Arriving in Buenos Aires was a relief after spending 14hrs on the red-eye from Heathrow. Three of us had made the journey to meet an icon in the world of sport, Diego Maradona, who is arguably the greatest footballer to have kicked a ball. Before we had even made it out of the customs hall we were greeted by a life-size cardboard cut-out of Argentina’s favourite son who was endorsing a local mobile network. Then as we walked to the baggage reclaim we were confronted yet again by a large poster adorned with a smiling Diego, this time promoting his pair of sliders branded with his famous number “10” logo. At this rate we would probably meet the great man before we left the airport but sadly not, instead, we were met by a sheepish-looking member of British Airways ground staff who had our names on a piece of paper. It didn’t look good and indeed it wasn’t, our bags, along with our suits and toiletries hadn’t made the flight. The level of despair on our faces must have been horrific. They were only going to arrive the next day and our meeting with Diego was that evening.
Luckily for us, the local British Airways Manageress at the terminal realised that she had to look after three special passengers and told us to go and get what we needed for the meeting and return with receipts the following morning when our bags will be waiting for us. Result! I don’t think this level of service would ever have happened in Heathrow. So after checking in to the Caesar Park Hotel we sauntered across the road into a swanky air-conditioned shopping mall. On the 2nd floor was a Hugo Boss store, another great surprise that was unexpected. Within an hour the three of us were suited and booted for our meeting that evening – things were looking up.
It was at that point that the party was about to go pear-shaped. A call from the man who knew the man called our man to say that Diego had been delayed. He had popped over to Cuba to spend time with his good friend Fidel and was due back the next day. There isn’t much one can say when you’ve been stood up for a lunch with Prime Minister Castro. So we accepted what was said and that night sampled the local wine, feasting on the largest meat platter I had ever seen in my life.
A successful trip to the Airport the next day saw us leave with our suitcases and fully reimbursed for our Hugo Boss shopping spree. With word back that Diego was back in Buenos Aires our anxiety lessened and thoughts of presenting to him returned. We pulled up to his father’s residence that had a police guard outside. Announcing ourselves we made our way in armed with a copy of the United Opus that would show him the scale, passion and luxury of how we wanted to celebrate his footballing career. How we got passed the police guard without opening a 42kg box I never know, but we did and placed the Opus on a beautifully polished wooden dining table.
We were ready and had finished our second cup of tea and wondering if Diego really was home. With our interpreter exchanging pleasantries with his family we suddenly heard the footsteps of someone descending the metal spiral staircase in the corner of the room. It was Diego! Leg in a brace (the result of a car accident) he hobbled down, apologised for keeping us waiting with a warm smile. We immediately ushered him over to the dining table that had the largest book he had ever seen in his life. He started laughing and trying to lift the corner. He looked at us in disbelief with his eyes popping out of his head. Explaining how we wanted to celebrate his footballing career as we turned the giant pages of the Opus, I think for a moment, maybe a second, Diego was truly humbled by the thought and gesture that a British publisher wanted to create this for him. He looked at a giant one-meter-wide photo in the Opus and gesticulated to us that we should show “Hand of God” on this scale … we laughed and said “yes – we’ll photograph the hand of God” and grabbed his hand.
A celebratory drink to seal the deal in principle was poured and the meeting concluded with each of us, in turn, being photographed with a very warm and content Diego who said we were now family.
Leaving Buenos Aires the next day we were fortunate enough to run into the British Airways manageress who looked after us. We showed her the photos of Diego and ourselves and she was happy that our trip was so successful. Many more trips were made to Buenos Aires but the Maradona Opus didn’t manifest into something physical until the Autumn of 2020. Diego was happy to know that we had created an Opus that was indeed taller than the one he had seen and agreed to embark on an Opus tour in the UK in 2021 in the form of a series of dinners taking questions from the audience. Shocked and surprised to hear of his operation a couple of weeks ago the Opus team was silenced in disbelief as we worked from home and heard the reports coming in from various news outlets reporting his death.
For me personally the day my late father framed the photo of Diego and myself for his mantle piece was the day I thought my dad was actually proud of what we do. He told all my family about the day I met Maradona.
I thank you Diego for letting us into your home, time and time again and hope you are very proud of your Maradona 10 Opus.
Rest In Peace