Football icon Diego Armando Maradona arrived to a rousing welcome by thousands of frenzied fans who remained awake till past mid night waving Argentina’s national flag of white and sky blue for first glimpse of the legend at the city airport in Kolkata.
Euphoric scenes were witnessed as the Lufthansa flight touched down the NSC Bose International airport at around 1:30 am and the 48-year old football legend, who had turned up in four FIFA World Cup tournaments for Argentina, emerged after almost a 36-hour journey.
Sporting a black jacket and a perfectly matching trouser, Maradona boarded a five-seated bus with giant-sized fibre-glass windows as he waved at the fans and proceeded to the hotel. The crowd chanted ‘Diego, Diego’ as the convoy rolled on.
Sky blue balloons wafted in the sky and people sporting the football greats number 10 jersey shouted — ‘Diego you are the God of football’ — to the 1986 FIFA World Cup hero who is in the ‘city of joy’ on a two-day trip.
He was accompanied by girl friend Veronica, who was seated to his right with her left hand plastered, and a personal assistant.
The 5,000-strong security men had a harrowing time to control the surging crowd which started pouring since 9 pm and almost run over the barricade as the football prince arrived, over three decades after the visit of soccer great Pele.
West Bengal Sports Minister Subhas Chakraborty, officials of city football giants and IFA, were also present at the airport to receive Maradona, who had hung his boots on 37th birthday in 1997.
As the five-seater bus with fibre glass walls hit the road from airport to ITC Sonar Bangla hotel, a magical moment was recreated with street lights switched off and thousands of volunteers held torches and placards along the street.
“Maradona is God to us. Till now we have just heard about him. By seeing him in person we are blessed,” gushed an admirer waiting near the hotel just after catching a glimpse of the legend.
The nimble-footed football wizard is slated to attend a host of programmes for the next two days. He will begin his sojourn with a special helicopter to Maheshtala for the stone-laying function of the Indian Football School (IFS).
Maradona would next visit the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity, 11 years after the passing of the “apostle of peace”, like other foreign dignitaries including former US President Bill Clinton.
In the afternoon, the Argentine will proceed to Yuba Bharati Krirangan (YBK) at Salt Lake where an exhibition match between Chief Minister’s XI and External Affairs Ministry XI has been organised.
The YBK, which is expected to be filled to the brim with about 1.2 lakh spectators,, will witness a grand felicitation of the football legend.
The football great is also scheduled to drive down to the residence of former Chief Minister Jyoti Basu to meet the 94-year-old stalwart of India’s leftist movement.
A Youth Football Clinic at the Mohun Bagan ground will allow the Under-12 aspirants to interact with the football superstar, who will sign off with an auction at the hotel in the evening.
Kolkata, the yesteryear’s domestic football capital, had earlier played host to all time great Pele in 1977 besides other superstars like Eusobio, Rumenige and Oliver Kahn in the past 30 years.
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