The congregation chants….
“Our Diego, who art on the pitches, hallowed be thy left hand, thy magic comes, make your goals remembered on Earth as they are in Heaven …”
Men in white tunics walk up the aisle with No 10 written on their back….
Altar boy holds aloft a football from which blood drip off and coils of barbed wire crown it…..
Behind all these stands the huge portrait of the man whom the crowd have come to worship….
He is Diego Armando Maradona.
The Iglesia Maradoniana is a religion, created by fans of the Argentine great who they believe is the God of football. It was founded on October 30, 1998 on Maradona’s 38th birthday in the city of Rosario. Followers of this religion who come to the Maradonian Church, count the years since Maradona’s birth in 1960. The symbol for the church is D10S, which combines the Spanish word for Gods, Dios, and the shirt number of Maradona, 10.
Similar to many other religions, the Iglesia Maradoniana also has a set of commandments. Their commandments include, ‘love football over all things’, ‘defend the colours of Argentina’, ‘spread the news of Diego’s miracles throughout the universe’, and ‘do not proclaim the name of Diego in the name of a single club’. Furthermore, the church has created a chant that is repeated at all ceremonies and worship services (Franklin 2008).
The Iglesia Maradoniana meets every year on October 30, the birth date of their God. Preparations start on 29th October as it is their Christmas Eve. A Christmas tree is decorated in the white and blue of Argentina’s national colours. The branches are covered in smiling photos of Maradona. He is even seen holding his holy shroud – the Argentine national strip. On their holy day, the followers first attend the mass and then have a football match among themselves.
Another day of the year when they meet is on June 22 and that is considered as Maradona Easter, the date that the Argentinian team beat England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals with the goal from Maradona known as the infamous ‘Hand of God’. It is the day when new disciples get baptised by recreating the famous goal by jumping in front of a life-size cardboard Peter Shilton. Then, they can listen to the historic Argentine commentary of the second goal. “Maradona has it, the genius of world football. Always Maradona. Genius, genius, GENIUS! GOOOOOL! GOOOOOOOOL! I want to cry! Holy God, long live football, what a goal! This makes me cry! Forgive me. Maradona scores the best goal of all time. What planet did you come from?”
But there is also much controversy surrounding this religion. Maradona has held a controversial private life, riddled with drug addiction, health problems, obesity and crime. He has also held many divisive political beliefs. These issues have caused many people to be skeptical of the worship of Maradona, particularly through the Iglesia Maradoniana. Many Argentinians feel that it is an insult to hold someone with such a controversial past as a national hero, let alone as a God.
But whatever may come the followers still worship him and they proudly declare:
“What has Jesus done that Maradona hasn’t? They have both performed miracles, just that Maradona’s are actually on record. The ideologies aren’t so different.”