The Late Romualdo Arppi Filho Auctions Match Ball From 1986 World Cup Final

The match ball from the 1986 FIFA World Cup final, a match immortalized in history as the game in which the legendary Diego Maradona became a world champion, is being auctioned by the Brazilian referee who took charge of the game, Romualdo Arppi Filho, just days after he passed away aged 84.

The Adidas Azteca football had been owned by Arppi Filho for 37 years since he claimed it at the end of the dramatic final won 3-2 by Argentina in front of 114,600 spectators in Mexico City. It is now being put up for sale by an English auction house specializing in sports memorabilia, Graham Budd Auctions, and is estimated to fetch between $35,000-$60,000 this week. Currently the ball has received an opening bid of $21,700.

Last year, the ball from the infamous 1986 World Cup quarter-final between Argentina and England, notorious for Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal failed to meet its reserve price set at auction by Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser, despite receiving a bid of $2 million. Following the publicity surrounding that auction, Arrpi Filho’s son contacted Graham Budd Auctions about valuing the ball which was used throughout the 13th FIFA World Cup Final. Their auctioneer, David Convery believes this ball has “a more sensible estimate.”

Last year, the shirt worn by Maradona in the match against England, which he swapped with midfielder Steve Hodge, broke a world record for sporting memorabilia by selling for $8.6 million in auction at Sotheby’s. Convery believes the romance and controversy around that game make everything around it “an anomaly” and concedes that the size and wear of match balls affect their value compared to other items. “We certainly find autographed footballs don’t tend to fare very well as they eventually tend to fade. However, this is a World Cup final, it’s 1986, it’s Maradona and everything else. It will sell on Wednesday.”

Arppi Filho, who spoke to me exclusively a few days before he passed away on Saturday night, was a surprise choice to referee the 13th FIFA World Cup final between Argentina and West Germany considering a Brazilian had also officiated at the previous final four years earlier. Arppi Filho, who had been a FIFA-qualified referee for over 20 years by 1986 told me “All a referee wants is to referee a World Cup Final, I had fulfilled my wish.”

Previously in the tournament, the Brazilian had also refereed the group-stage match between France and the Soviet Union and the Round of 16 match between Mexico and Bulgaria which was also played at the Estadio Azteca in front of a six-figure crowd. He was later told by FIFA President João Havelange that he had given the highest score awarded to any referee in a World Cup Final match.

Early in the match, Arppi Filho, who only spoke Spanish and Portuguese, aroused curiosity by demanding that the West German players Dietmar Jakobs and Hans-Peter Briegel pulled up their socks to comply with a FIFA directive ensuring all players looked smart on the field of play. Arppi Filho told me “the teams were aware and were instructed by FIFA that they should be dressed like this for the entire World Cup.”

Having scored all four goals in Argentina’s quarter and semi-final victories, all eyes were on Diego Maradona going into the game as he sought to cement his status as one of the greatest players of all time by winning the ultimate prize. The talk beforehand surrounded whether Maradona would be protected by the referee or allowed to be physically neutralized by the German defenders, yet the first yellow card of the game was given to the Argentinian star himself.

It appeared that Maradona had been booked for dissent but Arppi Filho insisted that the Argentina captain, who was less than flattering in his assessment of the Brazilian in his 2017 autobiography, Touched by God, had not cursed at him. “During the free kick, he jumped in front of the ball leaving the barrier. At the same moment, I stopped the game, Maradona ran out and I gave him a yellow card. After the card, the Argentina players came towards me, I told them to leave so as not to be expelled from the game.”

Immediately after the final whistle, Swedish linesman referee Erik Fredriksson picked up the ball which had been kicked downfield by Andreas Brehme and handed it to Arppi Filho as thousands of fans engulfed the field at the Estadio Azteca. Both assistant referees, Fredriksson and Costa Rican, Berny Ulloa, signed the ball which Arppi Filho kept at his house in Brazil before passing it on to his children.

Arppi Filho told me he has framed the referee’s shirt he wore in the final which is on display at his son’s house but is putting the ball up for auction because it is what he describes as a “world football relic”. “This is a chance for buyers and collectors to display it around the world so that everyone has the opportunity to experience the history of international football.”

After speaking to me Romualdo Arppi Filho passed away on March 4, aged 84, he had been on hemodialysis for the past three years. In a statement, the Brazilian federation (CBF) said it “sympathizes with the family and friends of Romualdo Arppi Filho in this moment of immense sadness”.