In the grand scheme of things, $45US may seem like a drop in the ocean, but as the starting price for a counterfeit Mexican club football top it was high. Too damned high.
It was a Chivas shirt, red and white stripes with ‘Toyota’ across the shoulders and the irresistible logo of mass bakers ‘Bimbo’ on the front.
There was neither name nor number on the back, and in this regard it failed in any attempts to become a prized asset. An opening offer could be reckless, and introduced itself at five bucks.
Taking it as the usual jest of a holidaymaker haemorrhaging cash on Playa del Carmen’s main drag, the vender dropped to 42. When his customer stuck to five, the pidgin pleasantries ended.
“I don’t give these away for free! Especially to a cheapskate like you!” was, one thought, in poor taste considering the trifling wages of underage sweatshop workers I’d just pointed out.
For the casual reader wondering why the hell one would take such a bearding as this for a fake piece of polyester, it’s difficult to explain just how integral a part these tops are to the game’s culture.
Latin America’s landscape is just as much characterised by rich, tropical vegetation, breathtaking mountain panoramas and faded beer marketing as it is by a weatherbeaten campesino wearing a number 10 Carlos Valderama shirt.
Parallels with some tattooed chancer in Chelsea ‘home’ sounding off in a Surrey pub are soon forgotten in the heat, tinny salsa music and desperately-cheap rum cocktails.
Many tourists buy wooden masks or moody silver trinkets, but to take home a mid-90s Campos, a Club América Blanco or a River Plate Ariel Ortega is to have a much more tangible slice of a country’s aspirations, reverence and achievement. Advertising is also a lot more unrestrained and a lot less ethical than European counterparts.
Back in the tat shop on the Caribbean coast things were turning nasty.
“This shirt is professional. It’s good quality, not like this cheap crap that you wear,” said the Mexican sales assistant tugging at my t-shirt to a generous offer of $15US.
I forgave the slight to French Connection and soldiered on. I’d already been ejected from one shop in similar circumstances, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for these guys. They wouldn’t last 10 minutes in Marrakech.
I tried to pick up the bits of good will smashed on the floor by going to twenty, just to give him a chance, but the train of overweight gringos thronging along Avenida Quinta had irrecoverably altered market conditions. I wouldn’t be held to ransom.
From Rome to Cartagena the equivalent of £15 was the most these things would ever be worth, and no one in their right mind would give even half of that for this Chivas disaster. I always thought there’d be plenty of other chances.
However, that was a week ago and despite having visited a good many more places on the Yucatán peninsula since there’s been a hearty lack of football shirts for sale.
Just two full days remain and it feels more and more unlikely that an opportunity will present itself on the current schedule, and as sure as eggs is eggs I’m sure not stooping to a Manchester United Chicharito effort.