Like a distant memory, brought back in ‘colour’
Growing up, Diego Maradona seemed like a ghost from the past for someone who had little experience of watching live football during the 90s. For those of us born after the infamous 1986 World Cup in Mexico -- a tournament which people to this day claim the Argentine won singlehandedly -- Maradona was already fading from memory following the scandals of 1994.
But there in lay Diego's magnifique, his charm. For he had achieved the unfathomable and staked his claim to the hearts of people all over the world and Bangladesh never really let go of this footballing deity.
Two goals, as if separated by eons, but only scored in the space of four minutes, further laid siege to the madness that is Diego Maradona in Bangladesh as the Argentine produced perhaps the two most talked-about moments in footballing history in the same game against England during the 1986 quarterfinal in Mexico. Within those four minutes, he had pulled off something so cheeky with the infamous 'Hand of God', that it would earn him the tag of 'cheat' for years to come. But as was often the case with Maradona, he went and did something even more inexplicable, taking on the entire English defence --which appeared to be in a trance and clutching at straws -- escaping tackles and earth itself with his mazy run and scoring what would later be known as the 'Goal of the Century.'
Light and darkness, Maradona in his truest essence. This was in fact a recurring pattern as he lived his life unapologetically, like a troubled artist whose genius continued to draw people in even long after his descent into darkness.
My earliest recollections of Maradona involved colour posters at home strewn across the study table wall, glued in by family members. As a young person, this was a man I did not know but yet he was always familiar, living in the words of those around me.
The posters told tales of intense tough tackling on the Argentine playmaker, who would get up and go about his business -- his character just as mesmerizing as his football. For many, Maradona was a real-life superhero out of some Greek mythology slaying nine-headed Hydra. In many ways, he was the living embodiment of a rebel who spoke truth to power and a close personal friendship with Fidel Castro raised his profile as a player and icon even in the remotest of territories.
My only recollection of Maradona playing live came during the 1994 World Cup. It was past midnight and I only remember my father trying to wake me up to watch Maradona; I could barely keep my eyes open.
In later years, Brazil's Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldinho would become part of our collective footballing identities and with the arrival of the internet, finally Maradona's feats became more accessible. I remember being mesmerized, unable to connect to the dream that was Maradona, to the football I was used to seeing. He would grow into a hero for many who missed out on watching him during his playing days, his legend brought back to us in colour.
"There was stupefaction and scandal, a blast of moral condemnation that left the whole world deaf. But somehow a few voices of support for the fallen idol managed to squeak through, not only in his wounded and dumbfounded Argentina, but in places as far away as Bangladesh, where a sizable demonstration repudiating FIFA and demanding Maradona's return shook the streets," Eduardo Galeano, the eminent Uruguayan journalist, wrote in his famous book Football in Sun and Shadow, portraying the humane connection that Diego had with the world.
A legend, there was never a dull moment with King Diego. He belongs to the world. A true people's champion.