Wednesday concluded on a note of mourning for sports lovers in India with the demise of football’s demigod Diego Armando Maradona. The 60-year-old Argentine legend, one of the greatest footballers of all time, died of a heart attack, having undergone brain surgery earlier this month.
India, predominantly a cricket-crazy nation, probably is indebted to Diego for breeding a passion for football. His “Hand of God” goal and leading the Argentinian side to lift the 1986 FIFA World Cup stoked a frenzy in this country far away and eventually made football popular. Kolkata, one of the bastions of Indian football, still has a massive fan follower of the Argentina football team, and the love affair of which was pioneered by Maradona, passed on through players like Gabriel Batistuta and Lionel Messi. Streets and lanes here still deck up in the blue-and-white flag and large cutouts of Maradona, during World Cups every four years.
Kolkata’s craze for Maradona was addressed when the legend first stepped foot in the country in the ‘City of Joy’ in 2008. Maradona’s communist political outlook was also revered by the then communist government of West Bengal, who brought him to inaugurate a private football academy in the city. An exhibition match was organised eventually at the Salt Lake Stadium, and hundreds and thousands of Maradona-lovers swarmed the stadium to document the experience of a lifetime. As journalist Subhankar Mondal wrote for Goal.com then: “There was emotion when at the start of the match Maradona ran onto the pitch and did his famous juggling. There was emotion when during half-time some ball-boys rushed onto Maradona to touch him. Even the players who were participating in the exhibition match couldn’t resist feeling the emotions and feeling proud at being able to hug the Great Diego.”
The player later went on the fields of Mohan Bagan football club where he played a 10-minute match with the club juniors. Later, he went to Mother Teresa’s grave to offer his prayers and tributes.
‘El Diego’ in his trip also met former CM of West Bengal Jyoti Basu, who was a friend of Fidel Castro and while seeing the pictures of both the communists together, he said that friend of Fidel Castro is a friend of mine, so Jyoti Basu is my friend too.
His second visit to Kolkata was in 2017 December. In the three-day trip, the footballer played a friendly match with the former Indian captain of the cricket team, Sourav Ganguly. The trip was originally scheduled for October in 2017 but was later postponed to December.
The major attraction of the trip was the 12-foot bronze statue of the legendry footballer which was unveiled at the charity event, the statue was supposed to feature a 25-year-old Maradona, sporting curly locks, and clutching the World Cup trophy he captained his country to in 1986.
After which, ‘El Diego’ handed out cheques to 11 cancer patients at the event, which was attended by around a thousand people, some of whom were standing on rooftops of the adjoining buildings.
Before concluding his trip, a smiling Maradona said through an interpreter after the unveiling of the statue said, “I am not the god of football but a simple footballer, I’m happy to be here in Kolkata again.”
Maradona’s visit to the City of Joy brought Euphoria among the dwellers of Kolkata and they would miss their footballing God.