Football is dubbed, the people’s game. Anywhere you will travel around the world, the odds are high of finding an open field with people kicking some object back and forth while trying to emulate every signature move of their national heroes. Everyone believes they can become the next Pele, Diego Maradona, George Best or Zinedine Zidane when standing in the gauntlet. Mexico has greatly contributed to the beauty and intensity of the beautiful game at the international level with numerous players, like Hugo Sanchez, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Luis Hernandez and many more of note. During my time working in Mexico City, I had the pleasure of seeing some of the Aztec magic challenging the more novice Canadian side.
The game in question was a qualifier for the World Cup 2002, to be co-hosted between Japan and South Korea and was played in Mexico’s Estadio Azteca. This intimidating concrete monster was first inaugurated in 1966, playing a significant part in the 1968 Summer Olympic Games due to its incredible capacity of 104,000 spectators, is used as the official home stadium for the Mexican National Team. As a member of an opposing team, you pray to the soccer gods to open up the ground and swallow you. There is no way to conquer the hearts of the sea of green, cursing your existence and that of your parents who brought you to life. You will share the same exact feeling as an away team supporter on the walk of shame to enter the stadium and find your seat to the greatest show in town.
Lucky for me, I went to support the Canadian National Team which had literally no chance to upset the Mexicans. Unfortunately, Canada does very little in nurturing and helping develop star quality players because of the excessive focus on hockey. Many dual nationals end up opting for their other nationality as the quality and investment in the sport far surpasses ours. My fellow supporters and I figured the Mexicans would be well aware of this and the ambience in the stadium was going to be far less hostile than say, the USA or Argentina. Canada has left a minuscule footprint on the footballing world. How wrong we all were, as at the most, 60 Canadian fans sat together while the fans prepared for an ‘off the pitch’ showdown.
As soon as the Canadian team set foot into public view, an overpowering ‘boo’ with a mix of swear words took over the audible environment. Usually, when the national anthems are played, there is a moment of silence and respect for the two countries playing each other, but the melody of O Canada could not overpower the stampede of profanity. Hey, at least we got on the jumbo tron! As the game rolled on, it seemed both teams were bumping heads and unable to get on the scoreboard come half-time. It began to rain all sorts of objects – I could have sworn I saw a shoe flying through the air, I kid you not – including stones and plastic beer cups, where the beer had been ingeniously replaced with urine. Our Canadian contingent began to pray for a Mexican goal so we could leave with our lives.
|Mexico - Canada showdown|
Should you find yourself in a similar situation, I suggest you buy a Mexico jersey before walking into the stadium. This could guarantee a more pleasant experience. Another lesson learned is not to mess with your host. Don’t step into the kitchen if you do not want to get burned. Mexicans are extremely friendly and great hosts, but do not try to show them out at their own game, even if there is no shot. You will not enjoy the consequences and meeting their alter-ego. I am forever grateful that our boys did not win that day – the game ended 2 – 0 in favour of Mexico who went on to the World Cup.