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Bathroom salesman and vineyard owner - players who scored in a World Cup final and told the story to Belfast photographer

Michael Donald did headers with Pele and was asked to leave a Brazilian shanty at gunpoint during 10 years photographing the game's legends. 'It's been a fantastic journey,' he tells Jim Gracey

Sir Geoff Hurst
Sir Geoff Hurst
Jairzinho in a Rio shanty town
Carlos Alberto
Belfast-born photographer Michael Donald

Only 29 living souls on the planet can say they scored a goal in a World Cup final. It is such an exclusive club that even some of the all-time greatest football names who have graced the tournament cannot claim membership.

The likes of Beckham, Cruyff, Beckenbauer and Maradona will forever be on the outside looking in at a disparate group that includes a bathroom salesman, the two most famous insurance men in history and a vintner.

Belfast photographer and filmmaker Michael Donald has spent much of the last 10 years tracking them down and interviewing them across Europe and South America.

His remarkable labour of love first came together as a documentary film, commissioned by American sports broadcaster ESPN ahead of the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa and shown regularly on the channel since.

Called I Scored A Goal In A World Cup Final, it has now become an updated, hardback, glossy pictorial book, quite possibly the most unique football record ever published, entitled GOAL! Officially backed by Fifa, it costs just £20.

And with his journey complete, London-based Donald (50) is preparing for a launch in his native Belfast around the December 1 draw for next year's finals in Russia, fervently hoping Northern Ireland will be in the hat.

"It's been a fantastic journey, a great experience for me, meeting legends and personal heroes in their own homes and then filming and photographing them at the scenes of their greatest football moments," he relates.

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"Places like the Maracana, the Stade de France and Berlin's Olympic stadium.

"I stood on the empty pitch at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo, Uruguay, where the first ever World Cup final was held in 1930 with the ball from that match in my hands. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck.

"I took penalties in the Olympic Stadium in Munich with Paul Breitner (1974 final scorer), I did headers with Pele (1958 and 1970). I nearly went home with Emmanuel Petit's 1998 winners' medal in my pocket, and was asked to leave a Rio shanty town at gunpoint."

Their stories of the day they scored on the greatest football stage of all are told alongside brilliant portrait photography by Donald, whose work has appeared in The Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph, Observer and Guardian. He has also exhibited in Berlin, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Paris and at the National Portrait Gallery in London, as well as Belfast City Hall.

In a notable sidebar, he is the only photographer to have shot individual portraits of the Rolling Stones in the last 30 years for a 2014 London exhibition. "Very pleasant and very easy to work with," he says.

Only 58 players in total have scored a goal in a World Cup final.

When Donald began his project, there were 34 surviving but five have, sadly, since passed away: Ghiggia (for Uruguay v Brazil, 1950), Masopust (Czechoslovakia v Brazil, 1962), Zito, for Brazil in the same match, Carlos Alberto (Brazil v Italy, 1970) and Dick Nanninga (Holland v Argentina, 1978), the one who ended up selling bathroom supplies and whose story is probably the most endearing and, at the same time, saddest of all.

Since 2010 Donald has added Andres Iniesta, who scored Spain's winner against Holland in South Africa, and Mario Gotze, Germany's extra time hero against Argentina three years ago in Brazil.

And there it will end, with Donald explaining: "The original idea was to keep updating every four years to keep this wonderful historic football record going. But times have changed. Surviving World Cup-winning goalscorers have gone from being old men with fascinating back stories of their lives and of the day, to multi-millionaire superstars with, frankly, little to say for themselves.

"They go into football academies at an early age and are cocooned for the rest of their careers and beyond.

"You don't have the same narrative. Take England's 1966 goalscoring legends Sir Geoff Hurst, still the only player to score a World Cup final hat-trick, and Martin Peters. Both went on to become insurance salesmen, very successfully it must be said. But Martin Peters tells of his embarrassment and regret to this day of having sold his two complimentary final tickets to a tout, thereby denying his mum and dad the opportunity to watch their son on his greatest day.

"That would never happen now, nor will players at that level have to look for work outside the game," he adds.

The book, now on sale, was Donald's original vision when he conceived the project a decade ago.

"Unfortunately, book sales alone would not have covered the cost. We had to make the film first to make the book possible," he says. "Even then, the idea sort of sat on the shelf for a couple of years. I took it round a number of production companies, but they either wanted to do it themselves, without me, which I wasn't having, or just plain not interested. One told me: 'Football is boring.'"

Through persistence, the break came when the aptly-named Passion Pictures of London bought into his enthusiasm and sold ESPN on the idea ahead of the 2010 tournament.

