File image: Then Argentina coach Diego Maradona celebrating with Lionel Messi after a World Cup match in 2010. (Reuters)
As the world mourns the loss of a football legend Diego Armando Maradona, I wish I were in Kolkata, the city that paints itself blue and white and becomes Argentina every time the world cup is broadcast, a city that feels futbol, even though there is a cricket team that calls Kolkata home. In 2008 when Maradona actually visited Kolkata, the airport turned into a stadium with chants of ‘Diego! Diego!’ rendering you deaf.
He was only 5'5'', stocky, and unlike any other football player the world has seen. But he created history. And I’m not talking about the two-goal match everyone talks about. I am talking of the legend he became for those of us who grew up in Kolkata. No matter what club - the mariners or the Ilish - ruled your ‘paadaa’ (neighbourhood), In 2017 when Maradona showed up to play against the Prince of Calcutta, no one saw his booze belly, or ephedrine eyes. People saw their hero, Kolkata again turned into Argentina, and I hated not getting flight tickets.
So 1986. Mexico. Peter Shilton, who was at the receiving end of the Hand of God goal, could not forgive Maradona - the bold, in your face cheat. No one believed that it was a header. But, the long bitter historical relationship that England has with Argentina, that awful goal just becomes a part of that document.
Netflix has a great Football series called Becoming Champions. And, the sixth episode shows us how Argentina became world champions, even though England introduced the game to the country. Made me see parallels between India and England and cricket, but you begin to appreciate how football runs through the veins of the South Americans.
It is ironic that the trailer has details on Uruguay football (bitter rivals to Argentina), but you understand how brilliant the analysis of the game is. And of course watching with the sheer joy of men create magic on the field.
Kolkata instilled in me the love of the game and not only for the game, but because of the movies about the game. Mohun Baganer Meye (1976) is an Utpal Dutt, Rabi Ghosh film where the old man insists that the son marry only a Mohun Bagan fan. Of course she loves the rival East Bengal…
Maradona’s decision to move to Napoli surprised many of his fans. Of course today when players move from club to club, you know millions of dollars are at stake, but Naples adopted Maradona and he played so brilliantly, he was instrumental in bringing home the first European championship cup in 1989. Just watch the mastery of the little man with wild curls:
But the madness of football is best characterised by the commentators who scream a wild primal cry when the ball hits the net. That sounds drives all fans crazy! This is just my favourite fan made YouTube video, I wish I could use this as my phone ringer tone! But keep an eye on the fabulous goals as well too…
Asif Kapadia’s phenomenal documentary on the legend that is Maradona was shown on Channel 4 and it is a brilliant watch with so many insights on Maradona that you are amazed. Again. But in the infamous match against England, it is the second miraculous goal that fans would want to remember him by. Maradona just goes through the English team and before you know it, goal!
The finals against Germany and the way Maradona dominated that game, the match is described as Maradona Vs. Germany if you wish to search the net to see Maradona’s skill with the ball. But Maradona’s slow decline is a thing of beauty too. His descent into eccentricities, his temper all can be seen in a three part documentary called Maradona In Mexico. Watching him train young soccer players in Mexico is a better picture than remembering him in a Kerala Mundu we made him wear when he came here…
His stint as a coach in the Middle East was a much publicised affair but the magic was missing. An England fan did mention that it was some sort of Karmic revenge thing. But you don’t give up on your heroes because their star shines a little less. You just turn to the movies for comfort. And there are so many movies that celebrate football: The Goal, The Cup (a delightful film where Buddhist novice monks - little kids - who love football make sure that they get to watch the world cup) and yes, the award-winning film The Two Popes (starring Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins on Netflix now) showed us that even the infallible Pope cannot resist watching football. And, while I pray to get my hands on Mohun Baganer Meye (the movie, not the TV show) and cross my fingers to see Bend It Like Beckham on an OTT platform some day, I watch silly, frothy, wonderful films like Holy Goalie on Netflix (watching even the fun rap song during the end credits!) because I’m one of those who is happiest when hearing football commentators go crazy when someone legendary like Maradona scores a Goooooooooooal!
Manisha Lakhe Is A Poet, Film Critic, Traveller, Founder Of Caferati — An Online Writer’s Forum, Hosts Mumbai’s Oldest Open Mic, And Teaches Advertising, Films And Communication.
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.