That Time 400 Scotland Fans Went To The Estadio Azteca
The football world recently mourned the passing of the great Diego Armando Maradona, a man who could light up a nightclub just as well as he could light up a football stadium.
Arguably the most famous moment in his career was at the World Cup in Mexico 1986, a game he balanced out some ridiculous skill with some audacious cheek. The ‘Hand of God’ against England in the quarter-final is both celebrated and chastised in equal measure on either side of the River Tweed.
The now infamous moment Maradona ‘outjumped’ Peter Shilton was made all the more special as it took place in one of footballs great theatres, the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
As a kid, growing up and learning about the game as its played in all corners of the planet, with exotic strips and solo named Brazilians, you could marvel at the splendour of famous old grounds in faraway lands. The Maracana in Rio and La Bombenera in Buenos Aires are two venues the majority of football fans aspire to visit.
Sadly, as an adult, you reach the realisation that in all likelihood, achieving the dream of attending a match at one of these iconic stadia is a longshot.
So, when I was gifted an opportunity to go to the Azteca Stadium, Maradona’s playground, and even better, get to support Scotland in June 2018, well let’s just say – Vamonos!
At the start of January 2018, the SFA, without a first-team manager, strangely arranged two friendly matches on the other side of the Atlantic. Scotland was to be the warm-up act ahead of the World Cup in Russia for Peru and then Mexico, the pair’s final opponents before heading off to the finals. A tournament we again sat peering at from outside with our heads pressed up against the window as the other nations enjoyed the party.
So, when a fellow Tartan Army traveller drops you a What’s App message saying ‘Hi mate, got a spare bed in our Airbnb in Cancun for the fitba in June, £110 for the week, fancy it?’ You are consumed not only by excitement but a little confusion as well, isn’t the match in Mexico City?
Off we set, lads from across the Scottish nation, (a mix of Glasgow, Dundee and Perthshire) to conquer Mexico for a week. The plan included cheap self-catering accommodation right on the beach in Cancun. Football in Mexico City on Saturday. Day of the game, up at 5 am, flight at 7 am to the country’s capital. Arrive 10 am, go to Wallace’s bar, connect with the other Scotland fans, go to the game, and return to Cancun, all within 24 hours. Yeah, you think reading it sounds tiring?!
Taking in a game at The Maracana?
Just landed for the first night in Cancun
The sports bar in Cancun
I knew what Cancun had to offer, having holidayed there two years previously. It’s one of those places that, until you experience it, you really won’t be able to truly understand what it’s like.
Here in the UK, we traditionally hop on a plane for four or five hours and go to Spain for its beaches, resorts and nightlife. Cancun is all these rolled into one and more, and the Americans and Canadians use it in the same way we do the Spanish mainland and its Islands. In terms of history, the resort town on the Yucatán Peninsula is relatively young, with the Mexican government only recognising its potential in the 1970s. It is now the country’s largest tourism resort.
Modern Cancun is seen as Mexico’s answer to Las Vegas. It is a place created completely for tourism and to serve its visitors. For imagination, the varied range of activities on offer and sheer attention to the customer, there can’t be many places on the continent that can compare to it.
If you want history, culture and a wonder of the world? Got it – Chichén Itzá is a fascinating day trip to try. How about a James Bond speed boat experience? – yup, right out on the Caribbean Sea. Fancy a night-time pirate ship BBQ where multiple ships have a live-action fight out on the ocean – what? Never thought of that, well it’s on offer nonetheless.
After a day on a trip, at the beach or by the pool sipping on tequila cocktails, it’s when the sun goes down the town really comes alive. Señor Frog’s in the heartland of Cancun’s main strip marketed to the younger crowd, which makes it a favourite with North America’s ‘spring breakers’. Imagine taking your old student union, to a hot Latin country, filled with drunk Canadians and you have Señor Frogs. Selling cocktails, wines, beers, shots and daiquiris, the late-night bar has different themes each night and often invites its well-lubricated patrons to partake in some on-stage antics such as dance-offs and drinking games.
But it’s the world-famous Coco Bongo’s that really takes things to another level. Is it a Broadway show? A nightclub? Cabaret? Who knows, and frankly who cares! Coco Bongo’s is a fusion of fun, fantasy and frantic action with cameo appearances from Batman, Spiderman, The Phantom of the opera, Moulin Rouge, Chicago, Michael Jackson and Guns n Roses, to name but a few. It’s like New Year’s Eve seven days a week.
Get stuck into Cancun with some of these trips?
About Mexico City
God knows what our fellow passengers’ thought was going on. Five burley white guys, wearing tartan skirts and football tops, on a budget domestic flight from Cancun to Mexico City. We were the only people on the flight who didn’t speak Spanish. Fortunately, we all knew how to say ‘beer please?’.
