The sporting world is mourning the death of Diego Maradona, widely believed to be one of the greatest football players of all time.
The infamous Argentine was named the FIFA Player of the Century in 2000 for his mind-bending feats of skill and agility. But he was also no stranger to controversy.
As well as a reputation for dabbling in illicit substances, “The Golden Kid” was renowned and derided — in the UK at least — for a goal-scoring handball against England in the 1986 World Cup.
But one incident some 18 months earlier showed he had a big heart fitting for a giant of the game.
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Maradona arrived at Napoli in the summer of 1984 for a world record fee, greeted by 75,000 fans at the Stadio San Paolo and hailed as a “saviour”.
A local newspaper was even reported to be so overjoyed it claimed the city had no “mayor, houses, schools, buses, employment and sanitation [but] none of this matters because we have Maradona.”
Barely six months into the contract, he was approached by a reserve team player who had been contacted by a desperate father in the nearby town of Acerra. The man’s son was sick, Maradona was told, and without an operation in France he might die.
Would Maradona play a charity match and raise money to save a young fan’s life?
The 23-year-old superstar, who himself grew up poor in a Buenos Aires shantytown, would never turn down such a request.
Napoli president Corrado Ferlaino was less enthusiastic, according to Corriere Della Serra, an Italian national newspaper, unwilling to risk having his star player kicked about a suburban playing field by amateurs.
Undeterred, Maradona reportedly paid the release clause in the club’s insurance contract himself, remarking “fuck the Lloyds of London. This game has to be played for that child”.
The pitch, Corriere reported, was more like a “potato field”. Footage shows the world’s most expensive footballer warming up in a wintry car park, posing for photos with children who are more coat than kid.
He played as he always did, bamboozling defenders and entertaining 10,000 fans packed into the tiny stadium. The match reportedly raised 20 million lire (about £8,000) for the operation and travel costs to France.
He never got to do it on a cold, wet night in Stoke, as the saying goes, but Maradona did go out to a freezing, muddy “potato field” in Acerra to raise money for a desperately sick child and score some wonder goals in the process. How many world class players would do that now?
Watch the highlights below.