Some Yanks certainly play up the participation abroad of American football – henceforth known as simply “football.” During the NFL game at Estadio Azteca last fall, the announcers claimed that there were some 2 million places active players of football, whil Nate Silver apparently chalks the fanbase at about 1.5 million; however, active players and fans are very different. That being said, with a population of just over 8 million (21+ million metro area), that’s a fairly high percentage and certainly one many probably didn’t expect
Talk to any Brits casually in a bar about football of our New World variety and you’ll be met with great scorn. (“Why isn’t it called handegg?” the really clever ones will ask. This is why, you bellend.) However, Tottenham Hotspur aren’t just making their stadium a temporary home to the NFL with no statistical merit. There’s clearly heavy interest, with FiveThirtyEight calculating about half a million fans in the English capital, proven with four years and ten sold-out events later in London.
Look, I’m primarily a soccer fan, with poor Arsenal results putting holes in the wall and a recent loss for the USMNT yielding a somber night. (It’s gonna be a long summer.) However, it’s myopic to think American football doesn’t have a place in other countries. Like most issues, international interest in gridiron football lies somewhere in the middle: between the EuroSnobbiest of fans on one end and the most ardent, patriotic American on the other, the likes of whom call the 2017 Patriots a wince-worthy “World Champions.”
While Mexico is undeniably a soccer country, and Liga MX is probably my third favorite league in the world (behind La Liga and the EPL), football in Mexico certainly does have a following. I saw more than a few multipurpose fields lined, albeit with laughably short uprights. You’d think a country with a major following in soccer and thing air could get a bit more altitude on their field goals.
Why is this? Again, I think that even given tense relations at the top of our governments, certainly some sentiments in working class America, and anomalies outside that, I think in general the two countries have enjoyed amicable ties for a while now. Mexican culture has certainly seeped its way into the US via food, music and soccer and American culture has found a spot in virtually every country.
Further, I think aggressive expansion policy and shrewd marketing has thrust the NFL in many international markets, even at such a time when domestic demand seems to be shrinking. In addition, my Chilango friend, Clemente, has told me that in the past few years or so, there has been a citywide consciousness to exercise more often, following a top-down initiative from the municipal government. There’s easier access to parks, safer conditions (street lights for instance) and incentives like a machine that gives free metro tickets in exchange for some squats. Parks have introduced running tracks and other exercise equipment.
All this means there is (apparently) a noticeably slimmer but – more importantly – healthier population of Mexico City residents. In fact, we even dabbled in a cycling class twice and I was easily one of the more out of shape fellows there. Perhaps it was a self-selecting group, but in any case a reasonably fit and active gringo was sucking wind while a bunch of Latina gals danced and pedaled their way to victory. (Do Americans make everything competitive?) In any case, I blame the altitude and smog. Easy cop out.
Coming back to the topic at hand: football. Because the NFL game in Mexico in 2017 was around the time I went, there were advertisements absolutely everywhere. Underpasses had them plastered over (presumably) graffiti. Main streets had ads, stores had ads, ESPN Deportes had ads. Tom Brady, the Oakland Raiders and the Denver Broncos are all popular teams for the same reasons Americans like Ronaldo, Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea, etc. (It’ll be awhile, though, before there are too many rabid Cincinnati Bengals fans coming out of Mexico City.)
Tigres contra Cruz Azul
So obviously I attended a soccer game, because what else would you do in Mexico? I’ve said this probably too many times to be healthy, but Liga MX is a fantastic league. If only Univision was in HD on standard cable and there were more English languages options, I would take it in more, though a certain Herculez Gomez is doing a lot to remedy that.
If for nothing else, Liga MX teams hate defending properly and so most games are wide open affairs, and even if they lack the firepower to finish like the Bundesliga Goal Factory, there is enough insane drama to whet the appetite of a lucha libre fan. However, clubs like Tigres and Monterrey are doing wonders to disprove the hypothesis that they are leagues behind their European and South American counterparts (shitty pun intended).
The game itself was fairly entertaining, with Tigres coming from behind to win 2-1. However, other moments make it slightly more interesting. The first came with a noticeable form of racism thrown from the fans. Enner Valencia is part dark-skinned Ecuadorean, part best player in Liga MX. As he raced down the flank to chase down a defender, a casual “morado” was flung his way, meaning purple in reference to his skin. Certainly racism at sporting events occurs in the US. (*ahem* Boston *ahem*) but you don’t like to see it, no matter where it is.
It wasn’t pervasive, and it wasn’t hundreds of fans, like with Marcelo in Madrid. But if you set the bar too low, you might trip over it. However, after Clemente pointed it out, you could certainly hear the word purple being shouted more than a few times.
Ok, now for the more positive stuff. The food was adequate, a bag of potato chips smothered in hot sauce was delicious. (“Is that ketchup?” asks the American.) Big Gulp™ sizes were apparently the only way to consume beer, and so two Tecates down the hatch to wash down some chips. Beer suds mysteriously fly overhead after each goal, so we were baptized only thrice.
The best part of the game was easily halftime. First, for no observable reason, well-endowed girls wearing tiny spandex and undersized sports bras brandished Tecate banner flags and waved them for fifteen minutes straight, the length of either touchline. In the middle was a ten-foot-wide circular platform with three goals on top that rotated speedily. The three goals had $1,000; $2,000 and $3,000 on top. ($ having been the symbol for pesos longer than dollars. Spanish pesos were the stable currency in the US’ infancy. Wake up sheeple.)
Then, three teams alternated taking shots at the rotating, two-foot-tall goals from maybe 30-40 yards away. This required lacing a driven ball not too far off the surface, pin straight for 40 yards. It’s a skill none too easy and they selected people who in no way had the ability. At least at AHL intermissions, people have a chance at hitting the targets, however slim. Most people have the upper body coordination to at least sling a hockey puck forward, and the laws of friction on ice mean it will at least hurtle with some – infinitesimally small – chance at going through the slit in the boards.
Now I’m not saying hockey is an easier skill. I’m saying most Americans are equipped with the basic tools necessary, in theory, to complete the task. The people at halftime of this Liga MX game need hours and hours of practice to perform the necessary skill (ie lift the ball in the air). One group was three women who clearly hadn’t played much soccer…ever. They barely reached the 40 yard distance, with the ball just barely reaching the goal, but never high enough. The second group of overly exuberant fellows had the appearance they could do this, but would slash the ball miles wide, never even close to approximating the requisite technique to make this happen. And the third group, well, they at least could kick things.
All this while music was blaring, an MC was deriding each kick and the crowd get progressively rowdier. It was a sight to behold. The tackiness of American halftimes with the aggression of wrestling, all with overt Tecate commercialism bombarding the audience. Good times. Good times.
Sporting culture in various countries often brings out a certain cross section of that place. Baseball and cricket countries say something about the pace of life. Hockey countries say something about their insanity. And Mexican fanaticism of soccer and appreciation of North American sports says something about the openness of people and its position in Latin American.
You ever engage in athletics in Mexico? Let me know in the comments below about your experience!
Like what you’re reading on Mexico? Check out some other related articles in: The Mexico Chronicles!