INTRODUCING… THEBRAZILIAN MA R A D O N A !
“It’s very weird. I’ve got an Argentine name but I’m Brazilian, and we’re… rivals, I would say.” It’s a concise description of a footballing enmity by our interviewee, one Diego Maradona. The Brazilian Diego Maradona. Who plays in England’s eighth tier.
If you’re feeling as lost as he is, let’s backtrack a bit. A 12-year-old Diego Maradona Petriaggi was taken from Brazil to Italy by Brescia, then in Serie A. “As a ball boy I’d see Roberto Baggio and Pep Guardiola play,” Diego recalls to FFT. After six years in the Little Swallows’ academy, and seven elsewhere around Europe, he decided at 25 to come to England, cropping up at the bizarrely hyphened Corinthian-casuals.
It’s a match made in heaven – not least as the club approached Diego on his wedding day. Casuals helped to popularise football around the globe a century ago, and inspired the founding of Corinthians in Sao Paulo. The Club World Cup and Copa Libertadores winners (average attendance 29,000) are still grateful to Casuals (average attendance 140), donating banners and inviting them to Brazil for a rather one-sided derby in 2015.
“My father was a supporter of Corinthians Paulista so I knew about the English Corinthians,” explains Diego. “When I had the chance to play for them, I was interested because of their history.”
But we’re getting away from the real issue here. He’s a Brazilian footballer who is called Diego Maradona. That sounds… awkward.
“People never believe me at first,” he says. “They think I’m joking. At my first training session, everyone started laughing.” Stuart Tree, Casuals’ press officer, photographer and 12ft giant, says: “The first time I saw his name was on the team-sheet; I thought, ‘Who’s having a laugh here?’ Then he scored on debut! It’s just a shame it wasn’t handball.”
That’s not all. Diego has two brothers: Rivellino and Michel Platini.
“My dad really liked these players and my mother had no option but to accept it,” laughs the middle child. “I tell my wife we’ll name our child Ronaldinho. She says: ‘Are you crazy?!’ – but I’m just joking.”
It’s not all fun and games. Unable to find work in London, Diego commutes to Casuals’ home matches in Tolworth, Surrey, from Bicester in Oxfordshire, provided he can get time off work. It’s a four-and-a-half-hour round trip. And because Corinthians are proudly amateur, the division’s only side not to pay their players, he spends his own money to get to matches by train.
“I came here to learn English, but also to play at least semi-professional football because I’d always been paid for playing,” says the 27-year-old. “I’d never worked in a job. Football was my job. My first work experience was in the UK.
“At first, I thought it was strange they don’t pay. I was expected to be paid. And on top of that, I’d have to spend my money on the train, which isn’t cheap! But because I knew the team’s history, I decided I’d be proud to be part of it.”
An unusual part of an unusual history – his namesake would be proud.
Oh, and he’s playing in Surrey. Amateur outfit Corinthian-casuals have a famous name in their ranks, but that’s only part of a tale that involves Michel Platini, a wedding and an epic commute
Diego has been perplexing press officers aplenty
“No pay? No thanks”