My Grandmother Hated Maradona

My first word was goal. I didn’t say mum or dad or cat. I said goal, sitting on my grandmother’s knees. She would pick me up and we would watch football matches on TV. Well, that’s what my mother says. One day, I started screaming goal. I was born in 1984, which means I got to enjoy the Mexico ’86 World Cup (even though I clearly can’t recall it), watching my grandmother’s old grey TV. I called her Mama Toto until the day she died, aware of the fact that she wasn’t my second mother, but a different one.

We’ve seen dozens of matches, following every single move, inside her hut in the Apan plains, far from any kind of disturbance. We would also listen to some other matches on her red battery-operated radio, especially when she had to go to the kitchen. It was an extraordinary ritual, either at lunch or dinner time: we would sit in almost complete silence at the table, listening to the distorted sound of the radio. Then we would scream and my grandmother would get up nervously to set the volume of the old device. It was just an excuse not to sit still.

My grandmother loved football. It was one of her passions. I like thinking that we’ve seen together that mythical goal Maradona scored against England (cosmic kite, what planet did you come from?), at the Azteca stadium. I was moved and she was disappointed. She didn’t like Maradona and she liked him even less after that mano de Dios goal (same match, few minutes earlier). «He’s a junkie and a cheater», she would always say when I defended Diego. She loved Pelé, she had seen him play during the Mexico ’70 World Cup. That dicotomy kept generating exaggerated discussions that actually made me laugh.

Just like many Mexicans of her generation (born at the beginning of the century), she didn’t like Argentinian people. It’s curious how part of the Mexican civilised society still tolerates Latin-American success — even Hispanic-American — in any sort of field, but not Argentinian one. There’s a very peculiar envy towards Argentinian people (the two poles of this subcontinent, perhaps), an antipathy I’ve never truly understood that reaches its peak with football. My grandmother perfectly embodies this almost genetic incompatibility.

Now that a new World Cup is approaching, I remember (clearly, this time) watching the final of Italy ’90 World Cup. My grandmother supported the German team and after Brehme’s goal against Argentina she yelled as if he were her own fellow-countryman . That’s when our quarrels began. When I was a child, she cheered Real Madrid and I cheered Barça. She liked Sanchez, I liked Romario. She liked America, I liked Pachuca (but she did support Pachuca’s “tuzos”). She cheered Mexico at every World Cup or America Cup, and I would support the opposite team (to be anti-nationalistic, but also to go against her). That’s how we liked living, that’s how we enjoyed football matches, in never-ending contrast. Only one enemy would bring us together: the United States. Only gringos managed to bring us on the same side.

We watched the USA’94 World Cup together, she almost had a heart attack while watching the Mexico-Bulgaria penalties. She was excited for Luiz Hérnandez, the “matador”, during France ’98. We didn’t have much hope in Corea, Japan, and Germany, but we enjoyed every single minute of Argentina’s match at the quarter final, when Maxi Rodríguez scored an amazing goal defeating Ricardo Antonio La Volpe’s team. My grandmother said you couldn’t make Argentinian players go against an Argentinian coach. She got nervous in front of the TV, demanding explanations.

That’s how I remember her: nervously moving her fingers, begging the “fat devil” to avoid the other team’s counterattack or their corner kick, talking to the TV, fighting with commentators, insulting the referee, “terrible referee”. She didn’t like a possessive football technique (she used to say that Barça bored her) and she would complain about all those “pasesitos” (short kicks). She wasn’t easy to please. She had been a football fan ever since she was a girl and after all that time she was only interested in brave teams.

During the latest World Cup I watched only one match with her. Mexico lost to Urugay in Rustenburg. Then I had to fly to Santiago and the Spanish team won the final against the Netherlands team. I remember that during a Skype call shortly after the match my grandmother was excited: «Spain won, I can’t believe it». Being a person of Iberian descent who had always considered “la Roja” to be a losing team, she regarded that victory as a true encouragement. «It’ll be Mexico’s turn at the next World Cup» she said.

I think it’s never going to happen despite my grandmother’s never-ending wish for it. Mexico is far from being able to win a World Cup. It will actually be quite hard to watch my first World Cup alone, knowing that she won’t be there with her blurred sight and her hard hearing, cheering her team. That’s the terrible thing about death: it deprives us of the opportunity to watch a World Cup only to scream at Argentina’s goals, waiting for our grandmother’s next outburst. What’s the point of World Cups now?

I like to think that on 22ndAugust, 1986 we saw Diego Armando Maradona’s goal together and that she applauded that goal, thinking that I’d never remember it.

Written by Enrique Olmos de Ita.

Originally published at on December 10, 2014.