“Our Diego/Who art on earth/Hallowed be thy left foot/Thy magic come/Thy goals be remembered” (excerpt of The Lord’s Prayer, Church of Maradona)
For some people, football could arguably be described as a religion. However, I discovered earlier last year while being interviewed for a television documentary that for some people, there is a football-related religion with Argentinian soccer legend Diego Maradona as its deity (arguably an extreme form of celebrity worship that I examined in a previous blog). I thought this was a joke or hoax, especially as a Wikipedia entry claimed that:
“The Iglesia Maradoniana (English: Church of Maradona; literally Maradonian Church) is a parody religion, created by fans of the retired Argentine football player Diego Maradona, who they believe to be the best player of all time. The Iglesia was founded on October 30, 1998 (Maradona’s 38th birthday) in the city of Rosario, Argentina. It could be seen as a type of syncretism or as a religion, depending on what religious definition one chooses to use…Supporters of the Maradonian Church, supposedly from all parts of the world, count the years since Maradona’s birth in 1960… [D10S] is popular, among the followers of this religion (and also among other football fans), the use of the neo-Tetragrammaton D10S as one of the names of Maradona: D10S is a portmanteau word which fuses 10 (diez in Spanish), Maradona’s shirt number, and dios, the Spanish word for god”.
Most football fans here in England generally accept that Maradona was a footballing genius and the best player of his generation. However, our abiding (if not the most painful) memory is his goal against England in the 1986 World Cup Finals (where he scored with a clear handball but was not spotted by the referee). After the match, Maradona described it as the ‘Hand of God’.
However, many Argentinians say the Church of Maradona is not a joke or parody but a “serious celebration of their love for the soccer legend”. In the home to the church (Rosario), Maradona worshippers frequently gather for mass, and sing songs to honour and venerate Maradona. Alejandro Veron who runs the Church of Maradona website says: “Our religion is football and, like all religions, it must have a god. We will never forget the miracles he showed on the pitch and the spirit he awoke in us, the fanatics”.
The church also has its ten commandments: (1) The ball must not be stained, as D10S has proclaimed; (2) Love football over all things; (3) Declare your unconditional love of football; (4) Defend the colours of Argentina; (5) Preach the words of ‘Diego Maradona’ all over the world; (6) Pray in the temples where he preached, and to his sacred mantles; (7) Do not proclaim the name of Diego in the name of a single club; (8) Follow the teachings of the Maradonian Church; (9) Let Diego be your second name, and that of your children; and (10) No ser cabeza de termo y que no se te escape la tortuga (that translates to “don’t be a hothead and don’t let the turtle escape you”). [I ought to add that some online versions of these ten commandments omit the final one and split the ninth commandment into two separate commandments].
It is estimated that the numbers of members of the Church of Maradona is 15,000 worldwide (although the church founders claim the number of followers is 200,000). In the TV programme that I was interviewed for, two people were interviewed (Pamela, aged 22 years, and Ivan, aged 23 years). They met and fell in love in 2009 at an event on Maradonian New Year (October 30, Maradona’s birthday), and were planning to get baptized and married at the Church of Maradona. Pamela says: “For us this will be a traditional wedding, contrary to what people think. We’ve been dreaming to make this happen for years”. They had asked Maradona himself to marry them but he was ‘otherwise engaged’. According to the television program’s research team:
“The baptism is a joint event, which will gather around 15 fans of all ages…Called in to the altar, one by one, each will try to do the most accurate simulation of Maradona’s prolific ‘Hand of God’ goal…Once ‘admitted’ into the group, Pamela and Ivan take the equivalent of the host – Napolitan pizza – Maradona’s favorite. They’re now ready to get married. Instead of an ordained clergyman, Hernan Amez, church founder, will be getting them married – wearing a football shirt…Their families won’t be present, because they find the notion of Pamela and Ivan getting married through the Maradona Church ridiculous. For the young couple, it doesn’t matter. Other friends and Maradona followers will join the celebration…The bride’s dress is carried by two children with D10S t-shirts…They will promise their love for each other in front of the Maradonian bible – Maradona’s autobiography”.
There are some other interesting journalistic accounts of members of the Church of Maradona. One of the most detailed is a 2008 article by Jonathan Franklin for The Guardian who was there to cover the Church’s tenth anniversary after being founded in 1998. Franklin reported that the “Iglesia Maradoniana does not yet have its own building. It is a travelling display of love and affection, whose icons and statues visit all corners of Argentina”. Franklin gives his account of his time at the Church’s ceremony:
“I walk up to the stage, take off my top, and the crowd screams as I slip on the No 10 shirt and remember my rehearsals. Just one shot. Do it right, I tell myself. The baptism ceremony aims to recreate the sacred moment during the 1986 World Cup quarter-final in which Maradona scored his famous mano del Dios (hand of God) goal by swatting the ball into the England net with his fist. Match officials stuck with a poor angle assumed Maradona had used his head, but replays clearly show Maradona punching the ball away from the England goalie, the startled and then indignant Peter Shilton. At a press conference after the game, Maradona would not admit his hand had touched the ball. ‘The hand of God’ sent it into the net, he claimed. I move over to a life-size poster of Shilton jumping at Maradona. In this version, Maradona and the ball have been Photoshopped out of the frame. This is where the baptism ceremony begins. I prepare to leap. As the ball is tossed in, I jump, trying to shield my hand with my head, then ‘pow!’ I punch. It works! My re-creation is worthy of a certificate and now I am signed into the register, an official member of the Church of Maradona”.
Franklin also notes in his article that Maradona’s fans from all around the world have come to celebrate the Church’s tenth anniversary including people from the Brazil, Denmark, Italy, and USA. As Franklin reports:
“Some take pictures; others simply toast their god. A pile of gifts and tokens piles up – old photographs, sports cards, even an oil portrait of Diego with brushed curls and a yellow halo. The Maradona Bible lies near the altar – a worn copy of Maradona’s bestselling biography ‘Yo Soy El Diego’ (I Am Diego)”.
Parody or not, the Church appears to have some genuine believers including Jose Caldeira, the author of La Iglesia Maradoniana, a book that recounts the Church of Maradona’s first ten years. I don’t think the Catholic religion in Argentina has anything to worry about in terms of competition, but at least the Church of Maradona can claim their deity actually exists. As another article by Johnny Chadwick in The National Student concludes:
“No footballer inspires such devotion and unconditional fandom. Diego Maradona transcends his status as merely the most talented footballer of all time. He provides an example of someone who made countless mistakes and errors of judgement, yet still managed to rise from the streets of Rosario to world champion and international icon. While the obsessive following is extreme, it is in part understandable for a man who is at once a heavily flawed human being and a God”.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Chadwick, J. (2012). What people believe: The Church of Maradona. The National Student, August 13. Located at: http://www.thenationalstudent.com/Features/2012-08-13/the_church_of_maradona.html
Franklin, J. (2008). ‘He was sent from above’. The Guardian, November 12. Located at: www.guardian.co.uk/football/2008/nov/12/diego-maradona-argentina
The Offside (2007). Worshipping at the Church of Maradona 10 years on. October 25. Located at: http://www.theoffside.com/south-america/worshipping-at-the-church-of-maradona-10-years-on.html
The Original Winger (2013). The Church of Maradona. February 6. Located at: http://theoriginalwinger.com/2013-02-06-the-church-of-maradona-documini-from-vice-d10s
Wikipedia (2013). Iglesia Maradoniana. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iglesia_Maradoniana