Estadio Azteca

When I arrived in Mexico City, the first question I asked anybody was, “Estadio Azteca?” Just the thought of setting eyes on the famous venue was appealing enough that I thought about seeking it out during my day off. So when I discovered that its primary tenant, Club America, was actually playing while I was in Mexico City, it seemed a foregone conclusion that I’d attend.

But then I wavered. The effort of getting to the stadium–let alone finding a ticket–seemed overwhelming, especially since Mexico City cab drivers generally don’t speak any English. And, well, there was a part of me that would’ve been happy staying close to my hotel, exploring the neighbourhood surrounding the Palacio Nacional, and watching NFL football (which is huge here, by the way…in fact, as we speak I’m watching a Spanish language broadcast of tonight’s Eagles/49ers game). It took an exasperated (yet nonetheless fetching) Blonde to basically guilt me into going by asking, quite reasonably, “When will you ever get this chance again?” She was right, and thus I set out for the stadium. The hotel concierge had told me that the nearby Libreria Ghandi (its real name!) sold Club America tickets; of course, when I got there I learned there was actually another Libreria Ghandi, and after failing to find it I jumped in a cab and said simply, “Estadio Azteca?”

Twenty minutes and eighty pesos later I was outside its main gates. The line-up for tickets was long–I’d been warned of this eventuality–and so I did what any right-minded gringo would do: I went to a scalper. (Yup, that’s right: I bought a ticket from a Mexico City scalper! At this point I’d bet on myself getting mugged before leaving here on Tuesday.) Two hundred pesos and one legitimate ticket later I was inside and climbing up, up, up to the stadium’s third tier, from where I could literally feel the oxygen supply dwindling. The game itself was awful; it ended 0-0, a result which flattered both Club America and its opponent, Monterrey. (This wasn’t even MLS level. Also, both teams featured strikers who were as collected in front of goal as HLP Paul.) But the Azteca itself was absolutely awesome. It’s the fifth-biggest stadium on earth, although its current capacity of 104,000 is actually 11,000 less than when it opened in 1966. Among other things, it’s the only place to have hosted two World Cup Finals; it was also the scene of the infamous England/Argentina quarter-final in 1986 when Diego Maradona scored both the most controversial and the greatest goal in World Cup history. Yet simply noting its capacity doesn’t do the stadium justice; to do that, you’ve got to go to its upper level and climb as high as you can go, stake out a spot on one of its concrete bleachers (almost two-thirds of the venue’s seats are made of concrete), and then feel the Azteca shake, literally shake, when the crowd begins to sing. It’s cold, it’s austere, it’s imposing…and it’s magnificent. In short, the Estadio Azteca was everything I hoped it would be.

It cost me three hundred pesos to get back to my hotel–I will never, ever understand barter economies–and as I’m sitting here with the city’s skyline stretched out behind me I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact that I’ve ended up in a position where afternoon jaunts to the Estadio Azteca are actually possible. Who would’ve predicted this three years ago when I first got into the recruitment racket? And it doesn’t stop with Mexican league soccer. Up next: a weekend in a cloud forest in Mindo, Ecuador! My Fetching Blonde is already green with envy. Soon, you will be as well.

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