BUENOS AIRES – Argentinian football fans gathered on Wednesday to mourn the death of Diego Maradona, gathering by the hundreds in locations linked to the life of the legendary player.
They gathered in front of the modest house where he was born and raised in the neighborhood of Villa Fiorito. They went to the Argentinos Juniors stadium, where he started as a professional footballer in 1976. They stood in the historic La Bombonera stadium of his beloved Boca Juniors. Others were at the headquarters of Gimnasia La Plata, the team he coached.
“I am touched. I cannot understand it, I cannot see reality. Diego will never die, today is the birth of the myth of Maradona”, said Dante López, a doctor who made it to the Argentinos Juniors stadium, which bears the name of the beloved player.
Fans place candles and flowers along the wall around the field.
“Diego was Argentina in the world. He gave us joy and we can never repay him so much joy, ”said Argentine President Alberto Fernández, who issued a decree for three days of national mourning and offered the presidential palace for the funeral.
Mariano Jeijer sat with his wife and their baby in a toy car near the Boca Juniors stadium. He said he didn’t want to be sad at home.
“Diego is the symbol of the Argentine. He is someone who made us very happy, ”said Jeijer.
Jejier said his dedication to Maradona was justified by the two goals he scored against England in Argentina’s 2-1 win in the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals. This match was considered by many Argentinian fans as a reward for the Falklands War four years earlier in which Britain defeated Argentina.
“The happiest moment was the first goal against the English. I was 12 years old. I screamed like I was crazy. I don’t even remember the second one, ”he says.
Nearby, Patricia Sánchez said Maradona “was like a father and we were his children”. She was standing with her son Ángel, who was wearing a blue and yellow Boca Juniors coat. Maradona played for Boca Juniors in 1981 before moving to Barcelona, then returned to retire as a player in 1997.
There were no tears, only a party at Villa Fiorito, where Maradona learned to play football on muddy pitches.
“Olé, olé, Diego, Diego” sang the neighbors in front of the house on Azamor street where Maradona lived until Argentinos Juniors bought him a better one. “Diego is the greatest, he is a national pride,” chanted the fans.
Although the property no longer belongs to Maradona’s family, neighbors have started painting a mural of their idol on a wall.
Mariela Córdoba said she was not finished lunch after learning of her death from a heart attack.
“The hunger was gone and we all came here,” she says. “We came to help with the wall because we are neighbors of Maradona’s life. The people here are proud. They can tell that Maradona lived here.
At the headquarters of Gimnasia La Plata, where Maradona became a coach in September 2019, many fans cried in the stands. He made his last appearance there in a game on October 30, which was his 60th birthday.
“We’ll keep that smile and the best crest on your chest,” the club said on Twitter. “We have lived an unforgettable story.”