With October coming to a close, I was making my way back home and as the night was drawing in, the Halloween festivities were just starting. Children and others not so young dressed up in dark costumes – lots of blood-stains and hollowed-out eyes... It’s a festival of the dead but more than the imported United States version, which is what we have here, it makes me think of Mexico, where it’s a much bigger event– one which remembers those who have passed away, usually with a dinner of their favourite dishes served in their memory. Here we remember those who have departed by taking flowers to their graves or with small family rituals. In my case, I've never been happier than when helping my daughter put her socks on to go to school in the morning, just like my mother did for me when I was a child.
Iribar's out-of-body experience
On a day like this when we celebrate life and death, I am reminded of some of the great footballers who had close brushes with death during their playing careers. The first was [Athletic Club and Spain goalkeeper] José Ángel Iribar, who had the whole of the country and especially Bilbao on edge after he contracted typhoid. While the fever consumed him, priests and church goers in Bilbao prayed for his life every Sunday. As he told me quite recently: “One day I had an out-of-body experience, I was looking down at my body from the ceiling, surrounded by my family. Then, I felt a sharp jolt and I awoke. The fever had gone and the next day I was fine.” Where had he been travelling to? He doesn’t know but he came back - and was soon back playing football.
Antognoni's close brush with death
Then there was Giancarlo Antognoni, Fiorentina’s star player. Nicknamed Il Bello ('The Handsome One'), he was an authentic No.10 when the term meant performing a role only reserved for an elite group of players – the likes of Suárez, Rivera, Velázquez... Italy had just booked their place for the 1982 World Cup here in Spain but he had been subjected to criticism from the press in Turin, Milan and Roma which put him under increasing pressure. Then, during a game against Genoa in which Fiorentina were 2-1 up, he came charging in for a loose ball in a 50-50 challenge with goalkeeper Silvano Martina. In the process, he took a horrific blow to the head. For around 60 seconds, he was clinically dead and later recalled “seeing lights”. But he recovered, returned to the game and won that World Cup here in Madrid. Iribar and Antognoni both have tales to tell on this sad, mournful day, which is a public holiday across Spain.