In the long, illustrious history of Argentine football, just seven players have achieved the feat of scoring in a World Cup final. During the modern era, that number slims down to a mere five. Mario Kempes netted twice and Daniel Bertoni added his own late strike to seal the Albiceleste’s triumph over the Netherlands on home soil in 1978, while eight years later Jorge Valdano and Jorge Burruchaga were on target against West Germany as Diego Maradona lifted the famous trophy in Mexico.
That famous victory, however, began with a goal from the unlikeliest of sources: an uncompromising defender who managed what the likes of Maradona, Lionel Messi, Gabriel Batistuta and scores of other Argentina idols could not. José Luis ‘Tata’ Brown was the author of that strike in the Estadio Azteca, writing his own small but vital chapter into the story of his nation’s second World Cup victory.
Brown passed away in La Plata on Monday morning aged 62 after a long, bitter battle against Alzheimer’s Disease. Even amid the chaos and uncertainty prompted in the markets by Alberto Fernández’s huge victory in the presidential primary elections, the widely respected ex-centre-back’s passing was met with an outpouring of grief and tributes, from former teammates and former rivals alike. Óscar Ruggeri, who partnered Brown at the back that day against West Germany, paid his respects at the wake and later dedicated a moving, tearful message to the late star. “I spoke to him yesterday a little, I went up to the coffin and said: ‘Now take care of us from up there. Take care of us’,” he told Fox Sports. “I said it with pain in my soul because he was a great guy, a first-class guy who did not deserve this, that shitty illness and so young.”
MADE HIS NAME
A native of the tiny town of Ranchos in Buenos Aires Province, Brown made his name under future Argentina coach Carlos Bilardo at Estudiantes. The La Plata side was his home for no less than eight seasons, with Metropolitana and Nacional championship wins in 1982 and 1983 inspired by Bilardo the high point for the defender during that long spell with the Pincharrata.
Short spells with Colombia’s Atlético Nacional and Buenos Aires sides Boca Juniors and Deportivo Español, before Brown found himself without a club when Bilardo called him up for the 1986 World Cup, ostensibly as the deputy to first choice Daniel Passarella. The player himself was in far from optimal shape, as he confided to Andrés Burgo in the book El Partido: “Before the World Cup I had syringes full of blood taken out of my knee. The doctor told me I was crazy, that at 50 I wouldn’t be able to walk, but I made him inject me.”
The player believed he was going to Mexico to make up the numbers, behind 1978 World Cup winner and former captain Passarella. But the star defender suffered a string of misfortunes – a bout of food poisoning followed by a muscle tear – that thrust Brown into the fray. He went on to play every match in Mexico, capping his campaign with a fierce header past West Germany keeper Toni Schumacher to open the scoring in the final – his first and only goal in 36 international caps. “Look at that record, I’m not bad at picking!” he joked in a 2011 interview with El Gráfico.
But it was not just for that strike that Brown is remembered. Minutes later a sickening clash with a Germany rival left the defender on the floor with what would later be diagnosed as a dislocated shoulder. Despite the pain, he refused to leave the pitch. “I told [team doctor] Madero: ‘Raúl, don’t even think about it,” he recalled to El Gráfico. “They took me off, they were going to do whatever they were going to do and I said ‘I’m fine, let’s go’ and I ran back on the pitch to play. I couldn’t extend my arm from the pain, I carried it, and I couldn’t play like that. I had to do something, so I bit my shirt, made a hole in it, stuck my finger through and played the second half like that.”
After the joy of World Cup
glory Brown moved to Europe,
where he represented Brest
and Murcia before ending his
playing career with Racing
Club, following the disappointment of being left out
of Bilardo’s Italia 1990 plans.
His subsequent attempts at
coaching failed to reach the
same heights, although he did
win an Olympic Games gold
medal in 2008 as the assistant
of Sergio Batista, another
member of that famous 1986
side. But it is for those Mexico
heroics that he has been immortalised: the man who was
not supposed to play a single
minute but for the most unlikely twist of fate, whose single goal proved one of the most
important ever scored by a
man wearing the Argentina