The year was 1978.
Far away from Buenos Aires in Argentina – Uttam Saha of Ganguly Bagan in South Kolkata was curious about a man with 'magic feet'.
Then, Uttam was 14-years old and a student of Kendua High School in Kolkata’s Garia area. More than the school textbooks - his addiction towards ‘Khelar Asor’ (Bengali sports magazine) often offended his parents.
In 1978, when the world went crazy over the Football World Cup – ‘Khelar Asor’ (a little known but popular sports magazine among Bengalis) too filled its pages with the much awaited event.
A regular follower of ‘Khelar Asor’ – Uttam read an article that a man known as Diego Armando Maradona has 'magic feet' and he was not allowed to play for Argentina because the coach Cesar Luis Menotti felt he was too young to play.
Unable to hold his curiosity, Uttam (then 14-years old) innocently asked his father, “Baba (father) can anyone actually have magic feet? Is it possible? Who is he? Where does he live?”
Taken aback with the question, his father politely told him that ‘magic feet’ here is nothing to do with the actual magic. “Diego Maradona is a football player and he earned the respect of ‘magic feet’ because of his excellent control over football,” Uttam recalled what his father had told him.
Unaware that Maradona has already taken control over his diencephalon at a young age – the curiosity over ‘man with magic feet’ gave birth to ‘Argentina Football Fan Club’ in 2002 at Kolkata’s Ganguly Bagan (when Uttam became 24-years old) with a cut-outs, articles, and photographs of Diego Maradona.
Since then - with the foundation of ‘Argentina Football Fan Club’ by him - Uttam starts his day with football and ends it with all news related to soccer. To be precise he lived ‘Maradona’ throughout these years.
Today, Uttam is 56-year old and he is equally devastated as the world mourns the sudden demise of legendary footballer Maradona - The Hand of God - on November 25. As per reports he died due to a heart attack at Tigre City in Argentina. He was 60-years old.
Probably Uttam is among very few people in India who travelled across the world to watch almost all the international matches of Argentina and never missed a chance to visit countries to watch world cups in the last two decades.
Such was his craze towards Maradona’s Argentina that in 2011 when his father died, he went to Argentina to watch Copa America (host country lost the match and Uruguay lifted the trophy) and then he went to London to watch 2011-12 UEFA Champions League.
At age 18, Maradona played the 1979 FIFA World Youth Championship in Japan and emerged as the star of the tournament by scoring a total of six goals in six appearances in the tournament.
Maradona played his first World Cup tournament in 1982. Maradona captained the Argentine national team to victory in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, winning the final in Mexico City against West Germany
While sharing more about those visits, he said, “Maradona is in my DNA and when I reached Argentina I have decided to meet him at Tigre. One of the staff at the hotel told me that it was a high security zone where he lives and it is difficult to go there. Someone, I managed to hire a taxi and reached the place. The taxi driver dropped me nearly one kilometre away from that zone as one needed to get a permit to enter that high security area. I walked and reached a heavy guarded gate. A security officer asked me not to click any pictures. I told him I came here from Kolkata (India) and I am the man behind Argentina Football Fan Club. The security guard was not convinced and he didn’t allow me to enter. It was a memorable journey for me. Then, in the same year my father died but I have already purchased the ticket for the Champions League. It costs me around Rs 1,30,000. I told my mother that I have already bought the ticket. A day before the match I went to London. Next day I watched the match and a day after I came back to Kolkata. I still remember, I directly went to Babu Ghat along the River Ganges from the Airport to perform the rituals of my father’s death.”
“I am not a player but I think I was born to cheer Argentina and its football players. Like international players, I think I am playing equally an important role in the sports fraternity,” he added.
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In 2008, finally his biggest day of life came as he got to meet the ‘El Pibe de Oro’ (Golden Kid) – when Maradona came to Kolkata.
“In December 2008, in his two-day short tour to Kolkata, Maradona inaugurated the Indian Football School in Maheshtala in South 24-Parganas. Later he went to Mohun Bagan football club where he played briefly with the club juniors. Later, he went to Missionaries of Charity and offered his prayers and tributes to Mother Teresa. I met him at a five star hotel and presented him an album full of pictures and told him about my fan club after his name. He was speechless about the craze on me regarding him. I was carrying two albums and he asked for both the albums as he wanted to present one of them to his girlfriend. I told him that I can give him only one as the second one I have kept for my club visitor’s section. He said something in Spanish which his translator told me that he doesn't have words to express his happiness to know about a fan club in Kolkata miles away from Buenos Aires in Argentina,” Uttam recalled.
Then, Maradona also met former Chief Minister of West Bengal Jyoti Basu on December 7, 2008, who was a friend of Fidel Castro. While seeing the pictures of both the communists together, Maradona had said that friend of Fidel Castro is a friend of mine, so Jyoti Basu is my friend too.
Maradona in his lifetime visited Kolkata twice. The last time he visited the ‘football capital of India’ in 2017 in December. Then, he played a friendly match with the former Indian Cricket captain Sourav Ganguly. Then, Maradona also unveiled his 12-foot bronze statue holding the World Cup trophy he captained his country to win 1986. The statue is still located in the Lake Town area and the event was organised by TMC leader Sujit Bose.
“In 2017, I could not meet him as I was out of Bengal for some urgent work. He left us but I will continue to keep his legacy through my fan club. Today, we will organise a candle light march and will pay floral tribute so that his soul rest in peace,” Uttam said while proudly admitting that there are probably few sports lovers in India except him who travelled and watched more than 100 international football matches and four Olympics.