‘He made the poor feel rich’: Napoli fans break coronavirus lockdown to mourn Maradona

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<p>Fans gathered at the San Paolo stadium to pay tribute to Maradona in Naples</p> (AFP via Getty)

Fans gathered at the San Paolo stadium to pay tribute to Maradona in Naples

(AFP via Getty)

He is dead.

The demigod – a God on the field, human, too human outside – Diego Maradona died at the age of 60 in his Buenos Aires house.

He is not dead, not least in Napoli.

In spite of a strict coronavirus lockdown, hundreds of supporters flocked to the streets on Wednesday night and Thursday.

“There have been talks about his mistakes in life, his conduct. We forgive him everything because of the champion and the generous person he has been,” Andrea tells The Independent in the Quartieri Spagnoli (the Spanish Quarters), the working-class heart of Naples.

Nearby, Giovanni has a broken voice when he remembers the Sundays with his family at the stadium.

He is now 42. “He gave voice to the people who could not speak, a feeling of satisfaction to the marginalised. He made the poor feel rich. There was no social difference when Napoli was playing. We were all one," he says.

People of all ages are crying, with real tears, as if an uncle, a cousin, a brother died. They light candles and flares, tell stories and anecdotes they lived directly or indirectly, heard from their parents, from their relatives.

They are chanting the famous slogans: “Maradona is better than Pelé!”, “Oh mamma, mamma, mamma! Do you know why my heart is throbbing? I have seen Maradona. Oh mamma, I am in love with him!”, “One Maradona, there is only one Maradona!”.

Football conveys all kinds of emotions. Maradona for the people of Napoli is not simply the greatest player ever, playing and winning for their team, he is also a myth.

He helped Napoli win two scudettos (the Italian league title) and one Uefa Cup in his time at the club in seven largely golden, often turbulent, years between 1984 and 1991.

Fans came out to mourn Maradona in three symbolic places around the city.

Not only the Quartieri Spagnoli, but the San Paolo – which the club has now said it will name after him – and San Giovanni a Teduccio, in the east of Napoli, where recently the street artist Jorit painted another stunning graffiti of Diego.

They poured onto the streets around 5pm on Wednesday after hearing the news and despite the Covid-19 rules, Italy has been one of the worst affected countries in Europe, people still came out to pay their respects on Thursday.

The mayor of Napoli, Luigi De Magistris, declared: “Diego made the people of Napoli dream, he avenged Napoli with his genius. In 2017 he was holding honorary citizenship of our city. Diego, Napolitan and Argentinian, you gave us joy and happiness! Napoli loves you!”

People were not only crying for the loss of a sporting hero. Locals were also paying tribute to the man who avenged them from what they see as constant humiliation from the north of Italy.

Author Roberto Del Gaudio says Maradona was a political hero to Naples as well as a footballing god.

“Napoli was left to itself after the so-called unification of Italy. At different levels, the south has since then experienced systemic and cultural racism, embodied by the commonplaces and the cliche of the ‘lazy, unproductive, dirty south’.

<p>A Napoli fan has wet eyes as he passes by portraits of Maradona at the popular ‘Quartieri Spagnoli’ in Naples</p>AP

A Napoli fan has wet eyes as he passes by portraits of Maradona at the popular ‘Quartieri Spagnoli’ in Naples

AP

“What surprises me is that even today certain reporters use the same narrative to describe a phenomenon like Maradona, strictly related to the south. It is because Diego took a stand against the establishment. He visited Chavez, Fidel Castro, the Pope, he lined up alongside them. He is the only one that promised victory and achieved it.”

He fought for the south of Italy, say those in Naples.

In an interview, Maradona once stated: “One could feel that it was forbidden for the south to win against the north.”

His legend was cemented with a 5-3 win in Juventus in 1988.

Maradona is dead but he is not dead. He will never die. Not for Napoli.

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