From West Bengal to Kerala, football fans in the country Thursday mourned the passing of Diego Maradona, widely regarded as one of the greatest players of the sport.
Tributes poured in from politicians, sports personalities and fans. While West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee condoled his death with a Facebook post, the Kerala government announced two-day mourning in the state’s sports sector and appealed to everyone in the fraternity to join as a mark of tribute.
The Argentine player had a massive fan following in both Kerala and Bengal. He had visited Kolkata twice—in 2008 and 2017—setting off scenes of mass jubilation during his appearances.
He also came to the southern state’s Kannur for two days in October 2012 for a private event. Here, too, he had received a hero’s welcome, with fans converging at the stadium three days prior to the event.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan expressed grief over the death and said his fans around the world would miss the football legend.
Banerjee posted: ‘My deepest condolences to his family, friends and countless fans around the world. The entire football family has lost one of its greats.”
CPM leader Shamik Lahiri recalled his interactions with Maradona when he had visited the player’s residence in Argentina.
“Three of us went to meet him to invite him to Kolkata. He hugged all of us in such a way that we are like his old acquaintances. Instead of five minutes, our meeting lasted for an hour,” said Lahiri.
Maradona, who wore his Communist leanings on his sleeve and idolised Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, had also met former West Bengal Chief Minister and CPM leader Jyoti Basu in 2008.
“I remember I had told him that we also have a Communist legend, Jyoti Basu, and he is like Fidel Castro for us. He immediately expressed interest in meeting Basu. The time slot was only for 10 minutes for the meeting. However, the meeting extended for an hour,” said Lahiri.
BCCI president Sourav Ganguly tweeted a photograph of him with Maradona during his second visit to Kolkata.
“My hero no more… my mad genius rest in peace. I watched football for you,” wrote Ganguly.
Football clubs in Kolkata held prayer meetings and garlanded the footballer’s statue in the city.
In Kannur, a hotel suite where Maradona had stayed during the 2012 trip has been maintained as a museum since then.
At room 309 of the Blue Nile Hotel, all items touched or used by the footballer have been preserved in display boxes. These include a bouquet he was given during his reception, balls with his signature and plates he used to dine during the stay.
Blue Nile managing director V Raveendran said: “The remains of the seafood which he had consumed are also preserved for display. The Maradona suite is allotted only to those who are ready to ensure that all artefacts would be kept intact. We get bookings from football fans who come with the dream of staying in a room used by the legend.”– With PTI inputs from Kolkata
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