BUENOS AIRES (AP) — Argentina's stunned soccer fans sought each other out Wednesday to mourn the death of Diego Maradona, gathering by the hundreds in spots linked to the life of the legendary player.
They gathered outside the humble home where he was born and raised in the Villa Fiorito neighborhood. They went to the stadium of Argentinos Juniors, where he started as a professional footballer in 1976. They stood at the historic La Bombonera stadium of his beloved Boca Juniors. More were at the headquarters of Gimnasia La Plata, the team he was coaching.
“I am touched. I can't understand it, I can't see the reality. Diego will never die, today is the birth of the Maradona myth," said Dante López, a physician who went to the Argentinos Juniors stadium, which carries the beloved player's name.
Fans put candles and flowers along the wall around the field.
“Diego was Argentina in the world. He gave us joy and we will never be able to repay him for so much joy," said Argentine President Alberto Fernández, who issued a decree for three days of national mourning and offered the presidential palace for the funeral.
Mariano Jeijer sat with his wife and their baby in a small car near the Boca Juniors stadium. He said he didn’t want to be sad at home.
“Diego is a symbol of being Argentinian. He is someone that made us very happy,” Jeijer said.
Jejier said his devotion to Maradona is justified by the two goals he scored against England in Argentina's 2-1 victory in the quarterfinals of the 1986 World Cup. That game was seen by many Argentine fans as pay back for the Falklands war four years earlier in which Britain defeated Argentina.
“The happiest moment was the first goal against the English. I was 12. I screamed as if I was crazy. I don't even remember the second," he said.
Nearby, Patricia Sánchez said Maradona “was like a father, and we were his children.” She stood with her son Ángel, who wore a blue and yellow Boca Juniors coat. Maradona played for Boca Juniors in 1981 before he moved to Barcelona, then returned there to retire as a player in 1997.
There were no tears, only celebration in Villa Fiorito, where Maradona learned how to play soccer on muddy fields.
“Olé, olé, Diego, Diego,” the neighbors sang in front of the house on Azamor Street where Maradona lived until Argentinos Juniors bought him a better one. “Diego is the greatest, he is a national pride,” the fans chanted.
Although the property no longer belongs to Maradona's family, neighbors began painting a mural of their idol on a wall.
Mariela Córdoba said she didn't finish lunch after learning of his death from a heart attack.
“The hunger was gone and we all came here," she said. “We came to help with the wall because we are neighbors of Maradona's life. People here are proud. They can say Maradona lived here.”
At the headquarters of Gimnasia La Plata, where Maradona became coach in September 2019, many fans cried in the stands. He made his last appearance there at a game Oct. 30, which was his 60th birthday.
“We will keep that smile, and the most beautiful crest on your chest," the club said on Twitter. “We lived an unforgettable story."
Associated Press photojournalist Natacha Pisarenko and videojournalist Yesica Brumec contributed to this report.