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With Diego Maradona's death, Kolkata remembers its favourite football icon

Kolkata was always a distant mad lover of Diego Maradona since his 1986 World Cup triumph and waited 22 long years to meet their hero in person.

Aditya K. Halder Aditya K. Halder
New Delhi Updated on: November 26, 2020 12:09 IST
diego maradona
Image Source : TWITTER

File photo from Diego Maradona's maiden visit of Kolkata.

Being a 90's kid meant I never got to watch Diego Maradona in action. Of course there are plenty of short videos on YouTube and social media paying testimony to his greatness but they can only tell you so much about the little magician, who was much more than his 'hand of god' or 'goal of the century'.

If one is brought up in Kolkata, like yours truly, the fact is ingrained into you by your elders that Diego Maradona and Pele are the two greatest footballers to grace this planet. 

Of course, a heated debate may still follow at any Kolkata tea stall — a.k.a as Bengali's favourite 'Cha er adda' — over who is greatest of the two. And what I always enjoyed the most is how excited, passionate and emotional a Bengali gets to prove the point that his or her favourite icon is next to nobody.

That's why to say that with Maradona passing away on Wednesday night has pushed the city of joy into a state of mourning would be an understatement.

The unflinching love that Kolkata had for the Argentine and the impact he left on the corresponding generations are imense and dates back to 1986 World Cup when he led the La Albiceleste to glory with those two iconic goals against England.

"He was not a human, he was a god-sent angel on earth to play this beautiful game," says yesteryear Indian football star Subhash Bhowmick, who has played and coached all his life for East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.

The 1970 Asian Games bronze medallist, who attended all Argentina games in person at the 1986 WC in Mexico, keenly recalls how he was left mesmerised by the magic of Maradona.

 "I saw him at his best at the '86 World Cup. He was untouchable at every match, whether Belgium or England, he was surreal. He was among those very few footballers who can be called a true genius who used to delive when situation demanded. Among those whom I saw playing, Alfredo di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Johan Cryuff and Pele were to name a few whose names can be taken in same breathe," Subhash said.

To get a taste of the madness that Kolkatans have for Maradona, and Pele alike, one must visit the city during a FIFA WC, when the entire city is painted in Argentina's white & blue and Brazil's yellow & green with flags of the nations, and murals of the two greats at every nook and corner.

Maradona himself got taste of that madness; not once but twice as he visited Kolkata in 2008 and 2017.

While his last visit to play a charity match with city's favourite son Sourav Ganguly was more of a low-key affair, it was his maiden sojourn on December 6 that will be etched in my and other Kolkatans memory forever and hopefully in the legend's memory too.

Like me, every person in the city wanted their beloved Argentine to feel the unconditional love that Kolkata harboured for him and the city ensured he felt every bit of it.

Right from landing at the Dum Dum Airport to reaching the Mohun Bagan tent at the iconic Maidan, it was nothing less than a homecoming for Maradona as close to 1 lakh person thronged the airport to catch his glimpse. The euphoria of his visit was further amplified by a tribute of a Bengali song 'Maradona', penned by Dr Avik Lahiri, which was on the lips of every Kolkatans.

Legend has it that it was the very song, coupled with the fan frenzy at the Maidan, that catapulted Maradona to step on the ground and kick few footballs into the crowd. It almost felt like a gesture of acknowledgement that 'Kolkata, your love is well received' and also an apology that it took him so long to meet his loved ones. 

“I am overwhelmed that so many people know and love me in this part of the world. I have been surprised many times in my life and thought I cannot be surprised again," Maradona had said at a media conference a day later. "But today I have realised that there is more in store for me. I love the passion people have for football here and I will love to be back."

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