GUILLEM BALAGUE: Maradona knew football was the same - no matter the level
In his latest Chronicle column, the Biggleswade United chairman shares his stories about one of the greatest footballers of all time ahead of the English release of his new book
There are few things I find more uplifting than walking around our club house at the Keech Hospice Care Stadium and looking at all the footballing superstars that have been kind enough to allow themselves to be photographed lifting up the Biggleswade United team colours.
For me it is a seal of approval from the greats of the game that the football we play, while clearly not at the same level that they either play – or have played – at, is the same game with precisely the same merit and impact on those that might happen to play, coach, administer or watch it.
But of all the pictures we have around our clubhouse wall, there is none more evocative and moving than the one of myself with Diego Maradona.
This week saw the release of the Spanish version of my book on the life on the troubled, complex and controversial genius that was Diego Armando Maradona. The English version comes out on July 8.
Maradona, the ‘boy from the barrio’ who rose from street urchin to God- like figure, and did it with nothing more than hope in his heart and magic in his boots; the kid who showed the people – his people – through his achievements that despite their lowly status in life’s pecking order that they mattered, that they could be somebody and that through the international language that is football, anything was possible.
I met him for the first time at a soccer conference in Amman, in Jordan, when I was asked to do a special interview with him. I met him beforehand, although
at the time he didn’t know me from Adam, nor did he know that I would be interviewing him later that same day.
Faced with a cluster of Argentinian shirts, he picked out the Biggleswade United one that I had rather cheekily placed among them in the hope that he would sign it for us.
“Where’s this shirt from?” he asked.
Introducing myself, I explained to him that we were in the ninth division of the footballing pyramid in England and that I was the chairman of the club.
“Would you like a photo of me with the shirt,” he asked me?
I nearly passed out!
It was a gesture I never forgot and tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the man.
I met him a number of times subsequently, but never forgot that first meeting.
I found out more about the man behind the image, and his entourage – many of whom did not do him any favours– but above all about how he related to the public that adored him, to the little man.
He would ask me about Biggleswade United, how we were doing, what type of football we liked to play and did so in a way that was genuinely interested and never patronising.
He would talk warmly and nostalgically about his earliest days when, as a kid, he played the game he loved with his peers on the streets and on the rough, dirt pitches covered in dog mess and strewn with broken glass.
And he loved those days as much – maybe even more – than the glory days that lay ahead.
Some of his happiest times were spent when he shone brighter than anything ever seen before for the ‘Cebollitas’. literally the ‘little onions’, the young sides of Argentinos Juniors.
A time when he could play with his people, his friends and do so without pressure, but merely for the love of the game.
So whenever people ask me why I love Biggleswade United so much, I tell them it is because it is my club, my people, and despite what anyone might think, be it Boca Juniors or Biggleswade United, it is the same game.
And I know that the first to agree with me would be Diego Maradona. I miss him...
For more details about Guillem Balague's new book, visit the website http://smarturl.it/MaradonaBalague