Naples, Italy (Reuters) – Fans flocked to Napoli Stadium on Thursday to pay their respects to Diego Armando Maradona, mourning someone who has earned a god-like status in the Italian city as he played his best football.
Less than Argentina left Naples almost 30 years ago, but his spirit never left, a large mural of him still staring at the congested streets and his photograph with pictures of saints placed in shop windows.
Hundreds of blue and white Napoli scarves were tied with rails outside the stadium, and flowers, pictures of children, church candles and even a bottle of wine were placed on the sidewalk of the fast-expanding makeshift temple.
“He’s unique, he represented everything, all of us are neopolitans,” fan Gianni Adiro told Reuters, adorning the facade of the 10-storey apartment building with a tearful portrait of Maradona.
“I only cried for a few people in my life, Diego was one of them,” Audrey said.
News of Maradona’s death on Wednesday drew thousands of stunned neopolitans to the streets in the evening in defiance of a corona virus lock, and showed no signs of mourning as the day broke.
“Yesterday the whole city of Naples died along with Argentina,” said 26-year-old Lorenzo Rubino, who was not even born when Maradona played for Napoli. “I haven’t cried since my mother died two years ago.”
Maradona arrived in Naples in 1984, suffering from sunstroke and superstition, when he was 23 years old for a then world record $ 7.5 million contract. Over the next seven years, he helped Napoli win their two Serie A titles and their only major European Cup perennial.
When he was flown in by helicopter for his official presentation, 75,000 people came into the stadium to see him. After that, Competition Day is the highlight of many people’s lives.
“Dad didn’t come to the hospital when I was born because he was on the field until the end of the game to watch Diego play,” Theresa de Lucia said.
City Mayor Luigi de Magistres has called for the city hall to be renamed in Maradona’s memory.
“He loved Naples and wanted to let the world know what Naples is all about through football, a city full of humanity, a city full of heart, energy and imagination. A volcano for better or worse,” the mayor told RDL Radio.
Written by Christian Palmer, edited by Timothy Heritage