A LIFE LESS ORDINARY
Wednesday was another triumph for the best breaking-news service in the business. At 4.10pm, The Fiver filed a Slow News Day special and wandered jauntily down to our illegally open local, the Failure & Acceptance, a place where there is no signal, no wifi and even less hope. At 4.25pm, as we were draining our second glass of Instant Decompresser, news broke to the outside world that Diego Maradona had died. This awful story finally reached us when we emerged, blinking into the sunlight, at 7.41am this morning.
At first we hoped it was all a hoax, that he would appear on his balcony with an air rifle to tickle any journalists who had come to harass his family for a quote. Alas, it turned out the greatest GOAT of all time really had died. At this difficult time, our thoughts are with those who genuinely think they think Maradona wasn’t the best footballer ever. Spoiler alert: nobody will ever play better than he did at the 1986 World Cup; and nobody will ever empower ordinary teams to win the World Cup, Serie A (twice) and the Uefa Cup. He did it when football pitches were made of corrugated mud and GBH was a bookable offence at most. And he did it all without giving a solitary one what anyone else thought.
Maradona was the most compelling sportsman of our lifetime. And, perhaps most importantly of all, nobody has ever given The Fiver as many deep, meaningful belly laughs. Our last memory of him in public is at the 2018 World Cup, when Argentina qualified from the group stage with a late winner against Nigeria. A TV director decided, not unreasonably, that it would be nice for billions of people around the world – especially the kids allowed to stay up late as a special treat – to see an icon like Maradona celebrate such a vital goal. What the director didn’t know was that, at the precise moment the camera cut to a palpably invigorated Maradona, he was unfurling both middle fingers and impatiently delivering a popular Spanish swearword to anyone within hearing or lip-reading range.
It was Diego and his people versus the world, the way he always liked it. He’d be troubled by much of the goodwill towards him in the last 24 hours, certainly from the places he was hated and the people he had vaccinated. Maradona chatted a lot about “vaccinating” opponents, and he wasn’t talking as a qualified medical practitioner. He vaccinated England from the front and back in the Azteca in 1986, scoring two goals of unimaginable breadth in the space of a few minutes. Four years later he performed a savagely emphatic procedure on Brazil and the hosts Italy.
If ever a life deserved celebration, it’s Maradona’s. The only regret is that he didn’t fulfil his other calling, as a Buddhist monk. Sure, if you want to nitpick, he might have struggled a wee bit with all that serenity and abstinence stuff, but he would have been a peerless meditation teacher. Nobody in human history has ever lived so defiantly in the moment. ‘Lived’ is the operative word: Maradona packed more into 60 years than most of us would manage in 60 trillion.
As The Fiver reported exclusively at 7.42am this morning, Maradona is dead – but only in the medical sense. Somebody with his personality and genius will always be larger than death. Keep an eye on that balcony though, just in case, especially if you’re a journalist.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Today even the ball, the most inclusive, shared of toys, feels alone, inconsolably weeping for the loss of its owner, its master. All of those who love football, real football, cry with it. And those of us who knew him will cry even more for that Diego who, in recent times, had almost disappeared beneath the weight of his legend and his life of excess. Goodbye, great captain” – Jorge Valdano pays tribute to his former teammate and “God of football”.
Max Rushden is joined by Barry Glendenning, Jonathan Wilson, Philippe Auclair, Marcela Mora y Araujo and Asif Kapadia as Football Weekly Extra celebrates the life of El Diego.
LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE
Join Barry Glendenning now for red-hot minute-by-minute coverage of Molde 1-3 Arsenal, Braga 1-1 Leicester and Sparta Prague 1-0 Celtic, while Rob Smyth will be on hand later for Tottenham 2-0 Ludogorets and Rangers 1-1 Benfica.
“If only The Fiver had been late as usual it could have avoided the ignominy of declaring the day Maradona died to be ‘a very slow news day’” – Ian Copestake (and 1,056 others).
“For all the sadness that Maradona’s death has generated, I am thankful today (Thanksgiving here in USA! USA!! USA!!!) that he played when he did. Today, a player of his luminescence and individuality wouldn’t get anywhere near the league leaders in any of the European leagues. The noughties and beyond have sadly made zeros of heroes like him. Shine on you crazy diamante, Diego!” – Justin Kavanagh.
“If God really is an Englishman, Diego Maradona is going to have a nasty surprise when he gets to the Pearly Gates, isn’t he?” – Bruce G Bradley, USA! USA!! USA!!!
“Instead of printing the same letter (Ian Potter) two days in a row to fill space why not just make up a letter from ‘Noble Francis’ like you usually do?” – Keiron Fulop.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
After the government announced new tiering measures for England on Thursday, 10 top-flight clubs – including those in London and Liverpool – will be able to welcome a limited number of fans into their grounds from next week.
Newcastle are not one of those and they’ve been hit with the added complication of three positive Covid-19 tests before their trip to Selhurst Park on Friday.
And clubs in Scotland still remain out of pocket from last season.
STILL WANT MORE?
Oh! Diego! Jonathan Wilson explains why Maradona fulfilled a prophecy, while Marcela Mora y Araujo writes about the lasting impact he has had in Argentina. From Mexico 86 to shooting journalists with an air rifle, here’s Scott Murray’s verdict on the best and worst moments of a turbulent career, and do enjoy Diego’s best bits in our bumper edition of Classic YouTube.
What has happened to Anthony Martial this season? Josh Wright has the answers.
David Hytner on Gareth Southgate’s new book and his determination to ignore the suggestion he should have become a travel agent.
From toilets to 50cm seats, Paul MacInnes explains what clubs are doing to prepare for the return of supporters.
Barney Ronay imagines a world without Gordon Taylor.
Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!