The recent death of Diego Maradona saw the football world merge as one to laud the gifted superstar’s career.
Many football fans of a certain vintage’s exposure to arguably the greatest player of all time came via TV coverage of the World Cups in 1982, 1986 and 1990.
For younger fans, clips online are the only taste they have had.
But one lucky Dundonian got a first hand glimpse of El Diego, both at the start of his career playing for Argentina, and as he was reaching his peak in the iconic blue and red of Barcelona.
As well as working as a DC Thomson compositor – he joked that his 40 years was more like 25 due to all of his refereeing exploits around the world – Bob Valentine was a referee from the 1960s through to retiring in 1990.
During that time he came across many of the sport’s greats.
But none stand out more than the Argentinian superstar, who even signed a football for him after their first meeting, on his international debut against the Republic of Ireland at Landsdowne Road, Dublin on May 29, 1978.
Fairmuir man Bob, now 81, remembers the buzz around the teenager going into the game in Dublin.
“There was a lot of talk in the press around that time of this new wonderkid from Argentina, who was going to be the next superstar.
“After the match in Dublin, which finished goalless, I kept the ball, and the following morning I flew back to Glasgow alongside the Argentina team and officials.
“During the flight, I took the match ball out of my holdall and got the young Maradona to sign it.
“Like many players, his signature was more just a scribble.
“So I said to him: ‘Please print your name below your signature’, which he did.
“I still have that ball and, just last year after a picture of me with the ball appeared the press, I received some offers of several thousand pounds to sell it.
“I refused all of them.”
But that wasn’t the last time Bob would cross paths with the Argentinian great, as he would referee him again during his ultimately ill-fated spell at Barcelona.
Bob added: “This was when he was older and was at his peak, he scored two that day and you can still see them on YouTube – he picked the ball up in the centre circle and chipped the ball over the goalkeeper’s head.
“He never came to my attention in either game as far as discipline goes, I just got to enjoy him playing.
“I refereed other great players like Graeme Souness and Trevor Francis, but none compared to Maradona.”
Bob would referee at a number of prestigious tournaments, including the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, the 1982 World Cup in Spain, the 1984 and 1988 European Championships, and the 1986 UEFA Cup final between Cologne and Real Madrid.
And his brush with the stars of the game didn’t end there, he also had a ball signed by another international football great, Pele, at the 1982 World Cup.
He said: “I was appointed to officiate at two games in the north, based in Oviedo.
“Pele was the FIFA Ambassador for the matches in that region. My first match was Austria v Germany, played in Gijon.
“This was the match that became known as the ‘Disgrace in Gijon’ or ‘Great Gijon Swindle’.
“Both teams knew that, if the final score was 1-0 to Germany, then both teams would qualify for the next stage.
“Germany scored on the half-hour mark. After that, tackling became fairly scarce and the score remained the same. So both went through.”
Despite the controversy, later that day Bob met Pele again and got him to sign the match ball.
And almost 20 years later, he would meet him again in the most unexpected of surroundings, closer to home, where he would get him to sign a piece of memorabilia featuring the Brazilian which was gifted to Bob for refereeing an international between Sweden and Germany.
Bob added: “Some years later, Scotland hosted the World U/16 Championship, with some of the matches were played around Dundee and Angus.
“I decided to go to see one of the matches, which was being played at Dens Park.
“I walked into the boardroom and who greeted me but Pele.
“After we chatted, I said to him: ‘If I had known you were to be here, I would have brought my certificate to be signed’.
“He looked perplexed and asked: ‘What plate?’
“I replied: ‘The plate from the Swedish FA’.
“Pele’s response was: ‘I have never had a plate from the Swedish FA’.
“At this point, I said that I would nip home (just seven minutes away) and bring it down.
“When I returned and showed him the plate and the certificate, he just shook his head before saying that he would contact the Swedish FA soon.
“Never one to miss a chance, I asked him to sign my certificate, which he did.
“The certificate, duly signed, reads: ‘To Bob Valentine, all the best, and thanks. Pele’.
“Not many people will have those two particular signatures in their collection.”