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from the June 2006 issue


For Juan Carlos Hidalgo and Carlos Calderón

1. Alfonso "the Fool" Madrigal played his first match in Pachuca during the summer of 1966. He went in as a substitute during the second half, wearing the blue and white jersey he'd play with for the rest of his career. He hailed from Tepito and his game was true to his neighborhood's stereotype: clever, easygoing, and flashy. He was apt to score unbelievable goals whenever he could keep his balance on the field, something that didn't always happen: occasionally he fell over while fighting for the ball and couldn't get back up again because he was too drunk. He played his last match in 1978. It was in the playoffs—something that would have been unthinkable for the Pachuca Tuzos, always debating between first, second and even third division, before he joined their ranks.

2. I was born in 1969, when the Fool was already a central figure in the Pachuca lineup. When I was born in Guadalajara, my father already knew he was being transferred to the nation's capital—each of my siblings is from a different city. At first, we lived in the Diplomático Hotel. The neighborhood had a market and a supermarket, a bullring, and an American football stadium. There was a stationery store, a sewing supplies shop, and a hardware store. There was also a bank and a taco restaurant—no pizzeria, though, because those didn't make it to Mexico until the late seventies. Everything was within walking distance. Since my mother never learned how to drive—she is the last person in Western Civilization for whom swimming and driving weren't part of basic education—they rented an apartment nearby, on Augusto Rodin Street. It was a world with a luster I've never encountered again, as if everything were tailor-made for us.

3. Madrigal the Fool could be found almost every day in El Churrero cantina—on Morelos Street, in Pachuca—linking the hangover from the night before to the next drunken spree. During the week, he lived in a small house with his wife, no one really knows where. On Fridays he went straight from El Churrero to the El Abanico brothel, in the city's red-light district, from which he didn't emerge until Sunday to meet his enemy on the field. There's no record of his exploits when the Pachuca Club played away games. As a matter of fact, no record of anything exists: we don't know how many career goals he scored despite the fact that there were apparently plenty of them, and mostly impossible ones at that.

4. It turns out that the Augusto Rodin building had an unspoken soccer connection: the Argentinean Dante "Morocho" Juárez—idol of Necaxa—was one of its original residents: he rented apartment 303 with his wife and four children. On the dining room wall, where half the building's twenty-four families had a still life and the other half a Last Supper, sometimes painted on black velvet, the Juarez family had a framed Santos do Brasil soccer jersey with the number 10 printed on the back. Pelé's sweat was preserved beneath the glass, more sacred than the food nature bestows on us, or that Aramaic fellow shown blessing said food with his twelve followers. There was also a framed photograph of Morocho and Pelé, exchanging their soccer jerseys in Maracaná stadium. The photo was signed and the glass protecting it was forever smudged with the fingerprints of the entire building's children—back then being cool wasn't a value, so people bred—who ran their fingers over the autograph with hallowed reverence. The back stroke and open circle of the p, the elliptic line of the e, the l and the e, the bold accent mark over the final e: '. Pelé. I can still imitate his signature perfectly. I practiced it tirelessly in all my notebooks at school. The teachers circled them in red ink when they collected and graded them. Some of the notebooks—the ones from my most boring classes, I suppose—looked like they had chicken pox.

5. All the chronicles from that period, let's call it a quaint period, regarding the Pachuca Futbol Club note that around the time the Fool started playing for the team, the folks who religiously attended the "Mexican Revolution" Stadium formed the team's first official fan squads. The most famous one of all was led by Juicy, who guided his followers with a blue and white pennant. His squad no longer exists, but you can still see him presiding over a fancy taco establishment downtown. On the opposite side of the stadium—across from Juicy's ostensibly decent fans—was the whores' fan squad. On Sundays they descended in a pack from the city heights and filled their section of cheap bleacher seats. If the game was against a lesser team and attendance was poor, the hookers spread themselves out in the stands forming the word "Pachus" with their lustful bodies. They worshipped Madrigal the Fool.

6. My aunt Nuria got married and moved into the Augusto Rodin building where we lived. She's from Veracruz: clever, easygoing, and flashy—maybe all Mexicans are that way, except me. I thought her apartment was an extension of our own—and I'm not sure this was the case for my siblings as well; probably not, since I was clearly the favorite. Even though they were separated by three floors I don't recall ever climbing the stairs: our green carpeted home continued into her red-carpeted one—ah, the seventies, so Kubrick. Nuria would cut my hair and then pay me for the cut (one peso), take me to the Giant supermarket and buy me a Tinlarín chocolate bar, then sit me down at her kitchen counter. It had a splendid view that is probably the reason for the meditative paralysis that Mexico City's skies still bring out in me during the rainy season. Moreover, she told me I was from Pachuca. She would say this, obviously, to amuse herself. I rooted for the Pachuca Tuzos for years because of her.

7. The coach who brought out the best in Madrigal the Fool was Crooked Candia. The teammates placing the center kicks he turned into goals were Rodríguez the Bum and Kid Piña. His nemesis from the Atlas—the team they usually contended with on the way down—was Astroboy. Those were the years of Miracle Foot and El Wendy Mendizábal. There's something high-flown and ruthless about these nicknames that makes them memorable. But things were different then, more peculiar: teams like the Leather Tanners' Union or the Farming Athletes were playing first division. Not long ago, I heard a TV commentator dub Guillermo Ochoa, the América's goalkeeper, "the Journalist." Allow me to propose something even wittier: let's give Guillermo Ochoa the moniker Guillermo Ochoa.