We were in for an eventful day and got a taste of what the day would bring as we sauntered through the airport, initially oblivious to the heads turning in our direction through the arrival terminal. Imagine you are at Glasgow airport, all set for your holiday and five fully dressed amigos walk past you in full clobber. Sombrero and poncho and even the handlebar moustache. You’d be intrigued right? Well, that’s how the Mexican people who sat in that airport that Saturday morning must have felt. Intrigued. I wondered at the time if the last time they had ever seen anyone in a kilt was when Australian Mel Gibson shouted ‘freedom’ in his Oscar-winning 1995 epic Braveheart. Still, despite the whispers and giggles as we passed, we made it out and into a taxi undeterred.
Mexico City is the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world. With an estimated population of nearly nine million people. You get a sense of its metropolitan style almost as soon as you hit the streets, with bumper-to-bumper traffic on almost every street, even at mid-morning. It suffers from an unfounded reputation of being dangerous and not safe for tourists. The Mexican government tried to remedy this misconception in 2015 when it reportedly offered $20 million in tax incentives to Sony Pictures for it to film James Bond’s ‘Spectre’ there and paint the city in a positive light. Ironic, considering it had buildings collapsing and helicopters crashing into the Cinco de Mayo crowd.
As we arrived at Wallace’s Whiskey Bar in the city’s Cuauhtemoc District we were greeted by a Mexican street band – playing the bagpipes and sporting kilts. Nice touch as the majority of the 418 Scotland fans expected to attend the football match slowly congregated inside and outside the Scottish bar. Old acquaintances were renewed and new friendships formed as pints were drunk and every Scotland song that was ever written was played at one point as morning turned into afternoon.
The Mexican piper
Buses were arranged to whisk us all to the famous Azteca and as the time ticked on, I felt myself getting even more excited at the prospect of getting to watch Scotland in such a mythical arena.
Closing the motorway for us
As we shuffled on to the coaches, I was puzzled when I noticed the somewhat overabundant police presence surrounding us. That confusion turned to laughter on our bus when it became apparent that the ‘Federales’ weren’t there because they were concerned about us, we were getting a police escort to the game! We were celebrities for the day in Mexico City.
From the bar to the stadium, traffic was stopped, motorways halted and the locals told to make way – the Scotland fans were going to the fitba!
15 Best Mexico City Tours
About the Azteca
Just arrived outside the ground
Inside the stadium
As we climbed down off the buses and down from the high of our own self-importance after our VIP treatment to the ground, little did we have time to brace ourselves for the next shock that was in store for us.
When we entered the facilities it became clear we were the main attraction. After we made it past the ticket turnstiles, we were presented with an almost festival-like setting, with beer tents, fans zones and food stalls peppering the promenade of the Estadio Azteca.
After a short wait, the fives of us managed to load up on the beers, two big litre cups of Corona lined with a sort of red aniseed to give it that Mexican kick. It did the trick and a mixture of shared delight and anticipation grouped the five of us at what the next few hours had in store.
The Blair Boys being bombarded by Mexico fans for pics and selfies. We were at that for well over an hour. Madness!! #mexico #scotland #MexicovsEscocia #MexSco pic.twitter.com/26JrBKnTM0 — Neaver (@neaver82) June 3, 2018
What we couldn’t predict was just how friendly and bewildered by us in kilts the Mexican fans actually were. It began with a Mexican man approaching us and asking if he could take a picture of us with his girlfriend. We duly obliged, a little perplexed as to why he’d want a picture of his missus with five Scotsman. But it seemed that after this gentleman had broken the ice, and that we were accommodating fellows, it gave others the confidence to do likewise. Fast forward about an hour later, and we are STILL taking and accepting requests for pictures with the Mexicans. One of our group even had a microphone shoved in his face and asked to say ‘C’mon Mexico’ in his dulcet Scottish tones. Apparently for a local radio station, although audio has never been retrieved despite attempts.
The game itself became a little inconsequential. The 400 or so Scotland fans were just enjoying the unique experience the day had given us. The novelty of meeting fellow football fans on the other side of the world, either side embracing the other and trying to converse in broken conversation and laughter.
The 418 fans sing the national anthem
After we had sung the national anthem – the home crowd applauded our valiant efforts – it was on to the events on the park as the Mexican’s prevailed 1-0.
An experience like no other, one that is unlikely to ever be repeated. The little boy inside sat a little stunned as the buses departed and headed back to the bar. I drank in the stadium one last time as it disappeared from view, knowing I was unlikely to be back. A dream borne out of a handball goal from a football great had been realised. Oh, Diego!
Get yerself to the Azteca!