By CAPosts 06 December, 2020 - 04:10pm 299 views
Villa Fiorito has its own aristocracy. Its most select members are portrayed in a photo taken in 1974. It can be seen hanging on a wall in Estrella Roja, Diego Armando Maradona's first football club. In white shirts, the boys pose for the camera during the Evita soccer tournament, organized by the Peronist government at the time. "Those in the bottom row are all dead," says Juan Carlos Ramírez, Serrucho , as he has been called since he was a child, while pointing to Maradona, who is carrying the ball. “This one here died two months ago, Patota. It hurt a lot, because we were close friends. This is Orlando Miño, Lila's brother. Still lives. He was run over by a group [bus]. I am the one who is standing next to the goalkeeper, who also died ”, he explains. On November 25 it was Diego's turn.
In the brick shed and tin roof it smells like patties fried in pork fat. Through two large windowless openings you can see the dirt court. This Saturday there is a tournament. They play La Repa against Central, two teams from the neighborhood. There is no grass, there are no stands, there are no white lime lines on the ground. There is a lot of dust. This is the largest paddock in Villa Fiorito, the shanty town where Maradona was born 60 years ago, bordering the city of Buenos Aires. Depending on which aristocrat he plays, he will say that Diego played here or never did. “The original court was two blocks away. There they filmed that famous phrase of 'my dream is to win a World Cup'. Now there are houses, there is nothing left of that pasture, ”says Serrucho.
This little man makes a living with a printing press that he has in his house, located 20 meters from Estrella Roja, Maradona's first football club. He is a select member of those who have forged the memory of the neighborhood. Here they are self-employed, cartoneros, street vendors or employees of small factories. Many live off the help of the Government. They are all poor, but they are not all the same. If the neighbor is in his 60s and not a newcomer, he must have played ball with Maradona. It could even be his friend, like Serrucho and Orlando Miño, who doesn't want to talk about Diego because his eyes fill with tears. His sister Lila does speak, a lot. Also smile. Today she is in charge of the club's bar because her husband, Armando, went with his friends to eat a barbecue to say goodbye to the year. Lila and her friend Julia Caldona are responsible for the meat pies.
“We were young and Maradona would pick us up at school at night. Years later, when he had already left the neighborhood, I worked in a family home in Villa Crespo [in the center of the city of Buenos Aires], next to a sportswear business. One day there was a stir because Maradona was there and I told the lady where he works that I knew him. No more than seeing me and saying: 'Hi, Lila, you want to go out tonight.' 'But Diego, I have a boyfriend,' I tell him. We were 18 years old. Maradona liked girls very much, he was a chamuyero [flattering]. Even I could have had a son from Maradona! My daughter always asks me if they are not Maradona's children, ”she says, and she never stops smiling.
A few meters from Villa Fiorito runs the Riachuelo, the most polluted river in Argentina. It is enough to cross that thread of black water to be in the city of Buenos Aires. Serrucho acts as a guide to Maradona's house, located about five blocks from the paddock. He says he longs for dirt streets, because he considers himself "a pond duck." “In this corner there was a ditch where we came with Maradona to hunt frogs. Before it was all more fun, "he says. But he immediately remembers that they did not have running water, that a single tap supplied dozens of families, that the rain turned the neighborhood into a quagmire and that they all lived in tin and cardboard houses. His father, like Maradona's, gradually replaced cardboard with bricks, until the neighborhood was filled with cement. In 2008, the dirt roads were covered with asphalt and the sewers arrived. Villa Fiorito is still poor, but at least it doesn't flood and it doesn't smell like stagnant water.
Maradona's house is the result of that precarious transformation, carried out by hand. Today it looks abandoned, urgently painted with the player's face and the yellow rays of the sun. The current occupant, who has been there as a “landlord” for 45 years, shaves in a tiny mirror that he has hung by the door. Garbage is piled up between the house and the street. His son, in his 40s, becomes violent because he believes that Serrucho has charged for the visit. "Everyone makes money except us," he complains. Lorenzo welds a fence a few meters from the place. He was Maradona's coach and knows Serrucho from those years. " Tell the truth, that Maradona abandoned us," he says, very angry. Many here believe the star was able to do more for the neighbors he left behind when he became a star. "They don't understand anything, Maradona did a lot, but in silence," replies a young man who listens to Lorenzo's complaints.
