World Cup – Mexico ’86 Reflections (16.05.14)
The clock is ticking as the 2014 World Cup in Brazil approaches. In under a month it is estimated that nearly 4 million people will travel across Brazil during the tournament that runs from 12 June to 13 July.
The global audience is expected to be in excess of the 3.2 billion that watched the last World Cup in South Africa.
I, for one, am extremely excited and am counting the days before I fly out to see two of the England Group games – against Uruguay in Sao Paulo, and against Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte. Travelling with friends, I am planning also to visit Rio, one of my favourite cities. Brazil and Croatia will get the ball rolling in the first game at the Arena de Sao Paulo. Sixty-four matches later the Final will be played at the Estadio do Maracana, in Rio.
This will be the eighth World Cup in a row that I have attended, and in this blog I would like to share a few thoughts and photos from the first of these, the 1986 World Cup.
Taking place in Mexico, ‘86 was also the last World Cup to be held in Latin America. On the basis that the Brazilians know how to party as much as any Latino, believe me if it is half as enjoyable as Mexico, we are in for a rare treat.
As 1986 was eighteen months before I set up Nomadic Thoughts, I was at liberty to visit Mexico for the whole duration of the tournament, ultimately attending 23 games. With an open diary I criss-crossed Mexico, sleeping on more local buses than flat-bed guest-houses. I tackled every, and any, game I could. And although I left England without any pre-booked match tickets, by the time Argentina had beaten Germany in the Final, I had attended matches at over half the stadia and seen fifteen of the twenty-four teams.
In addition to attending all of England’s matches I also saw the Semi-Final and Final at the Azteca Stadium, Mexico City. My biggest claim to fame is signing the England v Argentina ‘hand-of-god’ match ball.
Initially I flew to Houston, Texas before hitch-hiking down to the Mexican border. Crossing the border, I was asked by a US immigration officer why I was going to Mexico. He immediately got the wrong impression, and assumed that I was playing in the tournament. Suffice to say the Yanks were not up to speed on world football in 1986.
I attended all the Group games in the northern city of Monterrey, where the England team was based. The people of Monterrey, who had been fed a consistent diet of news reports showing English football fan-violence, were initially concerned – but soon fully embraced one of Europe’s largest travelling supporter groups. The local brewery ran out of beer and the main square became a daily football tournament. I also met at least two fans who decided to get married and stay forever, after being so charmed by the local ladies.
I travelled down into central Mexico after England had limped through their group as winners – mainly due to the fact that the England manager Bobby Robson chose to play four Evertonians in the final group game (name them if you can).
Arriving in Mexico City I managed to buy tickets to the next round, Quarter-Final and Semi-Final through the official ticket office, for a total of twenty-five pounds. The main issue was that the cost of FIFA match tickets was out of reach for most Mexicans. So much so that I also managed to buy a couple of Azteca Stadium World Cup Final tickets from a stadium office worker, who preferred to cash in her allocation rather than see the game.
A game that was ultimately watched by an official crowd of 114,600 fans. What the statistics don’t show you is that at half-time the authorities appeared to open the gates to everyone outside. I remember the gangways and stairwells packed to the rafters throughout the second half. Check the match photos out – it was bursting. It felt as if an extra 30-odd thousand had entered. So packed was it, that in the seating areas, many decided to leap the moat onto the pitch as Diego Maradona was being presented with the trophy.
I managed to sign the hand-of god match ball after I had found a doorway leading into the post-game press conference. Continuing on a personal, self-navigated-tour of the Azteca Stadium’s inner facilities, I ended up at the bottom of the stadium where the England team-coach was waiting to take the players back to their hotel.
After chatting to various members of the England squad, including Chris Waddle who felt the urge to give me his match wristbands (which are still in my sock drawer to this day), an official from the stadium arrived with the match ball. I was standing next to England players Ray Wilkins, Bryan Robson, Gary Baily and Peter Shilton. The Mexican official passed the ball to each player, who signed it with his black marker pen and returned it to the official. Who then proceeded to pass it to the next player. After Peter Shilton (England’s most capped player ever) passed the ball back to the official, he handed both ball and pen to me.
Delighted to be mistaken again for one of the England football team, I signed the ball and handed it back, to the amusement of my fellow England team mates.
I assume that, to this day, somewhere in either Mexico City, Buenos Aires or FIFA HQ that ball still exists. Whether anyone has managed to link my own football career to the signature I have yet to discover.