Mexico 2 – Costa Rica 0

On Saturday evening, Mexico played Costa Rica in a qualifying match for the 2010 World Cup at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City and, by the good graces of a few friends, I was able to go.  The near-capacity crowd, mostly clad in the green of Mexico was incredibly loud, louder than any crowd I’ve ever heard.  From the moment we entered the stadium, nearly full an hour before the game, the noise — mostly made by artificial whistles and horns freely sold throughout the stadium — was deafening.  And although it rose and fell over the course of the next three hours (possibly as a function of the availability of beer and the prevalence of “the wave”), the omni-present drone permeated every facet of my experience.

As a fan of American football, it’s hard for me to imagine how such noise wouldn’t create a home field advantage.  Of course, in football (as opposed to fútbol), where the fields are slightly smaller and verbal communication between players is de rigueur, the noise can disrupt the coordination that is essential for gameplay.  In fútbol, however, where communication is limited in use, and even then to mostly hand gestures, I wonder what effect the noise actually has on gameplay.  Does it motivate the players?  Does it add extra adrenaline?  Does calling the opposing goalkeeper a whore (by 100,000 people in unison, mind you) get in his head?  I don’t know… though, as the noise level seemed to be independent of who had the ball, I tend to think that may be the sheer volume of the noise isn’t a deciding factor in the game as it can be with football.  Then what role does it play?

Of course, that’s not to say that there isn’t a huge advantage afforded to fútbol players on their home field (altitude, pollution, not traveling, familiar field, etc.), and not that having such a large noisy crowd can intimidate opponents and officials (I’m sure it does)… but it seems that, perhaps, the key role provided by the deafening sounds of the fans is to enhance the excitement and enjoyment of those same fans attending.  Well, if I am ever given the opportunity to play professional soccer, perhaps I’ll find out for sure.


México, D.F.

Fútbol America

Well, it’s been quite a day… bought some furniture from a guy selling on a nearby street corner and then went to see my first fútbol game!  I feel the need for sleep right now, but I wanted to write a little, even if only to capture my current thoughts….

America (del D.F.) vs. Las Chivas de Guadalajara at Estadio Azteca. Tickets to the game were arranged by the nice folk at Comexus, who are our handlers for this whole Fulbright experience. The short version is that Las Chivas won, 2-1. There were some exciting plays and the game was tremendous fun to watch. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures because we were told not to bring cameras.

The longer version? Well, the experience of going to the game really had nothing to do with the outcome. In part, it starts with my impressions of fútbol in México… the ubiquitous jerseys (America, Las Pumas, etc.) and flag that abound on the street and in markets (though I don’t recall ever seeing anything related to fútbol in the professional workplace…..). Before we went, Comexus told us not to wear yellow or red, which are the team colors, or to bring cameras or belts(!). So… I didn’t quite know what to expect from the game, whether it would just be passionate fans, or a less-than-civil war.

Estadio Azteca is very large – over 100k, says Wikipedia.  On our way in, we passed dozens of vendors, selling food, paraphernalia, and offering to guard belongings… such as belts(!).  Inside, we were seated in the corner at the top of the first section of the lower deck and surrounded by a mix of fans, mostly dressed in the yellow and blue of the home-town America, but some in the red of Las Chivas.  The family in front of us were split, the father a Chivas fan and his young sons for America.  (In the top deck of the opposite endzone, there were several large sections of Chiva-red.)  

Also of note, the stadium featured prodigious use or chain link and barbed-wire fencing.  Between our section and the field were not one, but two(!) fences topped in barbed-wire, with a deep, dry moat, in-between.  And to our right, was a section of America fans entirely surrounded by barbed wire fencing and a ring of riot-gear-clad police officers.  We conjectured during the game as to why these fans (in particular) were fenced in… I don’t have an answer, so I’ll leave it up to you.  For what it’s worth, they seemed quite well behaved.

I don’t have much to say about the game (if the other Fulbrighters do, I’ll provide a few links), but mid-way through the second half, the score was tied 1-1.  Darkness had fallen and the stadium was illuminated by lights around upper rim.  Looking up into the Chiva sections on the far side, we noticed that people were lighting bright red flares… I assume the same as those used on freeways… and small ‘roman-candle’ fireworks.  At first, they waved the flares to the rhythm of the chants, but then — and I still can’t believe this happened — they threw the lit flares down into the lower deck, which was full of people.  By the light of these still-burning flares, we could see fans in the lower sections scurrying to put them out.  Perhaps more shocking than this disregard was that the game continued uninterrupted, as, perhaps a dozen, perhaps more, flares rained into the stands.  

The rest of the game was, for the most part, without any such scares.  There were no fights that I could see, nor dangerous crowds, or threatening gestures… which is of note considering the contrast that most of the stadium featured a mix of fans for both teams, including many families.  But it seems clear that the stadium is prepared for violence, and also that the crowds of fans are capable of some seriously poor judgment in regards to the safety of themselves and others.  

I’ll chalk this up as “a great experience” — but I have to admit, that there’s more than just a little voice in the back of my head that wonders whether the view we had today from the stands was of more than the game, whether it was a view into a part of the Mexican psyche.  I wonder just how lucky we were.


México, D.F.