The young man who spoke has not met Maradona. The same as Gastón Flores. He is 28 years old and organizes the amateur tournament that faces the neighborhood teams. “I would have loved to see him play. His death was deeply felt here, all the teams made a minute of silence. But we are already at the age of Messi, not of Maradona. Messi's death would generate more movement than Maradona's, ”he says. Gabriel Villalba, 26, disagrees. “It is disrespectful to God to say that Messi is better. Everyone here will tell you that you are wrong. When he came in 2005 it seemed that Villa Fiorito was giving away gold, everyone was there. My old man began to cry when Diego died, because he gave us enormous joy ”. Did Maradona help the neighborhood? "Yes, but they ate the money," he says. Next to him, a teammate shows a tattoo with Maradona's face. The player does not wear the Argentine shirt or shout a goal, but smokes a cigar and wears a tailcoat. He is the millionaire Maradona, the one who stamped Fidel Castro on his left leg and Che Guevara on his right shoulder.
Assault on grandmother
Aristocrats are an inexhaustible source of anecdotes, fattened by vague memories, but always rich. They remember a night that sounds like a ghost story: in 2010, the train that at that time was still passing through Villa Fiorito transported Maradona like a secret. Diego then left his signature in an O for Fiorito on the station's poster. "The next day, they had ripped off the lyrics with a short iron, " they recall.
Then come the football stories. “From time to time, Maradona would play for Goyo [the childhood friend who took him to Argentinos Juniors] team on this court. But the father did not want to, because Diego was already in Los Cebollitas and he was afraid that we would break it, ”says Francisco Centurión, 70 years old. From behind a wire-patched fence, he relives Maradona's escapades to circumvent the ban. “When the father arrived, Diego would hide in a ditch that was next to the field and the boys would sit up front to cover him. "Let them know when the old man leaves," he used to say. His was dribbling. He had fun because he did what he wanted with us, we were older than him, ”he says.
Hugo Cordero is two years older than Maradona. He speaks slowly, with his gaze fixed on one point, still smiling. Remember that Diego played with friends, but always in the position of three, to avoid the kicks aimed at skilled forwards. And he confirms, without anyone asking, the version that Maradona was not from Boca but from Independiente. More stories: “When he left here, he took the whole family, but the grandmother did not want to leave. Then he asked some friends to simulate an assault to scare him. That is how he was able to take her away from the neighborhood. ”
Juan Carlos Kollman, 61, is in charge of keeping Los Gauchitos club and its dirt court alive. "We are honored to have met Maradona," he says. 15 years ago, the player turned that dirt paddock into a field with grass, an automatic irrigation system and two small cement stands, the only ones in the neighborhood. Today there is nothing left of that green, from the irrigation system just a few rubber hoses emerge between the earth pits and the stands are blackened with soot. “During the pandemic they came here to burn cables, to keep the copper. This became a dump, ”Kollman laments. It is his illusion to recover the irrigation system, powered by an electric pump that he had to protect against theft with a box of cement.
The Los Gauchitos Club is just 300 meters from the legendary Estrella Roja paddock. Both are separated by a young neighborhood, born in the nineties, called, of course, Diego Maradona. Here you can see the typical dirt corridors of the shantytowns of Buenos Aires and the houses are much more precarious than in the center of Fiorito. Luciana Aguileira has been working among these narrow passageways since 2005 as part of a political group that provides social assistance. She remembers that a few years ago with each rain "the water was knee deep." They were the vestiges of the Fiorito that in 1976 saw Mara dona leave.
The Parrot and Kusturica
The footballer's returns to his cradle of earth were few, and are mixed with the myth. "Three years after his departure we met, he came with a limousine," recalls Serrucho. "He sees me and says: ' Come on , Serrucho, come on , let's go fuck [party].' I made an excuse, because I was not going to be able to keep up with him on the issue of the ticket. So we stay sucking whiskey in the limo. He came again in 1977, with a toy truck for Children's Day. But I couldn't see it. I had a parrot and when he went to look for me, the parrot said 'He's not here', which was a joke that we had taught him. It was nine in the morning and I was sleeping. Diego left because he thought the parrot was my old woman who answered him, ”he says with a laugh.
Maradona would return in 2005, accompanied by the film director Emir Kusturica, who was filming a documentary about his life. During that visit, the first Diego made to the neighborhood in 14 years, the star could barely move through the mob that harassed him. Villa Fiorito was no longer a place for him, although those who saw him play on the dirt streets do not think so. His childhood friends mourned his death, which was a bit their own. Lila, the empanada-maker, is now issuing a late sentence: "I'm sure that if Maradona had returned to the neighborhood, he would have been happier."
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