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Mass for Maradona: Buenos Aires pays last respects to national icon

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 11/26/2020 Augustin Argento In Buenos Aires
a group of people standing in front of a crowd: MailOnline logo © Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo

The queue to get into the presidential palace to pay final respects to Diego Maradona grew by the minute.

From 7am on Thursday, throngs of people turned up, many in tears, many wearing that famous No 10 shirt, many to say thank you. And there were quiet pilgrimages at various Maradona landmarks all over this heartbroken city.

Fans gathered at the imposing Obelisco monument in the city centre just as hundreds of thousands had back in 1986 to celebrate Maradona’s greatest achievement of winning the World Cup.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Thousands of fans held a vigil for Diego Maradona outside the stadium of Boca Juniors © Provided by Daily Mail Thousands of fans held a vigil for Diego Maradona outside the stadium of Boca Juniors a group of people walking down the street: There were huge queues at the presidential palace as supporters waited to pay their respects © Provided by Daily Mail There were huge queues at the presidential palace as supporters waited to pay their respects

And outside the humble stadium of Argentinos Juniors where he took the first steps of his career there was still a small group of crying fans holding their heads in their hands looking to the heavens for some sign. They had not gone home since receiving the tragic news the day before.

An improvised shrine, set up outside the stadium, received the honks of the passing cars with increasing volume as the morning wore on. ‘Come on, we have got a wake to get to,’ one mechanic urged his colleague as people tried to finish early so they would have time to pay their respects.

Twelve miles away at the presidential palace, government officials estimated that more than a million people had gathered for what will go down as the largest wake in Argentina’s history. The prevailing image was that of cars with photos of Maradona or Argentina flags hanging from their windows.

a man talking on a cell phone: Fans mourned the loss of their icon with many brought to tears by his death on Wednesday © Provided by Daily Mail Fans mourned the loss of their icon with many brought to tears by his death on Wednesday

The traffic flowed but seemed to make no noise, as if this city had become one huge open-air chapel of rest. The Argentinian people are used to earth-shattering events but the city centre — anaesthetised for the pandemic — had never witnessed anything like this last mass for Maradona.

By 11am, the queues to file past the coffin were already half a mile long and they doubled in length within the hour.

At the close of the wake, scheduled by the family for 4pm, it seemed the line simply had no end to it.

Cars, buses and hordes making their way on foot, with no other purpose than to express their respect and love for the dead idol, could be seen all over the city. Two teenagers stood side by side in the line. Both were wearing River Plate shirts — the rival club to Boca Juniors where Maradona played before joining Barcelona in 1982.

Neither of the youngsters will have seen the great man play but they were anxious to be part of this extraordinary send-off.

With restrictions still very much in place because of the advance of Covid-19, there was a haunting contrast between the deserted streets around the presidential palace and the fervent throng that descended on the city’s most emblematic building where the casket of its most famous son was housed. Not surprisingly because of his association with the club, many of those gathered wore Boca shirts.

Leonardo Rodriguez Pereira et al. standing in front of a crowd: Covid-19 restrictions were still in place but many felt there was a greater licence regarding the rules than usual © Provided by Daily Mail Covid-19 restrictions were still in place but many felt there was a greater licence regarding the rules than usual

But the colours of the city’s other famous teams — Racing, Quilmes, Defensa y Justicia, Gimnasia de La Plata — were also on display.

And many wore their favourite rugby or basketball team shirts. Maradona did not only unite football fans, he brought together a nation united in sport.

Fathers brought children and carried them on their shoulders so they could better see the extraordinary scenes.

Groups of younger fans brought drums and every now and then broke the silence with chants of ‘Olé, olé, olé, olé, Diegooooo, Diegoooo’ or ‘We take the hand of Maradona and he will make us champions’.

Others joined in but always with a reserved respect so as to make it clear these were laments not songs of celebration.

At the side of the containment fences the ever-opportune street vendors sold £4.50 T-shirts, flowers and hamburgers.

The sadness was mixed with nostalgia and the beer flowed with the wine.

a person standing in front of a brick building: The sadness was mixed with nostalgia as Argentina remembered their 1986 World Cup hero © Provided by Daily Mail The sadness was mixed with nostalgia as Argentina remembered their 1986 World Cup hero

Drinks passed from hand to hand, breaking all the rules put in place to combat coronavirus. Everyone wore the obligatory mask, but, on a day like this, many felt there was greater licence regarding the rules than usual.

And so, under the baking sun —this is the start of the hottest time of the year in Buenos Aires — Maradona had his final meeting with the masses.

It was his last communion with the people he had made so happy so many times.

‘Diego was the only one who kept his promises to this country,’ said one young man draped in an Argentinian flag, with the face of Maradona where the sun would usually be.

His words, and the flag, summed up the mood.

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