But despite scoring a ratings and critical success, Donald's dream of seeing his creation in print remained just as difficult to realise until his Cliftonville-supporting brother Pedro, owner of The Sunflower and American Bar music venues in Belfast, suggested the answer might lie closer to home.

Enter former Irish FA president and Fifa vice-president Jim Boyce, also a lifelong Cliftonville supporter.

"I contacted Jim, who by then had retired from Fifa, but he liked the idea and promised to see what he could do. He was as good as his word," says Donald.

"Doors that were previously closed to me immediately started opening. Fifa had backed the film project and plenty of their people had shown interest in the book. But Fifa is such a huge organisation, I just couldn't pin anyone down to make a decision. I kept being passed from one department to another.

"But from the moment Jim Boyce made his call, people started answering the telephone to me and suddenly things started to happen. The book has Fifa's seal of approval and a copy will be given to each of the 300 delegates at the World Cup draw in the Kremlin next month. I hope the Irish FA are there to bring one home. I am very grateful to Jim and hope he will be a guest of honour at the book launch.

"I also think the book is a very good fit for Fifa in terms of how they want themselves and the game to be perceived in a purely football sense after the scandals that engulfed them in recent times."

Ulster University Coleraine campus-educated Donald grew up in the Balmoral area of Belfast. A father-of-two, he now lives with his wife in the shadow of Arsenal's Emirates stadium in London, but supports Liverpool.

Football and photography have been his passions as far back as he can remember, fired by the spellbinding football and imagery of the first World Cup he can recall watching on television, the thrilling spectacle of Argentina 1978.

Little did he realise then that one day he would meet, interview and photograph the three scorers from the host nation's epic 3-1 win over a Dutch team of all talents.

Mario Kempes and Daniel Bertoni he found charming and prospering, but it was the Dutch scorer Nanninga who left the most lasting impression of all his subjects.

The striker sadly died in Belgium in 2015 after complications arising from a hospital operation.

In the foreword to his book, Donald reflects on the sharp contrast between Nanninga's life after football and that of the fabulously wealthy ones of those he would later meet.

"Very self-effacing about his achievement, he was a bathroom salesman at the time in Belgium, and loved his job," he writes.

"During the interview in his home, he asked his wife to find his runners-up medal from 1978. She came back with the box it had come in but inside was a medal he had won for singing karaoke.

"He took us to his local bar afterwards, where most of the regulars knew him. The barmaid asked me what we were all doing there. I explained that we were there because of Dick.

"She asked: 'What's Dick done?' In all the years he had been going there, he had failed to mention that he had scored a goal in the 1978 World Cup final."

There were hairy moments, too, on Donald's travels, most frighteningly in the Rio shanty town which he entered with trepidation to photograph 1970 legend Jairzinho, where he worked with under-privileged children.

"Suddenly these gun-toting bandits appeared and ordered us to leave," recalls Donald, who still got his unique picture of Jairzinho, bizarrely playing a table football game on a rundown street.

Donald sells himself short when he says he "fell into photography".

"I travelled a lot after university, to India and the US, and eventually found myself coming back to London more than Belfast, so I settled here," he says.

"I still didn't know what I wanted to do. I just knew I could take pictures and hawked my portfolio around. The work built up very quickly, so I suppose I was lucky."

The good fortune is that his craft, eye for detail and journalistic skills in getting his subjects to talk as openly as they do is being preserved for posterity in book and film.

His testament sees Paolo Rossi, who returned from a two-year betting scandal ban to shoot Italy to World Cup glory and win the Golden Boot in Spain '82, posing as a Richard Gere lookalike on his Tuscan vineyard.

He found the late Josef Masopust of Czechoslovakia, beaten by Brazil in 1962, living in an Army flat in Prague, his "pension" from playing for the military team.

"Fame is a double-edged thing for the older goalscorers, especially the South Americans," he reasons.

"They are celebrated as folk heroes and legends where they live but that doesn't translate into financial security.

"Garrincha, from the great Brazilian sides of '58 and '62, died an alcoholic and only then became a symbol of his country's football. Zagallo reckons they'll build a statue of him outside the Maracana, but only after he's dead."

His favourite story relates to the day he arrived at the Stade de France in Paris to film and photograph France '98 scorer Emmanuel Petit.

"He gave me his jacket and medal to hold while we filmed on the pitch. I handed the jacket back, but I'd put the medal in my pocket and forgotten about it and so had he.

"I never scored a goal in the World Cup final, but I nearly ended up with a winner's medal."

Nor has a man with a lifetime obsession with all things World Cup actually been to a finals tournament.

"Maybe next year," he says. "When Northern Ireland make it to Russia."

GOAL! Intimate portraits with every living Fifa World Cup Final scorer by Michael Donald is published by Octopus Books, priced £20. Jim Gracey is the Belfast Telegraph's Group Sports Editor

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