Diego Armando Maradona stopped the count on Wednesday. At 60. Sixty looks a lot for life, one would say. But the sports world would do with an immortal Maradona. So it hurts that he is gone, at just 60.
Now, not everyone saw Emmanuel Jesus but people still talk about Christ and believe He exists within their body and soul. They talk about Him as though they have met Him so many times. That’s a matter of spirituality.
It’s the same in other worlds. Like sports. I’ve seen and lived with Maradona since I was a child. He was a god. A soccer god. There were tales of a religion called Maradona in Argentina and I believed it. Such was his influence on me. And many of you, too.
I don’t know how many times I dribbled the fibre ball while mimicking a commentator thus: “Diego Maradona, Maradona na mupiira, Diego Maradona…”
Every other child with the fibre ball did that. Every other child wanted to wear a Maradona sneaker and, at 38, I can say I’m one of those privileged enough in my age bracket to have watched Maradona play – if the grainy black and white image from US’94 World Cup finals is worth talking home about.
By the age of 10, I had already read so much about world football, Germany football and Maradona. Germany was the only thing I ever wanted to support. With all its clubs. But Maradona was the individual. For the love of him, I found myself supporting Argentina and wept with the Argentine players after that ignominious retirement.
“They have retired me from soccer,” he said after he had been sent home for a failed drug test. “...my soul is broken.”
Back in 1992, some ‘explorers’ brought scholastic materials to our school. They used to bring used books, pencils, crayons, colour pencils and whatnot. The mivumba of scholastics.
Before the assembly, the scholastic mivumba would be placed on the ground and one-by-one, we went, picked a book and received a pencil and walked back to class.
I didn’t get the small A5 book but I found myself with it. I always have a fine memory but let’s agree here that I don’t recall how I got that book.
The glossy cover had Maradona and there was Lothar Matthaus, the German.
“The World’s Ultimate Prize.” That was the title of the book.
It was difficult to keep such a prized book for long. I lost it. But I never lost Maradona who graced its cover and whose genius ate into so many pages inside.
Now he’s gone. And what do I have for the love of him? Maybe the ‘Migereko Cup’ I almost won as a kid.
Yes, the endearing image of Argentina footballers hoisting Maradona shoulder-high after that 1986 triumph, I had my own. The village version.
It was 1998 and I was this kid when my mates sweet-talked me into a football escapade in Busede, a sub-county in Butembe, Jinja District.
We were the Cubans (mercenaries) in some cup organised by former Butembe County MP Daudi Migereko. I didn’t have the details until we got there. My friends had sold me to a weak team as they lined themselves for the good one.
Toward kick-off, men emerged from coffee plantations, rolled up their trousers and nodded in approval. They were ready to play. And the opponents? The defending champions, featuring established players who had featured in Kakira in the Nile Special Super League.
These were the stars. But here I was being thrown in goal, apparently, to pick balls from the banana plantation behind me after shots had whizzed past each time they scored.
Whatever happened though. By final whistle, I was hoisted high like by the village folks. We had won 1-0 and only the football god like Maradona would know how I stopped so many shots.
I learnt then that it was a semi-final we had won. Half a bar of soap was the prize for my exploits, plus a bicycle boda boda to deliver me to my mother’s doorstep. That was my Maradona life. Adieu, Diego!