‘God’ Maradona takes Kolkata by storm (Lead)

December 6th, 2008 - 6:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Dec 6 (IANS) Diego Maradona came, saw and conquered a city that poured out in multitudes to see and honour him. Thousands of soccer-crazy fans thronged Maheshtala, in the southern fringes of the city, to watch the Argentinian legend lay the foundation stone of the Indian Football School. The 48-year-old newly appointed coach of Argentina was accompanied by his girlfiend Veronica.

Clad in denims, Maradona seemed in high spirits, as he clapped, threw flying kisses and waved at the crowd, who waited anxiously for 40 minutes as the soccer great was late in leaving the hotel for the venue.

He was flown in from the hotel in a chopper to a helipad a few kilometeres from the venue at Batanagar and then was carried in a specially designed bus, with large fibre-glass windows, to enable people to gave a glimpse of their “god” and for Maradona to see this packed and pulsating city which he is visiting for the first time.

Maradona spent 30 minutes at the complex, which houses the academy. The complex is also named after Maradona.

One hundred children displayed ball juggling skills and sang songs to welcome the football genius, who passionately reached out to his fans by coming down the dais and shaking hands with some of them.

“If football is religion, then you are its God,” the band sang in praise of him.

Seeming to enjoy every minute of the festive spirit, Maradona unveiled the foundation stone with a press of a button and then touched it, much to the joy of the large number of lensmen.

“Best wishes. India is far off from my country. But I had no idea I have so many fans here,” Maradona said in a brief speech towards the end of the programme.

“I had no idea that such beautiful football is played here, people love football so much. Long live India,” said Maradona, as the crowd lapped up every word of the man who led his nation to World Cup glory in 1986.

Maradona was showered with gifts — small silver replica of the Taj Mahal, a sketch of his idol Che Guevara were among the presents handed over to him. Teenage artist Rajasrhee Chatterjee presented him Che’s potrait and a joyous Maradona embraced the young boy.

“I come from a country which is close to Fidel Castro and Che Guevara,” said Maradona, famous for his ‘Hand of the God’ goal against England in the 1986 World Cup.

He also gave an imprint of his famous left foot, which will be preserved. He kicked a ball, and mingled with the crowd for a few minutes before leaving the venue.

Maradona’s presence left the crowd in awe.

“This was a lifetime opportuntiy for me to see Maradona. He is the world’s best footballer,” Shankar Maitro, a local, said.

A septuagenarian who came with his grandson to have a glipmse of the footballer, said: “I used to play football but left it long back in 1960, the year this little genius was born. I wanted to see him once in my life. I am happy that my wish is fulfilled today,” he said.

An estimated 30,000 people thronged the airport at 1.15 a.m. to receive Maradona who appeared quite nonplussed yet pleased by the rousing midnight welcome.

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