Tuesday 16 July 2019

Frank Coughlan: 'Flawed greats like Diego were 'different class''

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Diego Maradona. Photo: Getty Images
Diego Maradona. Photo: Getty Images
Frank Coughlan

Frank Coughlan

It was a piece of sporting ephemera only football obsessives and quiz anoraks remember, but it is nice to say I was there.

Argentina played Serbia-Montenegro in a World Cup group game in Gelsenkirchen on June 16, 2006, winning by six goals.

One of them, scored by Esteban Cambiasso, came after 24 silky passes and is regarded as one of the finest ever. A delicately woven tapestry, it was truly a thing of beauty. But that's not my defining memory from that glorious afternoon of entertainment. What I remember most vividly was the reaction of the 52,000 crowd when the image of a chubby face with a slightly manic stare popped up on the big screen in the corner of the stand.

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The stadium exploded in a single, deafening roar. It was Diego Maradona, conducting an orchestra only visible to him from his seat high in the stands.

Not many sport stars could spontaneously combust a crowd like that 20 years after they had stopped feeding the public's insatiable appetite.

Fans generally move on to the next thing. But there was no next thing after Maradona. Larger than life in many ways, not least in the preposterous scale of his talents, but in so many others too. Along with genius, the adjectives that have stayed most loyal to him over the course of his life are cheat, coke-head and, well, head-banger.

A new documentary by Asif Kapadia, a man best known for his deceptively revealing documentaries on Ayrton Senna and Amy Winehouse, is in cinemas now.

It's a noisy, hectic narrative of Diego's best years at Napoli in the 1980s, the ones that defined him as a footballer but nearly completely destroyed him as a man. But just as intriguing as the footballer's own story, and intrinsically bound to it, is the story of the city itself, which at this time had been corrupted by a communist council and the Camorra which conspired between them to bankrupt a once glorious metropolis.

The scenes where the bewildered and slightly scared Argentinian is introduced to 70,000 fans in the city's giant concrete San Paolo stadium are as revealing as they are breathtaking.

There was no match played that day, but the hysteria pouring from the stands would not have been out of place at a World Cup final. For the poor and despised of the city, football was their salvation and Diego was to be their saviour. So it came to pass. He single-handedly dragged a club of perennial mediocrity to two championship titles.

Though instinctively intelligent, Maradona was never going to cope with the insane adulation that came with the expectations of a city, nor deal with the temptations that it threw at his feet.

I've always had a soft spot for the heroes who have enough wickedness in them to make them flesh and blood, over the saintly role models who dazzle and bore in equal measure with their exemplary gifts.

Maradona is my kind of great. Wonderfully flawed and, in the words of another immortal, 'different class'.

Convenient narrative in apology doesn't wash

Majella Moynihan, the garda virtually criminalised for having a sex life in 1985, was long overdue the apology she received from the State.

To see this case as being reflective of Ireland 30 years ago might suit a convenient narrative, but it doesn't wash.

Premarital sex and co-habitation were routine and nobody batted an eyelid by the mid-1980s. The curtains had been drawn on the Valley of the Squinting Windows. Such witch-hunts were more the last desperate sting of a dying wasp than a display of true power by a patriarchy in its pomp. Little consolation to Majella but heartening, as we now know, that she has at last found the contentment she deserves.

Irish Independent

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