A brush with passion: my afternoon with the fans of El Tri
I made the trek to Pasadena to experience my first live Mexico game, in Mexico's first match of the 2013 Gold Cup against Panama. Here's an account of my afternoon with the fans of El Tri.
"Pinche guera!" was all I heard as I was walking to my seat, in the middle of a vibrant group at the Rose Bowl for game one of Gold Cup between Mexico and Panama. (If you have no idea what "pinche" or "guera" means, I invite you to look it up.)
I swam my way through a sea of green and multicolored accessories. Fans were donned with jerseys, sombreros, and Mexican flags. Small kids waddled in with their parents and siblings with mini flags and face paint. I've never seen so much red, white and green, even in December. The sound of vuvuzuelas, whistles and bells echoed from everywhere around me. The women were beautiful; the men looked happy and content. Kids were laughing and sporting Chicharito jerseys. I felt like I was at a carnival.
My seats were at midfield, 19 rows up, in probably the rowdiest section of the entire venue. I didn't pick this section on purpose; I only chose to enhance my first experience at a live Mexico game by sitting with fans instead of the comfort of the press box, so I went on StubHub and chose a ticket that would guarantee a great view.
As fate would have it, I was smack in the middle of the most passion I've ever encountered at any event in my entire life, and I loved it. It was 90 minutes of laughter, craziness, cursewords and chants in Spanish every 30 seconds, with a relevant match between Mexico and Panama in the background. I witnessed three arrests and a fight in the row below me, and had beer thrown in my direction (only!) four times.
The feeling I got when I shuffled my way in front of fans to my seat was anything but welcome. The guys smiled and smirked, the girls smirked and glared. When there was conversation, the main question was why I came to the Rose Bowl by myself, and why did I choose to sit in that particular section. I smiled, and I answered. I was planning to cover Mexico during Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying, and also Xolos de Tijuana for the 2013 Apertura, so I wanted to expose myself to the Mexican fan culture. After a few expressions of surprise and several seconds of me holding my breath, my answer went over well.
I quickly became the subject of questioning, but I flipped it and asked some questions of my own. I told my new friends that I wanted to learn more about the fan culture and passion for their game, so I asked them to describe it in their words. It was perfect. I was getting the fan experience I wanted at the Rose Bowl of all places, with Mexico and Panama dancing with the ball in the background.
We were interrupted by a penalty awarded to Panama, which caused the entire stadium, and especially my section, to explode in an uproar of obscenities and flying objects. Panama converted. Fans screamed, more objects flew, and everyone sat down.
"Oh man...futbol, El Tri, it's our life, you know?" said one as he was taking his seat. "When Mexico (MEH-hee-co) plays, everything stops. Nothing else matters. Our kids and their kids will grow to love El Tri. It's all they will know in sports. It's our passion. That's MEH hee co."
The halftime whistle blew after a few more minutes of conversation and laughter, and a massive army of different mariachi bands took the pitch and played to the tune of fans' singing. A group of guys behind me insisted I stay in my seat to see it first hand and I'm happy I did.
The groups I mingled with around the concessions after the mariachi were suprised that an American took so much interest in their team and culture. Some were even shocked. A few didn't believe me, shook their heads, laughed and walked away. One yelled out "pinche culera guera" in a drunken stuper as she stumbled to the bathroom.
When I returned to my seat as the second half was beginning, I realized I didn't even know the score. I was so immersed in the fans, I hadn't been paying attention to the game. The Panama players walked out onto the pitch and were met with roaring boos and more obscenities, with a majority of the really bad language coming from my section, naturally. "You picked the gangster section, guerra," said one guy behind me. "You get to see us in full effect!"
A pretty girl in her early twenties and her boyfriend were sitting to my right and we laughed and joked about the fans around us who were screaming at one another, and making derrogatory comments about Panama fans' mothers. A guy behind us smacked her in the head and she turned around and yelled at him, dramatically, in Spanish for probably 2 minutes. Beer continued to fly from all directions at times. "Chinga tu madre" was a common sentiment met with laughter from sections on both sides of us.
90 minutes was over before I knew it, and Mexico suffered a 2-1 loss in its first game of the 2013 Gold Cup. Fans were furious, screaming some kind of terrible saying in Spanish at Chepo de la Torre. Parts of my experience might have been intimidating, but the afternoon was endearing more than anything else, and it reinforced my love for how passionate Mexican fans are about their game. The 2013 Apertura can't come soon enough.