They call him “El Toro”. He stands as the beacon of Honduran football. The scorer of Honduras’s only goal in the 2014 World Cup when he barged through a tight Ecuardorian defence and boshed la pelota in the bottom left hand corner (cue tears from him and another eight million Hondurans), the first since 1982. Famed for chewing a little white straw while he plays, his cheeky grin and throwing his weight around on the pitch. An ex-Birmingham City player to boot. The closest thing to Honduran royalty. President Juan Orlando Hernandez is merely a crusty, grey pube compared to this monarch. He is Carlo Costly. Sorry. Let me re-phrase that: King Carlo Costly.
And I met him yesterday. Look. Below there’s proof.
Highly unexpected of course. I just went to run at Villa Olimpica, which sits less than a kilometre from where I live in Residencial Maya. I went for my normal jog (stroll) during public open hours at the athletics track along with a few dozen sweaty Hondurans. It’s best in the morning before the heat becomes unbearable. My team Motagua are known to train there and I have seen players stretching and running on the odd occasion. I try to run alongside them while they’re on a light run but I end up choking and grasping for air after about 25 metres, reminding me why I’m not a footballer and why Team GB might be turning me down for the Rio Olimpics this summer.
Yesterday though, on entering the athletics area, I noted more commotion and a sense of excitement in the air. The media was there with many men in red, blue and white shirts with Coca Cola logo splashed across their chests. Yes, los gatitos (the kittens) were here, although they call themselves El Leon (surely, you do not need me to translate that). Olimpia, who I write about often, are Honduras’s answer to Manchester United, a team whose fans I enjoy making disrespectful comments to, and they were there doing pre-season training.
I started on the track with a big grin on my digit, a remainder of England’s injury time victory over Wales the day before in Euro 2016. The joy of seeing Gareth Bale chew on his own words as the England players and fans hysterically celebrated, apparently most inferior to this incredible Welsh passion he keeps going on about (I’m still sniggering). I must say though, it’s strange how many Welsh fans come out of the woodwork in a far off country like Honduras when they learn that one is an Englishman, but it does give me a little giggle to see their confused faces when I call them sheep-shagging Taffies. It is true; patriotism can bring out the most disrespectful xenophobia, bordering racism, within us. Just look at Britain First.
Back to Costly. I saw the players doing laps. So gigantic compared to the rest of us. There. In the middle. Was Costly. You notice him straight away. Towering over everyone. An aura of power and a focal point among colleagues. A gold chain visibly bouncing off his collarbone as he ran. My gosh, my in-depth description sounds as though I might have a Carlo Costly man crush. Saying that though, despite the rife homophobia here, I think most Honduran men do.
I told Pamela via Whatsapp that Olimpia was training at Villa Olimpica and Costly had just passed me. She told me to take a picture. However, due to their pace, the best I could do were blurred images.
I suppose by a journalist’s nature, one must be a little opportunistic. My eyes were bulging out their sockets, spying out for King Costly. About 10 minutes later, there he was, strolling on the other side of the track. It inspired me to sprint 200 metres at manic Usain Bolt speed, like my life depended on it, as very uncool as you like, just to catch up with him. When I was drawing near to him, the rumours people say about him was entering my conscious, that he’s picaro (cheeky). What on earth was I going to say to him? Well, once I did draw level, out of breath, the transcript is below (I remember every word like a professional stalker):
Me: Carlo Costly?
Me: Mucho gusto. Nick Rogers.
(We shake hands and he’s smiling bemused).
Me: It’s an honour to meet you. I am a big fan of yours.
CC: Of me? Thank you.
Me: I’m a Cat-chele – English Honduran – so when you scored the goal at the world cup, I was extremely proud. I wrote a blog article about you.
CC: Thank you.
Me: You also played for my team in England, Birmingham City.
CC: Wow. Birmingham. Yes. It was short. But it was good. I liked Birmingham. It’s a nice place.
Me: Thank you. I’m from the city. I’ve always been interested in players from Latin America, so I was dead excited to have you and Palacios at Birmingham.
CC: Of course. And Maynor Figueroa.
Me: No. He went to Wigan Athletic.
CC: Of course. With Henry Thomas.
Me: Yes. Like mini-Honduras in Wigan.
(Costly laughs. Yes. Costly actually laughs at MY joke. I am so excited at this point that I squeak like a little girl).
CC: How long have you been in Honduras?
Me: Five years. I originally came here to volunteer in Casa Alianza.
CC: Oh yes. With the kids. I had a couple of friends who stayed there a long time ago. It’s very good.
Me: Indeed. I then met a girl who became my wife.
CC: You like the girls here, right?
Costly is smiling that picaro smile.
Me: They are beautiful. Very beautiful.
CC: I like the girls in England. White, but so beautiful.
Me: Can I have a photo, please?
CC: Of course.
Me: You might have to lower yourself. You’re much bigger than me.
(Costly laughs. It wasn’t a joke, though. He is literally gigantic).
(Cue selfie photo).
Me: I have to be honest, I support Motagua. So you have made me suffer a few times.
(Costly laughs again. Again, not really a joke. Elis and Costly double-handedly destroyed Motagua back in April).
CC: They’re always good games, for us.
(I laugh at his joke. Kind of. He’s heading back to join his team mates. I notice him walking slowly).
Me: Are you injured?
CC: No. Just getting fit for next season.
(I hold out my hand for it to shake. He shakes my hand. Again. I’ve not washed it since).
Me: Well, Carlo. It was a pleasure to meet you. I wish all the best for next season and the games with Honduras.
CC: Thank you. Good luck to you too.
Me: Thank you. Bye.
That was it. To say it made my day is an understatement. I was in awe. I look back and I am proud that I touched base on profound topics very close to my heart: football, women and Birmingham.
This was the morning I met Carlo Costly.