By Calvin Palmer
Mexico’s 2-0 triumph over France in the World Cup this afternoon, the first time Mexico has ever beaten a World Cup winning nation in the World Cup Finals, had me whooping with delight. Strange behavior you may think for an Englishman.
My affinity towards Mexico began when I moved to Texas. In a nation where football is a minority sport, and looked down upon by many Americans, it is only the Mexicans who view the game with the passion it invokes across the globe.
The only times I ever saw games of football being played in a park, the players were all Mexicans in their late teens and early twenties. The levels of skill on show far surpassed those I had occasion to see during games played in a high school setting.
For the seven years I lived in Texas, my yard was maintained by a Mexican, Benito. He was a bit of a rough diamond but as honest and reliable as the day is long. Not being from Texas, I treated him like anyone I meet, engaging him in conversation.
My wife told me that my behavior was unusual. Most Texans do not give Mexicans the time of day.
When it came to the 2002 World Cup, our conversations became longer. Here was someone I could talk football with and discuss the finer points of the matches involving our respective countries, which we had both watched on TV.
It was the same again in 2006. On his weekly visits, Benito and I would spend 20 or 30 minutes discussing the chances of our respective countries. When they were eliminated, our discussions would turn to who we thought would win the competition.
During the rest of the time he tended my yard, I learned where he came from in Mexico, the various places he had worked in the United States and about his family both in America and back in Mexico.
I was lucky enough to visit his country in 2006 when my wife and I spent a vacation on the island of Cozumel. During our seven-day stay, I really warmed to the Mexican people.
Walking around Cancun, I spotted youngsters wearing football shirts, they call them jerseys in America just to be out of step with rest of the world, a sure sign that I am in a civilized country.
Away from the well-worn tourist routes, I witnessed poverty the like of which I have never seen before. Life is hard for a great many Mexicans and money hard to come by, especially when compared to a rich nation such as the United States.
The thing that struck me most of all about the people was that they all had big smiles on their faces and yet, if the truth is told, they had very little to smile about in terms of their standard of living.
Smiling faces were also to be found with the wait staff at the hotel. They were not the insincere smiles that often emanate from American and the British waiters and waitresses but genuine smiles of friendly people doing the best at their job and making the best of life.
It occurred to me that many people in the advanced western countries could learn an awful lot from the Mexican attitude towards being happy.
When I first moved to Jacksonville, Florida, one of the first things I noticed was the absence of a large Mexican population. And my heart sank. Despite what the ultra conservatives and tea party clerks and plumbers would have us believe, the Mexicans contribute an awful lot to the rich fabric of American society.
I have a lot of time and a great deal of affection for Mexicans and that is why I was so overjoyed this afternoon. Their national team did them proud.
The Mexico players never stopped running and were superbly organized. The French players, at times, must have thought they were playing against 15 men because Mexico closed them down instantly, chased and snapped at their heels like feisty chihuahuas.
So to Benito, and Mexicans everywhere, of today’s historic win by El Tri, I simply say: “Esto es magnífico.”
And to France, be honest, you should never have even been at the World Cup Finals in the first place, so your early exit from the competition, if it comes to pass, will be applauded throughout the footballing world and especially in the Republic of Ireland.