As in much of Latin America, fútbol in Mexico is a national addiction, if not an obsession. Turn on the TV and often as not you’ll find a match. If you can get to see a live game, it’s a different experience entirely. For up-to-date information on Mexican league teams, fixtures and tables, visit futmex.com or futbolmexicano.net.
Football was introduced to Mexico in the nineteenth century by Cornish miners in Real del Monte, Hidalgo, and it was in that state, by descendants of those same Cornishmen, that Mexico’s first football club, Pachuca, was founded in 1901. The football league was created six years later. Mexico’s football league follows a complicated ladder system: the first division is divided into three tables of six teams each, which are decided by the previous season’s placings, with the league champions placed first in table one, second placed top of table two and so on. The top two teams of each table compete in a play-off for the league championship.
There are two seasons a year: Apertura (Aug–Nov) and Clausura (Jan–June). At the end of the Clausura season, the two seasons’ winners (if they are different) compete to decide that year’s champion of champions. Relegation to a lower division is decided over a two-season (yearly) loss average, so it is, in fact, technically possible to come first in the league and be relegated in the same season. However, relegation need not be the disaster that it might seem. Take, for example, Puebla C.F., who when relegated in 1999 simply bought the team promoted from Primera B (Curtodores), changed their name to Puebla and relocated them, which is perfectly legal under Mexican financial regulations. Similarly, there are no regulations preventing anyone from owning more than one team, which can lead to a clash of interests that are never more than speculated upon; suspicion of corruption is rife but rarely, if ever, investigated.
Matches are always exciting and enjoyed by even the most diehard “anti-futbolistas”. Music, dancing and, of course, the ubiquitous Mexican Wave make for a carnival atmosphere, enhanced by spectators dressing up and wearing face paint. They’re usually very much family affairs, with official salespeople bringing soft drinks, beer and various types of food at fixed prices to your seat. Stadiums tend to be mostly concrete, with sitting room only, and can sometimes be dangerously overcrowded, though accidents are thankfully rare.
The bigger clubs are those of Mexico City (América, Cruz Azul, Pumas – the national university side – Necaxa and Atlante) and Guadalajara (Chivas, Atlas and Tecos) and the games between any of these can draw crowds of up to eighty thousand, while smaller clubs like those of Puebla, Irapuato and Celaya may get no more than ten thousand or fifteen thousand spectators per game. The vast distances between clubs make travelling to away games impossible for many fans, one reason why smaller, more out-of-the-way clubs don’t get as much support. Opposing fans aren’t generally separated, but an atmosphere of self-policing prevails – making it an ideal family occasion. The greatest risk is often to the referee, who is frequently escorted from the pitch by armed riot police.
For national games the whole country is united, and football has many times been shown to rise above partisan politics. In 1999, despite being outlawed by the government, the EZLN football squad even played an exhibition match against the national side in Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca.