He was rather more than just the world’s greatest ever footballer. He became a figure of hope and transcendence to the neglected and marginalised, especially in Argentina
Three days of national mourning in Argentina produced emotional scenes verging on collective hysteria as distraught mourners scrambled to pay their final respects to their hero as he lay in state in the Casa Rosada, the president’s home in front of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires.
Watching the raucous scenes from my home in Battersea, south London, last Thursday, memories came back to me of a day in the early 1990s when I set off in search of Maradona’s roots for a biography I had been commissioned to write, which would draw on my Spanish childhood love of football and my time working as a foreign correspondent in Argentina in the 1980s. The precise circumstances of his birth in the working-class Buenos Aires suburb of Avellaneda were steeped in mysticism. I had been told it was a star glowing in the Southern Hemisphere and reflected on the cold slabs of the hospital floor that had announced to Dalma Maradona the birth of her son, Diego, on 30 October 1960, a Sunday, a day for Masses and for football. My journey of exploration took me to the shanty town of Villa Fiorito on the southern outskirts of Buenos Aires. The streets were unpaved and there was a smell of open sewers and rotting garbage. The hut made of scrap metal, loose bricks and cardboard where Maradona had spent his childhood was preserved like a shrine, decked with flowers and rosaries.