Diego Maradona: Welcoming the god of football to Kolkata

A visit to Kolkata provided a glimpse of what the Argentine legend meant to his fans there.

Maradona wooed an audience of around 100,000 that had packed the Salt Lake Stadium to have a glimpse of their favourite footballer in December 2008.   -  AP

The god of football is gone all too soon. The news of Diego Maradona’s death came like a bolt from the blue for a city that placed the legendary Argentine footballer in the pantheon of deities it loved to worship. El Diego was an immortal figure in Kolkata and the legions of his diehard admirers were thrown into a state of despair as the news of his passing became real.

There was a good reason to be crestfallen for a city that treasures its footballing heritage. It certainly emanated from the pride of being the first address in the country to host one of the greatest stars of world football. Maradona came to Kolkata twice in a span of a decade and each time he got the manic reception that is unmatched in a city that is crazy about its icons, be it from the world of football, cricket, cinema or literature.

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“One of the most gifted football players is no more. We pay our tribute to football legend Diego Maradona,” read a post from Mohun Bagan, which used its social media platforms to replay pictures of Maradona’s visit in 2008.

 

The deep reverence for the Argentine was also attached to his political allegiance — he kept his revolutionary compatriot Che Guevara in his heart and embraced the Cuban president Fidel Castro as his personal friend. Maradona was full of appreciation when he met veteran Marxist leader and former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu, who showed him a photo album that had pictures of him greeting Castro when he visited Kolkata in the 1970s. “Fidel Castro is my friend and anyone who is Castro’s friend is my friend. So, Jyoti Basu is my friend,” was how Maradona expressed his pleasure of being in the city through an interpreter.

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The god of football wooed an audience of around 100,000 that had packed the Salt Lake Stadium to have a glimpse of their favourite footballer. Maradona stayed a little over two days on his first visit in December 2008, while his second visit, which happened almost nine years later in 2017, lasted a bit longer as he stayed in the city for three days.

Despite intensely following its own clubs like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, passion runs high in the city when it comes to the giants of world football. A sea of humanity descended at the airport when Maradona made his first trip to Kolkata. People were just there to catch a glimpse of the man who introduced them to that fascinating level of skill and enchantment with which he inspired Argentina to win the World Cup in Mexico in 1986.

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Interestingly, Kolkata was more about Brazil ever since the “King” of football Pele enthralled the city visiting it first in 1977 with North American league side New York Cosmos. But Maradona’s magic in 1986 ended Brazil’s monopoly, bringing up an Argentina camp that virtually split the city into two during the World Cups. During his second visit to the city, Maradona promised to bring “big-time” football to India as he juggled the ball in presence of former India captain and the city’s own cricket icon Sourav Ganguly, who himself is a big Maradona fan. Maradona sweated it out in a football clinic with the kids and spoke about lending his assistance in uplifting the standard of the game in India. He also sang a few songs in Spanish and thus left an everlasting impression among the footballer lovers of Kolkata.