Pandaemonium

MARADONA, MUHAMMAD ALI AND ME

Diego Maradona wall stencil in Buenos Aires (Photo: BA Street Art)

This (very) short piece on Maradona was published aspart of my column in the Observer, 29 November 2020


I can still remember where I was when, in 1986, Diego Maradona scored with the “hand of God”. In a flat on the Coventry Cross estate, in east London. An Asian family lived there, one of a handful on the estate, who had faced vicious racist attacks. An England-Argentina game, just four years after the Falklands conflict, was a threatening proposition. I was part of a group that organised support for besieged black families. So, there I was, with half an eye on what might be happening outside, watching Maradona destroy England, first with the hand of God and then, four minutes later, by slaloming through the England team, finding space where none should have been, scoring possibly the most audacious goal in World Cup history.

Amid the praise heaped upon Maradona over the past week, it’s easy to forget how despised he was in Britain in those days. Or why many, like me, took to him because he was so despised. He was to football as Muhammad Ali had been to boxing.

For an Asian kid growing up in a Britain that was viscerally racist to a degree barely imaginable now, Maradona was more than a footballer. As with Ali, what mattered was not just his sublime skills, but his attitude, too. The defiance and pride that both men symbolised spoke to me in a world in which every day was a day of having to defend my dignity, often in the face of physical attack.

Yes, Maradona had a dark side. He was a man of great contradictions and, like all human beings, of deep flaws. But part of his greatness, again like Ali, was revealing those contradictions and flaws and yet also transcending them. “I don’t have to be what you want me to be,” Ali once said. Nor did Maradona

4 comments

  1. Really, Kenan. Having spent a lifetime judging individuals by their actions no matter who they are, I’m fed up finding myself stereotyped by colour.
    Racism is never acceptable nor can it / should it ever be justified. But human nature being what it is, no nation can claim to have achieved a completely ideal stage where racism both in thought or action has been erased.
    ‘Dalit, meaning “broken/scattered” in Sanskrit and Hindi, is a name for people belonging to the lowest caste in India characterised as “untouchable”.’
    White people haven’t got a monopoly on racist attitudes. No one is exempt. We all have to learn to see the best in each individual.

    • Really marymif! This doesn’t seem to be a reaction to anything Kenan’s written. He makes no claim white people have a monopoly on racism, nor that racism is ever acceptable, nor that UK society has “achieved a completely ideal stage where racism both in thought an action has been erased”.

      • PaulThomas. The theme of this post seemed to me to be about two champions of their field who had to overcome racism. In Maradona’s case at least, it could have been that four years after the Falklands war people weren’t too happy to see the arrogant Maradona prancing round on the field, particularly as he was smashing the opposition. We know how violent fans tend get.
        In Argentine society, the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI) was created in 1995 by Federal Law. I’m just pointing out that red necks aren’t all white.

        • I’m afraid your arguments make little sense. In fact, I’m not even sure what your argument is or, perhaps more pertinently, what you imagine mine is. You claim that you’re “fed up finding myself stereotyped by colour”, and seem to imply that that’s what I am doing. So, can you quote anything I have written to back that up? Maradona, as it happens, is “white”, Ali “black” and I’m “brown”. All of which is immaterial to me (I make no mention of that in my piece). If anyone here is guilty of “stereotyping”, it’s not me. Nor did I say that Maradona “had to overcome racism”. As it happens, he was born in a dirt-poor shanty town, and had to fight his way up the social ladder through his skills. Nor have I claimed, here or elsewhere, that “White people have got a monopoly on racist attitudes”. In fact, I have argued many times against that very claim. It would appear that you read what you wish to read, jump to the conclusions you wish to jump to, and then accuse others of “stereotyping”. You write “We all have to learn to see the best in each individual”. A good place to start might be to read what people actually write, rather than invent their arguments.

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