Pedro Pasculli shared the inner sanctum of Diego Maradona’s room when he inspired Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986. Nowadays they share a WhatsApp group called “Campeones 86” that has engaged on the unlikely topic of Bangor City since Pasculli was appointed manager of the historic but troubled club this month. The Campeones have plenty to discuss.
“The sensation of holding the World Cup was like touching the sky with your hand,” the 59-year-old Pasculli recalls of the moment Maradona passed him the trophy in Mexico.
The Azteca Stadium must feel every second of its 33 years away. The rain is pouring as Bangor’s manager prepares a multinational squad of part-time players for his first game in Cymru North, a 1-1 draw at Ruthin Town. Bangor is the 13th job of Pasculli’s managerial career, a varied CV that includes Albania’s Dinamo Tirana and the Uganda national team, and it is one he has taken in inauspicious circumstances.
After a turbulent few years under the controversial ownership of Vaughan Sports Management Bangor reside in the second tier of the Welsh football league. The club was taken over in September by a consortium led by Domenico Serafino, an Italy-born musician who has spent most of his life in Buenos Aires. There he became friends with Sergio Batista and Jorge Luis Burruchaga, two other members of Argentina’s 1986 World Cup team, and through them he met Pasculli.
Serafino discovered Bangor through his son Francesco, who joined the club in May. And so a World Cup winner and professional musician are sitting together at the EuroGold Stadium, posters of Bangor’s greatest European nights decorating the walls, discussing plans for the club’s revival. Max Leghissa, Bangor’s director of football, also sits in on the interview.
“Batista and Burruchaga would come to my concerts and Fernando Batista, Sergio’s brother, trained my son at Argentinos Juniors,” Serafino says. “And Argentinos Juniors is where I first played with Maradona,” says Pasculli, who in 1985 moved to Lecce, where he became the second-highest goalscorer in the club’s history.
“Then I roomed with him at the World Cup. That was a real pleasure. We were forwards together at Argentinos Juniors and even then it was clear how special he was but he never made you feel different. He was always part of the team. If you made a mistake he would always support you. He is a great man off the pitch as well as on it and he is still a real friend. We were such a close group and we are still in touch with each other today. We have a WhatsApp group called ‘Campeones 86’ that we use all the time, including Maradona.”
Pasculli started Argentina’s opening game of the World Cup against South Korea, with Jorge Valdano as his strike partner. He was on the bench for the remaining group matches against Italy and Bulgaria, and the knockout rounds against England and Belgium as well as the final against West Germany, but made a decisive contribution with the winner against Uruguay in the last 16.
“That goal was very important not just for getting us through but for changing the belief around us in that tournament,” he says. “It was such a big game for us, a South American derby, and Argentina hadn’t beaten Uruguay at a World Cup for 56 years. The journalists who followed the national team at that time didn’t think we’d make it through the group stage but we were the first team to arrive in Mexico and the last to leave. Uruguay were a good and hard South American team. Beating them removed a big obstacle.”
Pasculli knows what is coming next and mention of the “Hand of God” has him convulsing with laughter. He leaps from his chair to perform an impression of Peter Shilton towering above Maradona, then looking on aghast having been “pickpocketed” by Argentina’s diminutive No 10.
“On the bench we didn’t realise what he had done,” Pasculli says. “Maradona’s reaction to the goal was a normal celebration; he just ran to the corner and the team ran after him. We didn’t know what he’d done until he told us all at full-time. We were all laughing. To us it showed he was great even in the smallest details. Even if it was unfortunate for the English [cue more laughter] it wasn’t something a normal person would think of doing. It takes someone special to think of doing that and pulling it off but his second was simply the greatest goal in the history of the World Cup.
“When [Héctor] Enrique gave him the ball inside our half and he started dribbling we all started to rise up on the bench, a little bit after the first player, then a little more after the second, more after the third until we were all on our feet because we knew he was going for the goal. He’d tried something similar for Barcelona but didn’t score that time. The feeling when he scored was incredible. We were all going crazy on the bench, even [the coach, Carlos] Bilardo. Even the England supporters inside the stadium were applauding him. It was one of the best goals of the century.”
The pressure and expectation on Maradona were intense before the final but, in the sanctuary of their hotel room, only Pasculli felt it. “Our room wasn’t anything special and our beds were near to each other. I was so anxious but Maradona said: ‘Just stay calm, we have a game tomorrow.’ Five minutes after getting in bed he was asleep! I was awake until 4 or 5am. No normal person could have slept that easily the night before a World Cup final but seeing him so calm convinced me we were going to win the World Cup.”
At Bangor, you suspect, there is more convincing to do. In April a group of supporters formed their own club – Bangor 1876 – having had enough of the financial problems under VSM that prompted the Football Association of Wales to revoke Bangor’s Uefa licence and HMRC to issue a winding-up petition in 2018, later dismissed.
In May the club were docked 42 points by the FAW for regulation breaches, a tally that was halved on appeal. The remaining 21 points were then wiped out after an appeal to the court of arbitration, but a transfer embargo prevented the club from signing players on professional contracts. Only one player stayed this summer while a remarkable 21 from Italy arrived, along with players from Portugal, Ghana and Guinea-Bissau plus one from Wales and six from England.
“This is not about Italians coming here to work,” Serafino says. “We have had former players and Welsh players contacting us to come back since we took over. People are thinking about Bangor again as a stable club and they can see we are serious about the future. We know it is going to be difficult but we will gain the confidence of the people by working hard day after day. We plan to bring back the academy and have a community project that benefits the whole city. We will return the club to where it should be.”