An idol is gone, and Argentina mourns. Ad10s, Diego Maradona, the man who made a nation smile, the boy from the barrios who took his compatriots to the top of the world.
Quite rightly, the outpouring of grief and nostalgia that has followed the news of his death has centred around Maradona’s crowning glory, the World Cup in Mexico in 1986. At his most scintillating and audacious, Diego led the Albiceleste to the cup in magnificent style – a feat for which he will forever remain a hero to his fellow Argentinians.
To the whole nation he was a god-like figure, but to one rather large subset of Argentina’s population, Maradona meant just that little bit more. To Boca fans, he was not only one of their greatest ever players and idols, he was a brother in arms.
Had Diego not been Maradona, had he not possessed his unparalleled genius, he would have been there on the terraces cheering on the men in blue and gold with the thousands of other Xeneizes who make the Bombonera one of the most revered temples of world football.
Indeed, in his later years, he was, sectioned off in a private box, but willing his team on with the same intensity as those on the exposed concrete below.
It was truly fitting, then, that the last time Maradona walked out in front of a packed stadium, it was at the Bombonera. As manager of Gimnasia de la Plata, he stepped out there on the last day of last season in March 2020, soaking up the adulation of the crowd one final time.
And with news of his passing, Boca fans of a certain vintage will be scanning their memories, recalling all the occasions they were lucky enough to be able to shout his name and see him up close.
For a select few, those recollections will include the very first time Boca’s hardcore supporters, known as La Doce, serenaded a young Diego, in the spring of 1980. Maradona had won them over by scoring four in a 5-3 win. Unfortunately for Boca fans, it was their team that was on the receiving end.
At the time, Maradona was still playing for Argentinos Juniors, the club where he came through. And though he had not yet hit the heights he eventually would, Argentina already knew it was witnessing a special talent.
In the build-up, Boca’s eccentric, mullet-headed, sweatband-wearing goalkeeper Hugo ‘El Loco’ Gatti had taken it upon himself to attempt some mind games that might deter Argentinos’ young star. “He is just a little fatty,” Gatti told reporters in the days before the game.
Maradona was listening. And he went out to humiliate the goalkeeper who had naively thought that a throwaway insult might be enough to put him off.
After Jorge Robolzi had opened the scoring from the spot for Boca after 20 minutes, Maradona came to life. Three minutes later he won a penalty, rabona-flicking the ball up into the hand of his marker. He placed it on the spot, ran up, and as Gatti dived to his right, Maradona nonchalantly lobbed the ball down the middle.
It was just the start. Maradona then won a free-kick on the edge of the area that was placed into the top corner by his teammate Silvano Espindola. Boca equalised, but before half-time, Maradona had put Argentinos back in the lead.
From a free-kick just to the right of the Boca area and around five yards from the byline, Maradona spotted Gatti off his line, organising his defence. With a one-step run up and swish of his left boot, the 20-year-old Diego sent the ball sailing over a flailing Gatti and into the far top corner.
“He’s moved the Boca fans behind the goal to applaud as if the goal had been in favour of Boca Juniors,” remarked the incredulous television commentator. “A true golazo.”
Early in the second half, Maradona completed his hat-trick, running onto a lofted through ball and dinking the ball past Gatti into the vacated goal.
Finally, with fifteen minutes left and the Boca defence long since having resorted to violence in a vain attempt to stop him, Maradona completed the rout.
A one-two put him through on goal again, but he was brought down under a criminal challenge. And though the foul looked to have taken place inside the box, the referee decided to give a free-kick just outside it.
No matter. Diego smashed the ball around the ‘keeper’s side of the wall and right into the top corner.
Boca managed a late consolation, but the match was won. Diego had put in the sort of display on which his legend was built and as he left the field, he heard those chants of “Maradó, Maradó” rise from the Boca support for the very first time.
The following year, he would finally join his boyhood club on loan, a transfer he battled to convince Argentinos directors to accept. Later, he would say, “The transfer to Boca, I came up with. I set it all up. The truth is that Boca didn’t have a penny pay for me.”
Rather than follow the money, Maradona followed his heart. And for club and player, it worked out well. In August 1981, Maradona won his only Argentinian title, the Torneo Metropolitano. He wouldn’t have wanted to do it anywhere else.