They came by the thousands, they cried, they screamed, they cheered. In jerseys with the magic number ten, with red roses, old photos. Consternation hidden behind corona masks.
The day after the death of diego armando maradona, the government palace of buenos aires became a pilgrimage site in bizarre scenery. To get to the body of their idol, the mourning argentinians waited in cordoned-off areas and long queues, with cameras broadcasting the images around the world. Many crossed themselves as they passed by or threw their flowers and jerseys next to their deceased icon. They shouted "thank you diego," or "i love you, diego".
Toward the end of the wake, chaotic scenes ensued. Fearing that they would not be allowed to see the coffin of their idol, some fans forced their way into the casa rosada. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Inside the seat of government, maradona’s coffin was moved to safety in another room.
Violent clashes also broke out in the streets in front of the casa rosada. Angry fans hurled rocks and bottles at police, officers fired rubber bullets into the crowd and used water cannons. Finally, the gates of the government headquarters were closed and the coffin was to be taken to a private cemetery in a suburb of buenos aires for burial.
"It’s incredibly sad, incredibly sad. He was a gifted soccer player," franz beckenbauer told "sport1" in faraway germany. The german soccer icon mourned the argentinean, who was always prancing on the thin edge of the ridge, as did the whole world. Far beyond the sport. Across the atlantic, in naples, where maradona is equally worshipped godlike, bengal lights lit up the thursday night.
"He was an extraordinary player. We are forever in his debt," said argentina’s head of state alberto fernandez on the tv station tyc sports. In the stadium of the boca juniors, where maradona had made decisive steps to world stardom, only one light burned in the night – in maradona’s box.
"What diego has done for soccer and for making us all fall in love with this beautiful game is unique," said FIFA president gianni infantino. The argentinean, who with so many ups and downs had actually experienced too much for a single life, had died of a heart attack at his home in tigre on wednesday at the age of only 60 years.
Almost immediately after the news shocked the world, large numbers of people in buenos aires poured into the streets to mourn together. The worries of the corona pandemic were put on hold. In front of the boca stadium la bombonera and the obelisk in the city center, they lit candles and laid flowers.
"He is a legend. We will miss him," a woman named patricia said on the TN television station. She sat on the ground outside the stadium entrance, hugging her son and fighting back tears. "He will be remembered as the greatest." electronic billboards above the city highway and in subway entrances read: "thank you diego".
In naples, where maradona left his mark on an era from 1984 to 1991, a meter-high mural became a place of mourning. "Naples mourns – ciao god of soccer," was written on a sign that a man put on a door. To this day, the people of the poor region are grateful to him for leading SSC napoli to the only championships in the club’s history in 1987 and 1990, and to winning the UEFA cup in 1989.
Before the european league match against NK rijeka on thursday evening, all the players of SSC napoli entered the stadium with the number 10 on their backs and the former napoli star’s name on it. Before kickoff, there was also a minute of silence for the argentine, whose picture was on the scoreboard of the empty stadium.
"He’s leaving us, but he’s not leaving because diego is forever," lionel messi, maradona’s legitimate successor as a soccer hero, wrote on instagram next to a shared photo. "I remember all the beautiful moments i shared with him."
The failures off the turf were mentioned, but they no longer played a role. The self-inflicted health problems, the drug use, the doping sins, love affairs, connections in the criminal milieu. "He had problems, he couldn’t hide them". But the way I got to know him and experienced him – respect and all due respect," said beckenbauer, who has many appearances in common with maradona. "I said: that’s not a footballer, that’s an artist! A dancer!"He reported on the first meeting in the 1970s. He has "not seen that at all. He was a genius of the time – in the 70s and 80s the best footballer in the world!"
After his professional career ended, maradona coached the argentine national team, al-fujairah SC from the united arab emirates and the mexican second division team dorados sinaloa. With moderate success. Last year he finally took over the first division club gimnasia y esgrima la plata in his home country argentina.
Maradona’s supporters also gathered outside the stadium of his last club on wednesday to say goodbye. "We were lucky that fate gave us his last months here with us," said a fan on tv. "I feel great pain. I still can’t believe it."