Diego Maradona: Adored more than any other footballer in Kerala

A visit to Kerala in 2012 provided a glimpse of what the greatest football legend of his time meant to the state.

The historic city of Kannur in northern Kerala had never seen such a frenzy as Maradona’s fans arrived from distant places.   -  H. Vibhu

Argentina declared three days of national mourning following the death of Diego Maradona. That was hardly surprising, considering he was the South American nation’s greatest-ever sporting icon.

But Argentina’s government wasn’t the only one that mourned the death of the much-loved genius: More than 14,000km away, in Kerala, the state administration announced two days of official mourning. That may have come as a surprise to many, but no football fan in the southern state would have complained. After all, Kerala adored Maradona more than it did any other footballer.

A visit in 2012 — for a private function in Kannur — provided a glimpse of what the greatest football legend of his time meant to the state. A massive crowd greeted him at the municipal stadium. The historic city in northern Kerala had never seen such a frenzy as Maradona’s fans arrived from distant places.

A museum in Diego Maradona's memory  

Among them was T. Asif Saheer, a gifted striker and former Kerala captain in the Santosh Trophy. His nickname was Mampad Maradona: He too is short, had exceptional dribbling skills and scoring abilities.

 

“Though I was nowhere near Maradona in talent, I considered it a great honour when I was compared to him,” Asif said. “He was my academy of football. I just tried to imitate him.”

Asif was thrilled to meet Maradona in Kannur. “I was fortunate that I could spend a few minutes with him,” he said. “I was part of the group that met him in his hotel room. Along with me were other footballers like I. M. Vijayan, Jo Paul Ancheri, U. Sharaf Ali and V. P. Shaji.”

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Maradona wasn’t just a footballer’s favourite footballer. He had been the favourite footballer for most in Kerala ever since he scored that stunning goal — the one with his foot — against England in the quarterfinals of the 1986 World Cup.

It was the first time that most of Kerala had witnessed the brilliance of Maradona. That was a time when football was almost a religion, especially in Malabar. It had found its god.

Diego Maradona: Hasta la victoria siempre!  

It is little wonder then that the room at the Hotel Blue Nile where Maradona stayed has become a kind of shrine. Just about everything he used — including the plates on which he ate and even the shell of a giant tiger prawn specially cooked for him by the chef — has been retained.

And people ask for that room specifically, never mind the premium pricing.