8. I doubt Morocho's soccer jersey hangs in Pelé's living room, but his death from cancer still breaks my heart. The last time I saw him, at my sister's wedding, he grabbed me by the back of my neck like he used to—I was already a few inches taller than him, I had already been run out of every school in Mexico, I was already married to my first wife—and he said to me: How's it going, Alvarito. My brain traveled back at lightning speed to those years when the world was perfect even though notebooks had chickenpox; I could discern the smell of chimichurri sauce and empanadas that permeated his apartment, which to us was more like a temple.

9. There aren't any photographs of Madrigal the Fool in Mexican soccer history books either, despite his dying young, a martyr to himself, adored by his people. As far as I know, he never entered Pachuca riding a colt, but palms received him at the "Mexican Revolution" Stadium when he descended from the red-light district in a convertible, surrounded by ladies of the night, still fully loaded. His wife welcomed him while his fans cheered.

10. I doubt my aunt Nuria had ever been to Pachuca when she convinced me I was born there. She would have heard, at any rate, of its reputation for ugliness. But she was from Cordoba, pound for pound a city just as ugly as Pachuca or even more so, despite the splendor of its surroundings. The high-flown and ruthless trick of making me think I was from the state of Hidalgo doubtless originated in how thoroughly bad the team coached by Crooked Candia really was: rooting for the Pachuca Tuzos could only be a joke.

11. The move that catapulted Madrigal the Fool to fame was a delirious counterattack that took place during a game against Laguna. Its description shows up in more than one contemporary account, so it can't have been mere legend. Apparently, the opponents were ahead, bombarding the Pachuca goal when The Fool had a flash of inspiration, doubtlessly alcoholic in origin. When he was sure no one was looking, he signaled Kid Piña and ran to the corner, hiding behind the flagpole. He remained concealed for some time—no one has been able to explain the sudden invisibility of his notorious belly—until he had the chance. Kid Piña passed him the ball and he ran like lightning, dribbling along the end line. The Laguna players, who were downfield getting ready for what they thought would be a corner shot, couldn't reach him in time. In my humble opinion, the goal of the century was attributed to Maradona—against England, in the 1986 World Cup—only because the Fool's goal against Laguna wasn't broadcast on television.

12. Probably because of the aura of success Dante Juárez projected during his entire life, many of the South American soccer stars playing in Mexico in the 1970s came to live in our building. There was one who resided there for several years—I'll keep his name to myself. He was efficient and chivalrous: he scored transparent goals, blocked smoothly and forcefully and placed beautiful assists. His family was adorable: he had a pretty, intelligent wife—just like him—two brilliant and extremely well behaved children. Soccer balls were suspended in mid-air whenever the girl yelled to her brother that supper was ready, her emerald-green eyes appearing in the window. One day, when his team narrowly lost the Finals, he was knocked down in the goal area and the referee marked a penalty. Words can't describe how long the seconds lasted as we watched him take the shot. He missed. They moved back to Santiago that very same year. In the next decade, the 1980s, my father, who had developed a close friendship with him, went to Chile on business for a few weeks. He searched for him and he found him. He'd become a born-again Christian car salesman, his wife was an alcoholic, his son had run off with the guerrilla fighters, and his daughter was as big as an elephant. Like me, she couldn't hold down a job, and was probably doing drugs as well.

13. In the "Mexican Revolution" Stadium, games were played on Sunday afternoons, so there were stands in the sun and stands in the shade, just like at a bullfight. The stands were constructed only along the sidelines, so as the fan base grew larger, seats were added in the end zones in a more or less improvised fashion: they were made out of wood and lower than the ones in the rest of the Stadium, which was squat per se: next to it was Cubitos Hill, where the match was watched by whoever didn't have money for tickets or by those who preferred to picnic while they watched. The Las Avenidas River ran by one of the end zones, so when a player sent a ball over the goal area, it frequently fell into the river and floated away.

14. I never recovered from not having been born in Pachuca: my parents' insistence on the fact that I was from Guadalajara was not unlike being cast out of a Paradise. Ever since then, I've been a socceristically disoriented person: I never really warmed up to the Chivas, whom I tried to support with all my heart, forget about the Atlas or the Tecos. Later on I settled in with the Pumas—the local team in Copilco, where I've lived since I was fifteen—but I had a son with my third wife who's an América fan.

15. Madrigal the Fool could by no means endure all ninety minutes of a match. Given that on his best days he was still drunk when he went in—and on the worst he was hung over—Crooked Candia tended to treat him like a secret weapon, with the mantra—sometimes the plea—that he hold on until the end of the game. If Pachuca was losing by the second half, the crowd generally asked for him, yelling, "Fool-Fool-Fool," led by the hookers' fan club and seconded by Juicy's squad. Then Candia would look at his watch and calculate whether his most imaginative player could handle what was left of the game. If so, he'd give the trainer the signal that Madrigal's turn had come. There are some in Pachuca who say that everyone in the Stadium knew the Fool was about to go in when he stood up and danced a few steps like a boxer, which apparently meant he was warming up. Some tell a better, albeit improbable, version of the same story according to which Candia would resist public pressure until the Stadium was in an uproar. Then he'd have a word with the trainer, who would get up from his seat, walk over to the cooler, take out a beer, open it, and hold it up like a trophy. The crowd would go wild: their idol was about to step onto the field.

16. Maybe some Sunday I should go to Pachuca and watch a game at their new stadium. Maybe the world would, once again, be filled with meaning.

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