‘Naples is crying tonight’: Italy pays tribute to Maradona

'Naples is crying tonight': Italy pays tribute to Maradona
People in Naples gather to mourn Diego Maradona, their best-loved player. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP
Diego Maradona, who has died aged 60, holds a special place in Italian football fans' hearts after leading Napoli to its two greatest victories.

The Argentine footballer, who spent golden seven years playing in Naples, is considered the city's 'patron saint of football' after helping it win the league for the first time in 1987 and again in 1990 – an achievement it never matched before or since.


Napoli fans fly a flag showing Maradona's face. Photo: Roberto Salmone/AFP

Hundreds of fans flooded into the streets of the city's Spanish Quarters after the news broke that Maradona had died of a heart attack, many of them lighting candles beneath a huge mural of the Argentine.

“Ciao, God of Football,” read paper signs affixed to the walls of the working-class neighbourhood, while fans left flowers and messages. “In Naples, he's a king,” one woman told RaiNews24.


Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

All the lights and spotlights were turned on at the Stadio San Paolo, which the city's mayor has suggested renaming in Maradona's honour.

“Ciao Diego,” Napoli football club tweeted.

Maradona spent seven years at Napoli between 1984 and 1991, scoring 115 goals.

“Diego made our people dream, he redeemed Naples with his genius,” tweeted Naples Mayor Luigi De Magistris.

“Diego, Neapolitan and Argentine, you gave us joy and happiness! Naples loves you!”

Maradona's career in Naples ended in a 15-month ban for cocaine use, and was tainted by a subsequent conviction for not paying millions of euros of taxes while at the club as well as reports of links to members of the local mafia.

But he remained lodged in Neapolitans' hearts and continued to loom large – literally – long after he left in the form of murals dedicated to him on buildings all over the city.


Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

While he avoided Italy for a few years in the wake of his tax conviction, his image appeared as a semi-religious icon on street corners and in shop windows, with devoted fans praying for his recovery throughout battles with ill health.


Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP

The city inaugurated an official museum to Maradona in 2005, named M10 after the number on the back of his sky-blue Napoli shirt.


Visitors to Naples' Maradona museum in 2005. Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP

But there were many other tributes: Maradona cropped up everywhere from tattoos to the city's famous Christmas nativity scenes.


'Thanks Diego': A Naples fan shows his Maradona tattoo. Photo: Roberto Salmone/AFP


Photo: Roberto Salmone/AFP

In a basement in the working-class neighbourhood of Secondigliano, an unofficial museum gathers the relics of Maradona's career, tended by the son of the caretaker of the San Paolo stadium who became a friend of the legend's family.


Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Maradona returned to Naples several times over the years, including for a ceremony in 2017 that made him an honorary citizen of the city.


Fans celebrate Maradona's visit in 2017. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

On Wednesday Italian sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora, a native of Naples, paid tribute to Maradona.

“The death of Maradona is terrible news. He was more than a champion, he was a football genius, an absolute champion,” Spadafora said.

“In an unrepeatable season he represented the dreams and hopes of the people of my city. Naples is crying tonight.”


Diego Maradona on his arrival in Italy in 1984. Photo: AFP

Napoli's current captain, Lorenzo Insigne, said Maradona was a “true Neapolitan”.

“You gave everything for your people, you defended this land, you loved it. You gave us joy, smiles, trophies, love,” wrote the 29-year-old.

“I grew up hearing the stories about your exploits, seeing and reviewing your endless games. You were the greatest player in history, you were our Diego.”

All of Italy's league matches this weekend will start with a minute's silence to mark Maradona's death.


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