‘Please, tell me it’s not true.’ I don’t know how many of these messages I received when the news first broke at about 5pm on Wednesday.
Then, the phone rings. It’s the editor of the radio station. We’ll do a special programme, which runs from 6pm until midnight, he says. We open the lines to the listeners, because above all – more than the presenters, the coaches and the ex-team-mates – it’s the people who must speak.
The people have lost their Messiah on Earth. They call to tell their stories on live radio: ‘It’s like my mother has died again,’ one told us. ‘I went to the matches with my father and brother before they died, and now I’ve lost Him too,’ says another.
Naples is mourning the death of Diego Maradona, who died aged 60 following a cardiac arrest
The Argentine icon’s seven years in Italy brought two Italian championships and a UEFA Cup triumph (pictured), but citizens of the city are grateful for much more
Maradona changed the perception of Neapolitans to the rest of Italy and the wider world, and his death has sent the city into mourning
In Naples we are in strict lockdown, with people barred from leaving their houses unless a situation is urgent. When we heard this news, though, the authorities looked the other way.
Two areas immediately became makeshift shrines: the Spanish Quarter, right in the city centre – where there are already many murals of Maradona – and outside the San Paolo Stadium, soon to be renamed the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.
Diego understood Naples and Naples understood Diego. That is why, before the 1990 World Cup semi-final, he said that ‘the rest of Italy forgets about Naples apart from when the national team plays there’.
The San Paolo, Napoli’s home ground, will soon be renamed the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium in his honour
Naples is in strict lockdown with citizens only allowed to leave their homes for emergencies, but the authorities have turned a blind eye
Mardaona’s impact on the pitch was immense, hauling a unglamorous team to a glorious trophy-laden era
We see that discrepancy today. When Napoli play away from home, matches have been suspended because of offensive chanting against the city and its people. When Neapolitans took to the streets to pay tribute to Maradona, on national television they pointed out that lockdown rules were being broken.
While in Naples we remembered this God of football, on television they spoke of his lifestyle, the drugs, the links to organised crime.
Naples is Italy’s third-largest city in terms of population, but we are considered second-class citizens by much of the rest of the country – apart from those seven years when Maradona was here. Between 1984 and 1991, there were two league titles, a UEFA Cup, an Italian Cup, an Italian Super Cup.
So it’s not only the generation that saw Maradona play that will miss him, but also those – like myself – who weren’t old enough to see him play.
Napoli faced Rijeka at the San Paolo on Thursday, and though their mourning supporters were locked outside the stadium, the club ensured to pay tribute
The Serie A side won 2-0 in the Europa League clash, with Maradona name and face ever present through the match-day
Maradona’s face is inescapable across the city, with everyone holding stories about their beloved No10
Murals across the city have become makeshift shrines, with fans gathering to mourn their hero
Our parents had their own memories of him. When we played in the street, we all shouted ‘It’s not like you’re Maradona!’ to the kid who would never pass the ball. When we went to the matches, we saw the fans who still wore his No10 shirt.
We heard those who would say ‘If only Maradona were here’ when a player misplaced a pass.
Then you take a walk around the city. On every corner there will be something to remind you of him. There is a photo of him in every cafe and bar. There is even an altar dedicated to him, created long before he died.
The love for Maradona goes far beyond football. He used his greatness to change the world’s perception of a city tormented by so many problems.
That will always be worth so much more than the goals and the trophies.
Naples is a city which struggles with a host of issues but Maradona is a symbol of their pride