The Mexican clásico

* By Sergi Esteban Garcia

Two weeks ago, the game of the biggest clubs in México (according to number of supporters and titles) was played in Guadalajara, between Guadalajara and América, or what its the same, Chivas versus Águilas (goats vs. eagles). Chivas from Guadalajara is the most popular team in Mexico, with supporters all around the country. Its also the club with more league titles (11). Its not unusual to meet more Chivas supporters than local ones at away games, even in Mexico City. They call themselves el corazón de México (Mexicos heart), as they are the only team that has a proud history of playing only with Mexican players. They even are the only football club in the world to have a franchise team (Chivas USA) who play the Major League Soccer in Los Angeles, finding their supporters amongst the huge latin population of the region. Club América, based in the capital, are the 2nd team with 10 titles (same than Toluca). They are owned by Televisa, Mexicos main TV station. That made them become very popular specially in the 80s, their golden age, when they got 5 league titles and 1 Concacaf Cup. The strong power of the TV campaigns supported this growth but also made them to be the most hated team for the rest of football aficionados in Mexico.

 

In Mexico, as it happens in other Latin American countries, football season is divided in 2 championships: apertura and clausura (opening and closing). In Mexico, though, there is a play-off after the regular league to decide the champion. That makes the league really an open championship. 7 different teams were crowned in the last 10 championships. However, neither Guadalajara or América succeeded in becoming champions in the last years. Guadalajaras last title was in 2006, while Américas was in 2005 (having also loosing a final in 2007). The game is sarcastically known for the rest of football supporters in México as el clásico aburrido (the boring clásico), as typically results in a goalless draw with more previous expectations and atmosphere than the game actually deserved it. In the days before the last match, TV and papers tried to make the supporters remembering the old times when the clásico was more than a game and players fighting for their club had not a metaphoric sense, as it happened in 1983 or 1986.

 

Both teams, though, did not arrive at their best to this match. América was at 5th position (the best 8 qualify for the play-offs), not really near the top, after a home defeat at the previous game against Monterrey. Chivas had probably their worst league beginning of their history, having got only 2 points in the first 7 games, with only 2 goals scored. It was then, when Chivas owner, Jorge Vergara, announced the signing of Johan Cruyff as the new adviser of professional and reserve teams of the club. They are doubts about what Cruyff can contribute to the club. Vergaras idea is to bring Dutch and Barcelonas philosophy and eventually transform Chivas in one of the top clubs of the world in the future. Cruyff will remain living in Barcelona but will travel several times a year to Guadalajara. Future plans apart, the thing is that Cruyffs signing seemed to motivate the players as they got their first victory just after his presentation and did not conceded a defeat for the next 6 games. But, as América, they also lost their previous game against city rivals Estudiantes.

 

However, Chivas problems seem to have more deep roots that just a bad season or an eventual poor roster. Ten years ago, the club was constituted as a civil association. Vergara took advantage of the precarious economy of the club to buy 87% of the club ownership. In spite of the claims of the rest 13%, which some of them are still to be seen in Mexican court, Vergara changed the status of the club to anonymous society. From that time, he has managed Chivas as his property (as it effectively is), and he decided to leave the historical Jalisco Stadium (where Brazil played all their matches in 1970 and 1986 World Cups, except the final) and build a new state-of-the-art stadium (of his property) that was named after his own enterprise, Omnilife. The stadium was opening in July 2010, in a friendly game where Chivas beat Manchester United 3-2 and Chicharito Hernández scored the first goal playing one half with each team in front of the full capacity of almost  50000 people. Changing the team to a smaller location (Jalisco Stadiums capacity is more than 56000) may be a controversial decision, but building a stadium in the middle of nowhere, 30 minutes by car far from the center in a city where public transportation is no much less than an exotic way to move around, does not look the best option to create a nice atmosphere for supporters. Add then double prizes for tickets and you will find why el Rebaño Sagrado (Holy Flock) play their home games in front of every time fewer supporters, arriving to only 3000 people in some games of this season Copa Libertadores (the American Champions League).

 

Jalisco stadium is owned by Clubes Unidos de Jalisco, an association formed by 4 clubs from the city: Guadalajara, Atlas, Deportivo Oro y Universidad de Guadalajara. Clubes Unidos de Jalisco was formed in 1956 with the aim of building a big stadium where professional clubs of Guadalajara could play in. They fix the prizes of match tickets, parking and stadium facilites for all the games played there. But that was not a big deal for Vergara. Now, in his own stadium, he has no any constriction to ask for between 150 and 900 Mexican pesos (9 to 54 euros) for a match ticket, 50 pesos for parking and anything for the two rows of still half empty VIP boxes, as well as getting the money from food and drinks sold in the stadium, while ticket prizes at Jalisco stadium for Atlas keep moving between 44 and 385 pesos. Ironically, last year game between Atlas and Guadalajara in Jalisco bring more Chivas supporters to the stadium that most of their home games. This and the difficulties to get to the new stadium make many Chivas supporters to consider to change habits. Second division Universidad de Guadalajara, known as Leones Negros (Black Lions) and that used to keep a mighty rivalry with Guadalajara in the 70s, have seen increased the assistance to their games at Jalisco. 35000 people went to see their last game of the league against Necaxa. With tickets from 20 pesos, they are right now becoming the most supported club of the city (according to assistance to home games), in front of Atlas, Chivas and Estudiantes.

 

For the game against América, we thought about leaving the car in the nearest city street and walk to avoid congestion before and after the match in the only 2 existing roads to get to the stadium (and to save the prize of the parking). It was just a 30 minutes walk. Only that this walk included crossing a highway and ramping a small ravine. Then, we arrived to the visitors gate, where América supporters wandered peacefully spending their time before the game. Amazingly, there were only 2 access in all the stadium, one for América organized supporters and one for the rest of people (which also included América supporters). After a walk around the stadium and some 20 minutes queue, we finally got into the really wide hall of the tribune. América supporters were mixed on the terraces and no problems seemed to be for that. 41000 people arrived to the game in what was the best attendance of the season for Guadalajara. Before the game, with both teams on the pitch, a mariachi (the typical Mexican musician which are original from Jalisco state) sang the Mexican anthem. The match was as boring as the stereotype indicates. América look for the victory more than their rivals and at 85 Paul Aguilar scored the only goal of the game, giving the win to the visitors. That meant a goodbye to the last hopes of Guadalajara to qualify for the play-off and, subsequently, the dismissal of their manager and the signing of John vant Schip for the next season. We will see in the next years if Cruyffs hand and advices bring old glory back to the Rebaño Sagrado.

 

* Sports Journalist, Spain