Bangladesh bids farewell to Argentinian football legend Maradona

Football fever spreads in Bangladesh during each FIFA World Cup. Jatrabari, Dhaka. Image by Sourav Lasker. Copyright Demotix (8/6/2014)

Football fever spreads in Bangladesh. Playing football in front of a wall colored with different national flags of the participants in the FIFA World Cup. Jatrabari, Dhaka. Image by Sourav Lasker. Copyright Demotix (8/6/2014)

Argentinian football superstar Diego Armando Maradona is as popular in Bangladesh as he is in his own country. Maradona's death at his Buenos Aires home on November 25 came as a shock to Bangladeshi fans, who took to social media to express what the football legend meant to them.

Twitter user Akteex summed up the feelings of a nation in one succinct post:

Noting that Maradona had became a household name in Bangladesh, football fan Sabbir responded:

The very next day, Bangladeshis paid tribute to Maradona during different events, such as in this cricket match in the capital, Dhaka:

Although the South Asian country ranks very low in the FIFA World Football ranking, the sport is very popular. Most Bangladeshi football fans follow Latin American football leagues and revere icons like Maradona and Brazil's Pele. Some fans simply could not believe that Maradona is no more.

Anisul Kabir, associate editor of the satirical magazine Unmad, wrote on Facebook:

পৃথিবীতে ম্যারাডোনা নামের অবাক করা মানুষটি নাই, ব্যাপারটা বিশ্বাস করতে কষ্ট হচ্ছে। ফুটবল বিশ্ব সেরাদের মধ্যে সেরা একজন লিজেন্ড হারালো। খারাপ লাগলো খবরটা শুনে।

The wonder named Maradona is no longer around, this is hard to digest. The football world has lost a legend. I am very sad today.

Sports enthusiast Noman Mohammed added:

ডিয়েগো ম্যারাডোনা মারা গেছেন। খবরটা মিথ্যা হোক, খুব করে চেয়েছিলাম। বিশ্বের বিভিন্ন দেশের ওয়েবসাইটে ঢুকে বুঝতে চেয়েছি, কেউ যেন এটিকে গুজব বলে। কিন্তু তা হল না।

I wanted the news of the death of Maradona to be a hoax. I tried to browse different international websites to find out the truth. But my wish did not come true.

Meanwhile, iTazin tweeted:

Most Bangladeshis became loyal supporters of the Argentine football team because of the amazing skills Maradona displayed during its 1986 World Cup victory. On Facebook, Sakibur Rahman Khan explained:

অবৈধভাবে ক্ষমতা দখল করে স্বৈরাচারী হোসেন মোহাম্মদ এরশাদ ১৯৮২ সালে বাংলাদেশে প্রথম চমকটি দেখান সরাসরি বিশ্বকাপ ফুটবল টেলিভিশনে দেখিয়ে । বাংলাদেশের সকল মানুষের সাথে আমিও সেই বাল্যকালে নেশায় বুঁদ হয়ে ব্রাজিলের ভক্ত হয়ে যাই । সেই ওয়ার্ল্ড কাপ ফুটবলে বাংলাদেশের মানুষ ম্যারাডোনাকে খুব একটা চিনলো না। ১৯৮৬ সালে যখন ওয়ার্ল্ড কাপ ফুটবল শুরু হয় তখন আমরা দেখি ম্যারাডোনার জাদুকরী ফুটবল খেলা । বাংলাদেশের প্রায় অর্ধেক মানুষ ব্রাজিল ছেড়ে আর্জেন্টিনার সাপোর্ট করা শুরু করে। ঢাকা শহরের আমিনবাজার, Old town তখন ছেয়ে যায় আর্জেন্টিনার পতাকায় । তার পরের ইতিহাস শুধুই ম্যারাডোনার।

In 1982, the dictator Hossain Mohammad Ershad surprised the nation by telecasting the World Cup live on television for the first time in Bangladesh. This was my childhood watching the games, I became a fan of Latin-American football, especially Brazil, like many others. At that time, we did not know much about Maradona. When the 1986 World Cup began, many Bangladeshis were mesmerized by Maradona's magical football skills. Opinions in Bangladesh became divided. About half of the people in Bangladesh rooted for Brazil and the other half supported Argentina. Parts of Dhaka, especially Aminbazar, were then covered with the Argentine flag. Maradona ruled in the following couple of decades.

Expat Bangladeshi Sardar Jobayer Hossain recalled how Maradona became an icon in Bangladesh:

স্কুলের খাতায় ম্যারাডোনা, বাজারের ব্যাগে আর্জেন্টিনা, বাড়ির চার দেয়ালে আকাশি-সাদা ডোরা, আমাদের শৈশব ছিল ৫ ফুট ৫ ইঞ্চির ম্যারাডোনাময়। ধানমন্ডিতে মিরপুরের রোডের উপর চাইনিজ রেস্টুরেন্টের নাম ছিল ম্যারাডোনা। পাড়া মহল্লায় আর্জেন্টিনা- ব্রাজিলের নামে ফ্রেন্ডলি ফাইটিং পর্যন্ত চলত। ৮৬ সালের পর বাঁশের আগায় দুইখান পতাকা রাখতাম ঘরে। একখান আর্জেন্টিনা, আরেকখান ঢাকার মোহামেডান । আহা দিন!

Maradona's image was printed on school pads and shopping bags, the Argentinian colours – sky blue and white — printed on the walls. Our childhood was filled with the image of the 5 foot 5 inch Maradona. A Chinese restaurant at Mirpur Road in Dhanmondi was named after Maradona. There were friendly football matches in our locality between teams named after Brazil and Argentina, which sometimes led to clashes. After 1986, I used to keep to flags hoisted at home — one of Argentina and one of Dhaka Mohamedan [a local football club]. Ah, those days!

So intense was Maradona's popularity in Bangladesh that people would treat Argentina's wins — or losses — as their own. In the 1990 World Cup, when Argentina lost to Germany in the final, Bangladesh cried with Maradona. In fact, many fans, unable to accept the defeat, took to the streets to protest the referee's actions.

That same year, Moudud Ahmed, then vice president of Bangladesh, announced that Maradona was to make a visit to the country, but it never came to pass. It was later alleged that the purpose of the announcement was to subdue growing protest movements against the regime of the time.

There were subsequently other attempts to bring the football hero to Bangladesh: in 2008, when he visited neighbouring India, and ironically, in 2020, the year of his death. He was supposed to visit the country to celebrate the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the “Father of the Nation” and the first President of Bangladesh.

In 1994, Maradona played his last World Cup. During the event, he was banned from the game for doping, forcing Argentina to withdraw from the tournament. Interestingly, Bangladeshi fans were not angry with Maradona, but with FIFA.

Documentary filmmaker Asef Hadi tweeted about that time:

Despite Bangladeshis love for Maradona, some didn't like his lifestyle. Exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin tweeted:

Maradona undoubtedly led a complex life, but amidst all the ups and downs, he was aware of how Bangladeshis felt about him: the South Asian country's passion for the South American soccer star was referenced in Maradona's autobiography “El Diego” — and for some Bangladeshis, that is enough.

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