During the quarterfinals of the 1986 World Cup, the English soccer player Steve Hodge looped a ball to his goalie that was intercepted by the Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona, enabling Maradona to score one of the most notorious goals against Hodge’s team.
It would become one of the most talked-about goals in professional soccer: In a fast-moving sequence, Maradona got away with using his left hand to palm the ball, and he later invoked “the hand of God” to explain what had occurred.
In the stadium tunnel after Argentina won, 2-1, Hodge asked Maradona to exchange jerseys.
Now, the victor of the exchange seems debatable. Maradona advanced to the finals and won, but Hodge received a shirt that, dried sweat and all, he just sold for nearly $9.3 million at an auction held by Sotheby’s — believed to be the highest price ever paid for a piece of sports memorabilia.
Sotheby’s announced the sale on Wednesday on Twitter. It did not specify the buyer. In a news release, Sotheby’s quoted Hodge calling it a “pleasure” to have exhibited the shirt for the last 20 years at the National Football Museum in Manchester, England.
He added, “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.”
Leila Dunbar, an appraiser of pop culture merchandise, said that the sale was emblematic of the recent increase in the value of sports memorabilia. “Since 2020,’’ she said, “this latest ascension is like nothing I have ever seen in more than three decades in the business.”
Maradona, generally considered along with Pelé among the best-ever soccer players, was known for scrappiness and sudden bursts of virtuosity. Both those characteristics were epitomized by his play in the second half of that quarterfinal match against England, which took place in Mexico City.
Diego Maradona during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Argentina and England in Mexico City on June 22, 1986.Credit…Agence France-Presse, via Getty Images
After the left-hand infraction, Maradona immediately began to celebrate, before English players had a chance to explode at the referees.
Four minutes later, Maradona scored what soccer fans consecrated in a vote held by the sport’s governing body, FIFA, as the “World Cup Goal of the Century.” Starting in his team’s own half of the field, dribbling backward momentarily, sprinting one moment and in another slowing to a prance, he traveled 70 yards, circumvented five English players, then blew past the team’s goalie and — in a nanosecond before tumbling over — kicked in the winning goal.
The Falklands War, which ended in a British defeat of Argentina, gave the match a larger symbolic dimension.
“This was revenge,” Maradona wrote in his autobiography, “I Am Diego” (2000). “It was something bigger than us: We were defending our flag.”
The authenticity of the jersey was questioned a few weeks beforehand, when Maradona’s eldest daughter, Dalma Maradona, told Agence France-Presse that her father had given Hodge the jersey he had worn during the match’s relatively uneventful first half.
A spokeswoman for Sotheby’s told AFP that the auction house had undertaken “extensive diligence and scientific research” to authenticate the jersey’s use during the game’s climactic moments. Written accounts by both Maradona and Hodge confirm an exchange of jerseys after the game. (In an email, a Sotheby’s spokesman assured that the jersey had not been washed since then.)
Rich Mueller, the founder and editor of Sports Collectors Daily, a website devoted to the sports memorabilia industry, said the sale represented the highest price he had ever heard anyone paying for memorabilia, in an auction or a private sale.
The most recent record-setting sports items sold at auction have included a Babe Ruth jersey, which sold for $5.6 million in June 2019, and a document that laid out the founding principles of the modern Olympics, which sold for $8.8 million in December 2019.
To illustrate the way the prices for sports memorabilia have skyrocketed, Ms. Dunbar, the appraiser, pointed out that in 2017, a Jackie Robinson jersey from 1947, his rookie season, sold for around $2 million, and last year, a 1950 Robinson jersey sold for more than twice as much — around $4.2 million. Ms. Dunbar estimated that a Robinson jersey that went on sale could now bring $10 million to $20 million.
“People are realizing these items can be appreciated like a work of art,” Brahm Wachter, the head of streetwear and modern collectibles at Sotheby’s, said. “I’ve wanted to sell the shirt for a long time, perhaps the longest of any item I’ve actually had the privilege of selling.”