Humble beginnings: Maradona

2010-06-17 12:33
Argentine legend Diego Maradona as people would prefer to remember him. (AP)
Poverty, drugs and danger - a special insight into the birthplace of one of football's greatest names.

Reproduced by kind permission of 24CON
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"Please, go around very carefully," warns the taxi driver as his car arrives at Villa Fiorito train station. His warning is very real: this neighbourhood has its own codes and just getting into here is considered a real challenge.

Wednesday morning doesn't seem to be a big deal. Along the streets a group of women shops, other people repair their humble houses and two men share a whiskey bottle for breakfast.

Pelusa’s story

Fiorito is still a very humble neighborhood, as it was on October 30 of 1960, the day Dalma Salvadora Franco, better known as "Tota", gave birth to a boy who became widely regarded as the best soccer player of all time; a boy she named Diego Armando Maradona and, as the years went by, people renamed simply as "God".

It was there, inside a precarious house placed on Azamor street, that the three-year-old Diego received his first ball.

"I have happy memories of my childhood. If I have to define Villa Fiorito in a single word, that is ‘struggle’. If you could eat, you ate, if not, you didn’t," said Diego during an interview, years later.

Eat to survive. That’s how he spent his early days, with his five sisters and two brothers, as Diego senior, "Chitoro", brought money home working at a factory chopping animal bones. Half a century later, "the neighborhood changed a lot", says Ramon, a long-time resident. Because nowadays, in the house where Maradona grew up, lives a family of cardboard collectors (they sell the cardboard to recycling plants for cash).

At the house, the knocking on the door doesn’t bring a response. They’re not at home in the morning: they are at work. The entrance is a storage area for all kinds of trash; the windows closed. On the sidewalk, there are two giant white bags full of cardboard.

"They’re related to one of Diego’s brothers-in-law, his sister Rita’s husband," says Ramon, who currently keeps Maradona’s grandmother’s house. The man is 59, and assures us he knows the Argentinean icon’s family well. "They were excellent people. I remember we used to go dancing together."

Before he took his first steps at Cebollitas sports club, Maradona, known as "Pelusa" (meaning fluffy), played soccer on empty fields, at the corner of his block, which is occupied by two big buildings.

The ground, the mud, and the goals changed Diego’s dreams when he turned 16, and made his debut in the club Argentinos Juniors. This was 1976, the same year he left his birthplace, where he had met his girlfriend Claudia – later, his wife – and where he only returns sporadically.

Crime and poverty

Villa Fiorito’s territory is divided between the districts of Lanus and Lomas de Zamora. The 50 000 residents’ incomes come mostly from the trade market of La Salada and from the mini-market on Murature street. Two years ago, the local government paved most of the streets and built a drain net to prevent the constant floods.

"When the La Salada market is open, there are a lot of burglars hanging around, we have to be careful," say the locals. Around the blocks that compose the place, there are lots of tough guys and just a few police cars.

"Things are not the way they used to be," comments Ramon and, before saying goodbye, he recommends to stay away from the heart of the ‘Hood’.

"There are a lot of robberies and drugs are sold everywhere," he adds.

"That guy in the corner is a dealer," he points, and decides to adopt a bodyguard role as we find our way back home.

That’s how they live in Fiorito, the place that cradled the one of the best football players in the world; the one who is Argentina's team coach, and today awakes big hope in more than 40 million people.
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