Page last updated at 11:44 GMT, Monday, 8 December 2008

Maradona sends Calcutta into frenzy

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Maradona at Salt Lake Stadium
Huge crowds mobbed Maradona - but the jostling did get to him

With many Indian cities on terror and hijack alerts after the attacks on Mumbai (Bombay), visiting Argentina football legend and national coach Diego Maradona managed to bring some cheer to Calcutta.

But for the city's police he brought a headache - controlling huge crowds charged up by a football hero in their midst.

"Calcuttans are mad about football and they went into a frenzy over Maradona," said Calcutta's police chief, Gautam Mohan Chakrabarty. "This was no less than handling a terror strike."

Security arrangements were unusually heavy for Maradona from the time he arrived at midnight on Friday with his girlfriend Veronica and some other friends to the time he left for Argentina early on Monday.

"The security arrangements collapsed in most places because the crowds were huge and uncontrollable," said Sports Minister Subhas Chakrabarty. He blamed the media for "creating chaos in most places".

Maradona at the Missionaries of Charity
Maradona praised Mother Teresa at the Missionaries of Charity

Police baton-charged journalists and members of the public on Sunday at the residence of former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu, a few minutes before Maradona arrived on a courtesy call to Bengal's ailing communist patriarch.

Just before that, frenzied crowds broke the police cordon when Maradona visited the "Mother House", headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Nobel Laureate Mother Teresa.

"The crowds surged past the barricades and we had to use force to stop them," said one officer, Manoranjan Das.

Inside the Mother House, Maradona prayed with the nuns for a while, picked up books on the life of the late Mother Teresa and shook hands with orphans brought up by the Missionaries of Charity.

"I have heard about the great deeds of Mother Teresa," Maradona told a press conference after his arrival.

'God for us'

On Saturday, he laid the foundation stone for a soccer academy in Mahestala, in the eastern suburbs, and was later greeted by more than 100,000 at the city's biggest stadium, in Salt Lake.

Maradona and wax statue
A life-size wax statue was one of the many gifts showered on him

Hordes of autograph-hunters and photographers broke the police cordon at the stadium and mobbed Maradona before he ran on to the field to display his ball skills.

Hundreds of young footballers, doubling up as ball boys, rushed in to touch his feet or embrace him.

"He is God for us, so we touch his feet," said schoolboy footballer Kajal Das.

Maradona was showered with gifts - a golden boot, a golden ball, a full statue of him in his blue-and-white Argentina jersey and much else.

But the jostling seemed to get to him and he left the stadium before the laser show depicting his life was to start.

"Calcutta had gone into a shell following the terror alerts," said football fan, Raja Dutta. "Maradona's visit has erased our fears of a terror strike and Calcutta is back to its noisy self."

'So lucky'

Another 20,000 turned up at the grounds of Calcutta's famous Mohun Bagan Club on Sunday as Maradona shook hands with school footballers and kicked dozens of balls into the stadium.

Fans greet Maradona in Calcutta
The Maradona trip raised morale after the Mumbai attacks

"I am so lucky. I grabbed a ball Maradona kicked into our side of the stands," said Dibakar Bose, a young software programmer. "This will be my prized possession for all time to come."

As many lined up on both sides of the road from Calcutta airport as Maradona was driven out in a glass bus.

In a city governed by the left, Maradona made himself more popular by talking of his "intimate relations" with Cuban leader Fidel Castro and by launching an attack on outgoing US President George W Bush.

In the Saturday press conference, Maradona described Mr Bush as "an assassin" but was quick to add that he liked President-elect Barack Obama and had great expectations for him. At one point, he held up a portrait of Argentine revolutionary Che Guevera.

"What more do you need to set Calcutta on fire? Football and politics and top it up with the usual Maradona flamboyance," said painter Ritu Singh.

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