I wrote this blog on August 29th, 2015 describing the utter chaos I experienced at a rivalry match-up between Cruz Azul and Club America in Mexico City.
A trip to Estadio Azul 8/29/2015
Pure chaos. The only way to describe what I experienced tonight. That game, in its essence, was something that I had never experienced before and something I will always remember. I have never been so welcomed and so shunned, so comfortable and so afraid, so sure and so confused. Mexico is a land of contrasts and the soccer pitch does not lose this quality. It may actually intensify it.
I had decided to venture to Estadio Azul, the little brother stadium to Azteca (the Mexican National Team Stadium), to watch Club America take on the home team, Cruz Azul. I wanted to go to this game because it was a not only a rivalry but an intercity rivalry. Mexico City has three teams that mean everything to the people living here, Club America, Cruz Azul and Pumas. I figured it would be an awesome way to see what real Mexican Futbol looked like in a competitive atmosphere. It promised all of the above.
What I do know about Mexican soccer from the game I watched at Azteca, is that the Mexican fans tend to get rowdy, curse a lot (and by a lot, I mean more than you have ever heard before) and are generally passionate fans, always singing, always rejoicing, always complaining. When I arrived at the stadium, I needed a ticket. It was my mistake to not buy one ahead of time and not knowing that much Spanish hunting down a scalper was a challenge. All sales negotiations in Mexico, especially with people selling you things like souvenirs or in this case tickets are always extreme sketchy. The vendors talk fast, focus on the money and target the fact that you are white to up sell you on the actual price. I finally found a guy after searching the masses of people and he offered me a ticket for 700$ pesos. I talked him down to 600$ and bought what would be the best and worst purchase of my life.
The ticket put me right in the middle of the visitors section in the stadium, which on this day was Club America. I made the judgement call not to wear my club America jersey to the game beforehand because I wanted to avoid drawing attention to myself if I ended up sitting by a bunch of Cruz Azul fans. This unfortunately was not the case, but luckily I bought a Mexico national team jersey before entering the stadium.
I needed to find Puerto 19, the section where my seat was. This is where I finally understood the error of my ticket purchase. As I rounded the stadium I finally came to the section, which was totally surrounded by riot gear adorning police, at least 200 of them. As I tried to find a way to actually get into the stadium, blocked almost on all angles by the police, I snuck in through them with a group of people. Upon getting to the gate, they frisked me and then told me that I could not bring my belt in. I almost gave up at that point, because man I loved that belt, but I felt the belt wasn’t worth the 600$ pesos I just spent on the ticket. I conceded and threw my belt in the blue metal garbage container upon entering the stadium. One more pat down, and I was in!
I entered a sea of yellow and blue jersey wearing fans. I even saw a man with the Club America emblem tattooed on his chest! I knew I was sitting with the so called enemy of this stadium but I felt comfortable enough and found a seat next to some nice looking fans. The sounds of the stadium were intense, with the noise of people, warm up music, vendors selling food and the overall noise of everyday life.
As more people came in the rows starting getting cramped, and the fans were everywhere. The interesting part about soccer is that you get people from all walks of life, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I saw children sitting with their parents next to hard core gangbangers taking pictures while throwing up gang signs. I knew I was in for quite the experience. The area I was in was surround on all side by riot gear police as well as a barbed wire fence that encompassed the entire area. In a sense, I was trapped.
As the game started, the fans of Club America began to sing the fight songs, the celebratory chants praising allegiance to their beloved team. And the songs did not stop for the entire game, and even got louder as people began consuming large cups of Tecate. The first half of the game was actually mellow, as I was in a bliss of real soccer with a cold beer, surrounded by chanting fans, the smell of various food items floating around the stadium on the heads of venders and the intensity that only 0-0 soccer can bring. The man next to me, Carlos, was literally singing the entire game, waving his arms and was totally lost in the game.
