Monday, January 18, 2010

Buenos dias Senor Diego Maradona

So soccer icon Diego Maradona arrived in South Africa this morning. Now that his two-month ban from the sport for being disgustingly rude to journalists is over, he is allowed to rejoin the soccer world and do his thing.
And his thing, as the Argentinian team manager, would be to come here and check out the place ahead of the 2010 world cup. Being that he is such a legend, (according to one foreign journo who I have since discovered was not pulling my leg) they even have a church of Maradona in his home country, this was HUGE news this morning.
Despite my immensely limited knowledge of all-things soccer related I landed the task of heading out to OR Tambo International Airport to cover the arrival of the man named FIFA player of the century.
A growing media contingent, awaiting the arrival of SAA flight 227 from Buenos Aires, gathered restlessly at the arrivals terminal. Journalists, cameramen, photographers, TV and radio reporters - there we all were, ready to record the event for the world.
It was a bit like that scene in the film The Wrestler (which I only saw recently and have placed it on my list of all-time never-to-be-repeated, hideous, depressingly boring movies) where an extremely unattractive Mickey Rourke is approached by another equally unattractive wrestler. The guy asks him, in an extremely polite and dignified manner, if he may please attack him with a staple gun when they go up against each other in the ring. Mickey Rourke cheerfully agrees after establishing that it's not too painful.
Then they hammer each other to a bloody pulp in the ring in a spectacular fight. And when it's over they shake hands and chat like mates back in the change room. Then Rourke vomits and has a heart attack - but that's besides the point.
As we waited for Maradona's big arrival we chatted politely with each other, shared thoughts on what direction the soccer great would walk and stuff like that.
Then he stepped out and it was a free-for-all. Mayhem erupted. Suddenly cops are manhandling photographers and ripping out rifles. The sweet woman you were just chatting to elbows you viciously to get past. Every man and woman for themselves!!
Senor Maradona, with jetblack wraparound sunglasses, stepped smartly across the terminal into a waiting van with tinted windows. In a couple of minutes it was all over. He briefly teased the crowd by popping his head out to give a smiling thumbs up - but other than that he did not say a word.
And then the vicious marauding mob transformed back into a genteel bunch of colleagues, as we swopped observations and our opinions of what went down.
It was thrilling and fast and challenging. I have some bruises to show for it, but I loved it!
Bring on the world cup. It's going to be awesome!


  1. So was the massive security contingent there because he thought he was going to get mugged or what...?

  2. Not sure. I think that's just how he rolls! Maybe they thought he was going to be rude to journalists again - it was only a couple of days after his two-month ban was lifted because he yelled offensive stuff at reporters.