A Year Of Firsts

I’ll remember 2008 as the first time I got got married. One hopes it’s the last time. The year I finally made it to Las Vegas. A couple of weeks ago I went to see my first bullfight, and that will definitely be the last! I climbed a mountain for the first time. And a month later, again for the second time.

But today was a far more spiritual ‘first’. No statues of Jesus or Virgins for me – not that kind of spiritual. Something very different, but equally profound. Today I finally made my first visit to Estadio Azteca. Mighty Azteca. The only stadium to have hosted two World Cup finals. The stadium that saw the greatest game of football ever seen, in 1970 between Germany and Italy. Then days later the greatest World Cup final, which fittingly featured arguably the greatest goal of all time. A goal that certainly helped justify the sport’s nickname, the Beautiful Game. The giant stadium that holds more than a hundred thousand screaming fans.

It was much quieter today, at 3pm on New Years Eve. No fans there at all in fact. Just me, the guide and a Japanese tourist. And no screaming. Only the continuous fake digital clicking of my camera broke the eerie silence. For 25 pesos I had a half hour to stroll around, touch the grass and look at a pitch which has seen so many triumphs, heartaches and dramas.

It was here that Clodoaldo teased his way past four defenders before flicking a long pass to Rivelino with the outside of his boot, who played the ball to Jairzinho, on to Pele, who rolled the ball for the onrushing Carlos Alberto to smash home the fourth goal in their destruction of Italy, and to win the World Cup. Football, if only for a moment, became art.

It was here that Maradona performed as sinner and saint in 1986, first scoring the infamous Hand of God goal that has earned him England’s eternal revulsion and hatred. Then his glorious run from half way up the pitch, past – no through – the entire English defense to slot home a one man wonder goal. I was back then a thirteen year old, staying up way past my bed time at home in London, watching with despair. England got one goal back, and so nearly the second. But as usual, it wasn’t to be.

Standing at the side of that hallowed turf, it was so easy to let my eyes glaze over and see it all happening again in front of me. Football is a religion in England, far more so than in Mexico, and I am a fervent, fundamentalist believer! I’ve been to Wembley, the old one, many times. I’ve been to the Nou Camp and the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, home to Spain’s legendary teams Barcelona and Real Madrid. But none have quite the magic of this massive cauldron of concrete and memories.

But enough of my fanciful daydreams! It’s time for a couple of ‘lasts’. I have just smoked what will hopefully be my last cigarette. And I have just finished my last post of 2008. Hasta pronto!

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