Three months after my Copa America experience in Brazil, it was time to get back out on another adventure. Barring a couple of games at the Etihad watching the Champions of England and a few Non-league games, my footballing had been mainly restricted to watching on TV and my own involvement dragging myself around the pitch for TUFC. In a change to my recent trips this jaunt was not driven by Football, shock horror!! Having visited Mexico back in 2015, it had long since been my ambition to return to Mexico City for the Day of the Dead Festival (Dia de Los Muertos), and on finding that the Mexican Grand Prix was to be in the same week it was finally time to take the plunge and get it booked.
This trip also provided a great opportunity to catch up with my two favourite travel buddies Casey from New Jersey and Mexican Mick (Migsy), together this was set to be our 12th country travelled as a trio, the fact Migsy would turn 28 during the week was just an added little bonus.
Of course, once the flights were booked (£630) I started scouting out possible fixtures to attend and to my pleasure there was a fair selection of Liga MX fixtures during my time there. Arriving on the Thursday evening gave me Friday to recover from the 12 hours of flying, I did this with a lovely stroll around the city followed by settling down for a few pints to watch Leicester trounce Southampton 9-0 to equal the Premier League record.
Saturday came and what a stadium to start off the holiday with. Game One of the trip was Club America, hunting down a play-off place, up against the relegation threatened Puebla in the iconic Estadio Azteca. Built in 1961, the home to Club America and Cruz Azul was also the first venue to host two World Cup Finals in both 1970 and 1986. On realising this it gave me the idea to watch games in as many WC Final host stadiums as possible to add to the Maracana (1954,2014), Wembley (1966), Estadio Monumental (1978) and the Luzhniki (2018). Next stop Qatar!!
Tickets were purchased from the Taquilla outside the stadium for around £8, best to avoid the locals selling outside unless the game is sold out and it’s a last resort. Once inside we were met with just the kind of sparsity you would expect for a Mexican League game in a stadium that holds just under 88,000. Rather strangely there was no consideration to closing areas of the stadium, instead there were little gatherings of people in all areas, seemingly doing their best to sit as far away from anyone as possible.
Despite the relatively subdued atmosphere there was still a heavily armed security presence to avoid the limited ultras from getting too carried away. As for the game itself, the football was played to a decent standard with Club America chasing a win to stay in play-off contention. In a fairly even match where both teams had plenty of opportunities the game turned on one moment which was met by huge cheers from the home crowd. The entrance of striker Nicolas Castillo, the 26 year old Chile international returning after 3 months on the side-lines with a fractured fibula. His impact was immediate, within seconds of his entry to the field he appeared at the back post to put away the simplest of tap ins. Despite Puebla hitting the bar in their efforts to salvage something from the game, the victory went to the best supported club in Mexico after Andre Ibarguen added another goal to the tally in the dying minutes. 2-0.
Perhaps the most pleasantly surprising element of the football was the rugged and feisty nature of the play, there seemed to be a whole lot less diving and play acting that I had become used to in Latin Football, a very refreshing change.
In terms of seating I would say our high seats were great to see the stadium in all its glory but seats closer to the pitch would be advised for a better atmosphere. All in all, another world-famous stadium visited made for an enjoyable day.
Sunday bought me another opportunity to tick an item off my bucket list, a Formula 1 Grand Prix. Having missed a few recent offers as I am usually out of the country at a summer football tournament when Silverstone comes around, Mexico seemed as good a place as anywhere. Having talked about it for months I made the faux-pas of not purchasing tickets nice and early. Being a passionate crowd and increasingly popular GP on the calendar, tickets actually sold out fairly early. I turned my searches to Stubhub and Viagogo but £180 just seemed too much, given my experience for the Copa America Final I felt tickets would get cheaper closer to the day…..WRONG!
By the time I arrived in Mexico we still had no tickets to this huge in demand event. Next step was trying out my Spanish on Twitter. After a few initial enquiries and a couple of days of back and forth I ended up agreeing to £200 a ticket for the back strait, this didn’t fill me with joy but better seats were certainly out of our price range so the deal was done.
So off we went to meet the rather stereotypically named Hugo Gonzalez outside the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, I quickly handed over discussions to Migsy and we were pointed towards another bloke. As with all good ticket touts, no niceties were had and the simple process of putting bracelets on us commenced and we were instructed to follow him and exchange money inside.
Migsys face didn’t fill me with confidence as he read out the word on the bracelet…’Limpieza’. So it turns out we are about to hand over £600 to a bloke who has just handed us bracelets with the word ‘cleaning’ written on it. Casey wasn’t happy to say the least given we had previous form for buying fake tickets outside Colombia x Argentina a few years earlier, with half an hour to go until the race start I was starting to think I’ve royally fucked up the whole situation.
