Cup in three years. It was just magnificent. Clough had an aura about him, he was such a great man. With Peter Taylor, who was his assistant, they complemented each other perfectly. It was like a comedy double act! I got on really well with Clough. He was the best club manager I ever played for and he really should have managed England with Taylor. He got the best out of us as a team and we dominated the game.”

Brian Clough (left) and Peter Taylor (right) are legends in Nottingham Image Credit: WikiCommons

The following World Cup, Italia 90, saw more heartache for England. The team reached the semi-final and faced West Germany. “I thought we played really well. They scored a lucky goal, it was a free kick that took a huge deflection off our wall. The ball looped up in the air and I was back peddling and couldn’t tip it over. But we drew level and took the game to penalties and we all know what happened there.”

Every English fan knows what happened all too well. Left back Stuart Pearce hit his penalty straight at the goalie and Waddle – who had hit the inside of the post during the match – blazed his high over the bar. “They weren’t good penalties,” remembers Shilton. “I faced four which were all really good penalties. My stomach sank because I knew my dream of winning the World Cup had gone. But I was proud that we got that far and when we got back to England we had a hero’s welcome.”

He has enjoyed a hugely successful career but throughout his playing days he was hiding a dark secret – his addiction to gambling. “It started out as a hobby. I used to love horse racing, I owned horses too but alongside it was the gambling addiction which nobody knew about.”

In between games and training he says there was a lot of sitting around and that it was so easy to pick up the phone and place a bet on a horse. “I must have lost over one million pounds during my playing career on gambling. But when you are earning, that feeds your habit. My wife Steph who worked in the NHS helped me through this addiction. Together we have both been doing a lot of charity work to help bring awareness about gambling and we are trying our best to help people out there. But it is increasing all the time, it is getting worse because it is so accessible. There are apps on phones and with one click you’ve placed a bet. When you win you feel great but when you lose you believe you can win and so you keep trying and before you know it you’ve lost a month’s pay. I think football shirt advertising and pop up adverts online must be banned. We have to try to protect the youth.”

Big Qatar kick off

With his playing days far behind him, Shilton - who played a record 125 times for his country over a period of 20 years - is happy to watch the action and is looking forward to the big kick off in Qatar. But he feels it has got too much negative press without good reason. “I think we need to judge the tournament once it is all over. We need to give it a fair chance. The stadiums and the infrastructure is superb. It is world class. Yes, it is odd to stop the season half way, it’s the first time in fact. And yes there have been injuries to players because of too many games being squeezed in. There’s all that to take in but let’s not pre-judge it. There’s been a lot of money and effort put into it in Qatar. We’re here now, let’s give everyone a chance. It could be a real success and I hope it is. It would be great for the Middle East.”

He obviously wants England to win it but is concerned with the form of Gareth Southgate’s side leading up to the tournament. The Three Lions got to the semi-final of the 2018 World Cup and then got to the final of Euro 2020. But their form in the Nations League has been poor. “That is a worry for me. We are coming into the tournament in Qatar perhaps not in our best form. But it can all change and with the squad we have with the likes of Jack Grealish, Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane, we have a strong team. I believe we have a very good chance. We have a good mix of youth and experience and should do really well. I keep my fingers crossed – we are capable of winning it but I also think Brazil have a very good chance too.”

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England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has to cut out the errors in order for the team to have a good tournament.

Much will depend on Jordan Pickford’s form between the sticks and as England’s former number one, Shilton will be keeping a close eye on the Everton stopper. “He is the best keeper we have got, he has done well with England and has not let the team down. When you play international football you just cannot make mistakes as a goalkeeper. Mistakes are what people remember, especially at big tournaments.”

Every English fan - and especially Shilton - will be praying Pickford has an error-free tournament and that the team final finally bring the trophy home. Not since 1966 have England tasted World Cup success but having done very well in the last two tournaments, perhaps Southgate and co can go one step further this time.