People often ask me why I came to Argentina. Depending on my mood, their appearance, time constraints and the likelihood of them actually listening, my answer ambles somewhere between the factual, the lyrical and the outrageously inventive. But sometimes, when it's a very special type of person, and I've had a very special amount to drink, I slip in the all-important word, the one that above all others lies at the very heart of it all. Maradona. The big M. Apologies to those of you who find this cliche in the extreme: I never intended to be so obvious, but, what can I tell you, I am. Because at the end of the day, Maradona's role in my trans-Atlantic transfer cannot be overstated.
It's worth pointing out at this juncture for those who haven't read my entertaining profile that I'm Irish. And that as a general rule, we Irish have never been able to boast massive victories on the sporting field. Sure, we once made it to the World Cup quarter finals. So euphoric was our response to said moment, in fact, that a million people turned out to greet the team when they came home from what most countries would consider abject failure rather than a victory meriting a national holiday and reception from a quarter of the country's entire population. Because lest you've forgotten, a million people in a country of four million is an alarmingly large precentage. What I'm trying to say is that, much as we'd love to bring a World Cup home one day, we've never even gotten close. Not with our own team, anyway.
And then there's the English. I'm not going to bang on about the centuries of oppression, and all that rigmarole. But it just so happens that our arch enemies across the Irish sea have a considerably stronger history of World Cup showings than we do, and we'd really rather they didn't. Numerous Eurovision song contest defeats are not nearly as satisfactory as you might think, so there's nothing we love more than watching the English go down at soccer. Cue Maradona.
No need to mention the glorious hand of god goal that shut the English up once and for all? To tell you how my father, suddenly nimble on his feet, danced around the room like Maradona around the English defenders? OK, so we're not Argentinian. But when they defeat the English, we're as close as two nations can get.
Now I'm not much for celebrities. Brushing shoulders with the big wigs really does nothing for me, and having had my share of rock-n-roll moments I really thought I had perfected some sort of jaded celebrity immunity. But I was sorely deluded. Picture the scene. Through a series of fortuitous circumstances, I've ended up at the Four Seasons hotel at U2's post-gig party in Buenos Aires. I'm in a room with Bono et al, calmly snarfling the free food and quaffing champagne, and remaining largely oblivious to the presence of some of the world's biggest rockstars. Keeping my cool. Chillin'. Whatevs. And next thing you know it, in he walks. The earth moved, the ceiling span, and my legs almost fell off me. The man himself, my long-time idol, the man who put the balls in footie, was in the room. The same room as me. I'm not joking you, I pretty much wet my pants. I. MET. DIEGO. MARADONA. Once I remembered to breathe, I literally bowled over Bono, pushed Larry Mullen aside and launched myself mini rocket style onto his lap. Of the meeting itself, I remember little, apart from my own anxious babbling, and his courteous acquiescence as I took seventy six photos of me clung to his side. I do know he was sweetly willing, and patient with me. I also know that he was short. I clock in at not much over the five foot mark myself, so it's rare I meet a man that I actually fit into the same photo frame as. But the thing is, the glorious, heart-clattering thing is, I met him. I met Diego. I have photos to prove it. The hand of god has touched me. And after four years in Argentina, avoiding poop in the streets and being run over by insane taxi drivers, after four years of peso salaries and tramites, tramites, tramites, after four years of having to wait till eleven o'clock to have my dinner, it's all, all been worth it. I met the man. The big M. And as soon as I can work out how to post photos here, you'll be witness to the proof.