With no alternative but to trust this guy we followed him in, passed the first check simply enough with a brief flash of the bracelet, obviously not looking smart enough to raise suspicion. Now we were inside we could at least buy a drink so not all was lost but surprisingly we again strolled passed the next check aaaaand we were in! So for our £200 we were next to the grid, opposite the pit lane but with no seats, on top of this our dodgy tout offered a further treat of all you can eat and drink in VIP for a further £20. Never in doubt.
Despite having no allocated seats we could access the grandstand and thought we’d pop up and hang around the aisles and grab a few pics until being removed. We stepped aside into a spare 3 seats and soaked up the atmosphere. The national anthem was sung passionately whilst the Mexican version of the Red Arrows passed over the top, all this complemented by the buzz of lively last-minute preparations on the grid.
As the race got closer we kept looking over our shoulder, and it seemed we hadn’t quite used up our share of good luck for the day as no one came to take our newly found seats. As the drivers returned from their formation lap and took their positions on the grid the excitement was building. The engines revved and all that was missing was Murray Walkers voice as the cars tore off into the distance to the huge roars of the crowd and an incredible noise that only 20 Formula One cars can create, a truly brilliant experience.
15 minutes in and the reality of a Grand Prix hit in and waiting a minute and a half for the cars to fly by in a flash whilst burning under the sweltering sun soon got tiring. As we’d invested in the all you can eat & drink we made our way back to the VIP and enjoyed the rest of the race there supping the Heineken and tucking into the buffet whilst popping out to watch the race from ground level.
On completion of the race we headed to the track and round to the former baseball stadium which forms part of the course and doubles up as Mexico City’s second biggest concert venue. Here we partied as Tiesto, apparently a world-famous DJ, laid on an enjoyable concert, another little bonus as we didn’t know we had access to this.
Post-concert, we returned to our VIP area to shelter from the daily torrential downpour. Whilst mingling with a few local F1 fans we discovered that the true value of our tickets was actually US$1200. This added to the satisfaction of the day, as did the waitress helping us fill our bags with Heineken to ensure all stock was used by the end of the day. A well-earned stop at the best Taco place in town on the way home put the final touches to a wonderful day, after a nervy start it ended up being an incredible experience which will be hard to beat at any future Grand Prix.
Amongst the sporting drama there was more than enough entertainment and activity to keep us busy during our 9 days in the Mexican capital, second only to Sao Paulo in population in Latin America.
- Scooting around the huge park of Bosque de Chapultapec – twice the size of New York’s world famous Central Park – complete with a castle on top of the hill.
- My favourite museum in the world, ‘Museo de Antropologia’ detailing the journey of humankind
- The beautiful 2000-year-old Aztec pyramids of Teotihuacan
- Xochomilco – A trip down to the lakes for a ride out on the colourful boats to experience a traditional Mexican family day complete with Mariachi bands
- The iconic Lucha Libre Wrestling
- Dia de los Muertos parade ending at the Zocalo – See opening credits of Spectre for reference
After a few days of celebrating Migsy’s birthday and enjoying the delights of the capital it was time for another sample of the beautiful game. This time Pumas UNAM were hosting Atlas, unfortunately a mid-table battle rather than anything with too much on the line. On arrival at the Estadio Olimpico de Universitario we were inundated with offers of cheap tickets, we had no idea of the validity of these tickets but with a half empty stadium expected, it was off to the safety of the Taquilla for the real deal.
Once inside we headed straight to the heart of the Pebetero, the section reserved for the most animated of fans where the light rain wasn’t dampening any spirits.
The passionate home fans were rewarded with a goal inside 12 minutes to put them 1-0 up, a lead which they held for only 15 minutes. The second half kicked off with the score still the same and the fervent and slightly dangerous flag waving continuing. Playing the much better football and dominating possession, life suddenly became much easier for UNAM when the Atlas centre back received his marching orders for a second yellow.
As the atmosphere ramped up and the chances came thick and fast it wasn’t long until UNAM found themselves back in front, soon adding a third to put the game beyond doubt. At this point the fans were going crazy, pushing each other down the terraces and showing great balance just to stay on their feet. It was a spectacle that began steadily as per the video below but increased in intensity as the win became more secure, these elements I couldn’t capture as I was politely asked by one of the lively young fans to stop filming, so it was just the old-fashioned method of just enjoying the moment. Due to the incoming torrential rain and the inevitable Uber rush we decided to leave 5 mins before the end, two further loud cheers on our way out meant the game finished with an entertaining 5-1 victory for the home team, the 4th scored by the quite wonderfully names Andres Iniestra. Another great day out with the perfect result to enjoy the best atmosphere.
Unfortunately, the grand finale of the ‘Dia de los Muertos’ parade ended up being somewhat of a damp squib. With heavy rain throughout, a rather disappointing parade left us fairly underwhelmed. Despite the anti-climax, it had been an incredible return to one of my favourites cities in the world. A couple more items and stadiums ticked off the bucket list equals a successful trip overall and a destination I would highly recommend to anyone searching out an alternative cultural experience. Hasta Luego