As the first half continued, I began to chant with everyone “Vamos America” and felt really a part of something special. The first half came to a close at 0-0 and everything seemed to be cooling down, the fans seemed to have tired themselves out from 45 minutes of screaming. Carlos, the man next to me, asked me where I was from. I, very luckily said Germany. He introduced me to his friends, they jokingly threw up the Nazi salute and had a good laugh but I thought it was the right move to make. We conversed for a minute in Spanish. He asked me why I was alone, where my club America jersey was and what my favorite German Soccer team was. He was a nice guy, short with slicked back hair and a kind face. He was on his way through his third beer, so maybe that was why he was so nice to me. His friends on the other hand all had gang tattoos and were giving me dirty looks the rest of the match.
As the second half started there was a goal within the first 3 minutes. The cheers were insane, the joy, the bliss that everyone around me were experiencing was something palpable and reminded me of my time watching soccer games in Germany. I received a nice beer shower, as everyone does when your team scores a goal, Carlos gave me a big hug and there were high fives all around, everything was going great. About five minutes later a very drunk and sketchy Mexican man, who I had heard saying disgusting things all game, begins cursing at me in English and throws some beer at me. Luckily, Carlos turned around and said that I don’t speak English and that I am German. The man stopped, but I knew that if I wasn’t totally on my game, I would end up getting punched in the throat by an angry fan. I have never felt so alone in a group of people, never felt like I stuck out more and that I was different and hated for it.
I was legitimately scared and was on guard for about the next 15 minutes until Club America scored again, going up 2-0. I received another big hug, tons of high fives and a similar beer shower. At this point, I was exhausted. The cheers, chants, yelling, cursing began to mix together and became cacophonous. The smell of cigarettes, spilt beer and chili filled the air and at this point just watching the game became a challenge. It was a sensory overload.
As the game was beginning to conclude, I figured it would be best for me to leave a few minutes early in order to avoid a Mexican that wanted to hurt a gringo that was in what they thought was the wrong place, rooting for the wrong team and insulting everybody with their presence. I told Carlos I would be back and headed for the stairs. As I started walking up I noticed that nobody was moving and the stairs were filled. A man yelled at me “no salida” and I was shocked and confused at the same time. I was literally trapped. I watched the final seconds of the game tick down from the stairs, cramped with other people confused on why they couldn’t leave. As the game ended I expected the armed police officers to let us out in an orderly fashion, but this was not the case.
All the Club America fans ended up waiting 25 minutes to get out of the stadium. There were police everywhere, and they were just staring at us. Many people began to shout “Cerdo” at the cops and called them “Putos”. The police continued to stand there and they informed the people at the top of the stairs that if the people would continue being rowdy, they were not allowed to leave. I have never felt more lost, more scared, more trapped in my life. I guess it’s kind of the reason America avoided the whole idea of the police state and we have fought against it from our humble beginnings.
20 minutes late I was still standing there, now even more crammed in by people trying to move up and get out of there. Then, the worst possible thing happened, it started to rain. The fans, men, women, and children began to scream at the police to let us out. I felt like I got stuck in one of those zombie movies, where I was on the wrong side of getting to safety and held back with the other infected people. I clutched my wallet and phone in the anticipation that this was the perfect situation for me to get beat up or mugged because I stuck out worse than a fish in the middle of the desert. Thank god, five minutes later and in the knick of time, before Montezuma unleashed a terrible amount of rain, they let the people through the gates and out of the stadium. On my way out I was greeted by more police than I had ever seen. There must have been nearly 600 of them pushing people out the stadium, grabbing random patrons, all with fully riot gear, shields and some even on horseck. Lights flashing, the thunderous clink of rain, people yelling, the march of police and the thumping of their shields. It was weird. Where was I, how was this happening and how did I end up in the middle of all of this. It was sobering to say the least.
As I got out of the stadium, drenched in water, smelling like beer, confused and happy to be unharmed I began to fully understand Mexico. I understood that I will never understand it. The contrasts here are too great to handle. The nicest people I have met, coupled with people that want to hurt me for no good reason. Some of the best street food in the world, that gives people the shits. One of the oldest cultures in the world, that people love and hate at the same time. A modern city built on a colonial city built on an ancient one. Nothing here makes sense, nothing. But it all fits together into a perfect harmony. What kind of harmony it is, I cannot say, but I will never look at the world, traveling and my life again the same way.