Bicycle Kicks, Soccer Riots, and Pumas - Oh My!
On Saturday, October 30th, 2010, the Gallos Blancos (White Cocks... or less comically, the White Roosters) from Queretaro took on the Pumas from Mexico City in a soccer match (or futbol, in Spanish) in Estadio Corregidora, the hometown stadium in Queretaro, a large stadium that seats 35,000 fans.
The Pumas are one of the best teams in the country. The Gallos, in contrast, are not; like my hometown Buffalo sports teams, the Gallos seem to be perpetual losers, and like Buffalo, the fans never give up hope and still watch the games. And so the stadium was filled to capacity on the evening of the game. Fans, myself included, waited in long and confusing ticket lines before waiting in an even longer line to enter the stadium. In fact, there was only one entrance line for all 35,000 fans, and the gates opened ten minutes before the game started, making many fans, like myself, late. We joked that it would only take one Peace Corps Volunteer with a free hour to solve this problem - i.e. open a second gate.... a little earlier - but, if everything went more smoothly in Mexico there would be less fun!
As my friends and I blindly stumbled our way to our "seats", trying to read our ticket stubs for some directional clues, asking the attendants for help, we landed in the middle of the Gallos' "porra", the section of diehard fans that travel from city to city to cheer them on, the equivalent of "the dog pound" from the Cleveland Browns. Wearing the hometown blue and black colors, they were singing the Gallos theme song in unison, chanting and waving to the beat of drums, never stopping the entire game; we must have gone the wrong way in the stadium tunnels to end up sitting where we did, in the middle of all of all that drunken excitement.
From the outside, the stadium seemed like any stadium in the US. But inside there were several interesting differences. Most seats were actually just concrete slabs. The game clock didn't work, ever. Each section of seats was fenced in; tall chain-linked fences, topped with barbed wire. The entire playing field was surrounded by a deep concrete moat, again topped with barbed wire. The stadium was designed for riots, and there were nearly as many fully geared riot police as fans. Every time the game got exciting, the riot police pulled out their clubs and started palming them, anxiously waiting for the real fun to start. I wasn’t sure what to be more afraid of; the trigger happy cops, the drunken fans, or the prospect of being crushed against a barbed wire fence by a massive and sudden crowd surge if the Gallos lost.
This soccer game had something many soccer games do not; scoring. The first goal came early in the game, as the Gallos took an early lead. I missed this goal as we were finding our seats. The second goal came in the last minute of regulation time, as the Gallos were down two men to red cards and the Pumas tied it up. I missed this goal too, as I was nervously watching the riot police as they started moving in formation behind us. Thankfully, for our fun and safety, the Gallos scored a miraculous goal with less than 10 seconds left in penalty time with an amazing bicycle kick (a backwards, over the head kick) in front of the net. And I actually saw this one!
This dramatic end, of course, sent the Pumas' porra into an outrage. Like all soccer games in Mexico, the visiting team's porra is confined to a small section of seats, fenced off with barbed wire, at the far end of the stadium. And, to set the mood, large quantities of beer are sold to the visiting porra. As the game ended, the Pumas’ porra quickly broke a hole in their fence and charged out into the stands in an angry, drunken wave. The riot police were waiting and charged back, clubs and shields ready, and the Puma wave retreated back to their fenced-in enclosure. But the fight wasn't over; the visiting porra fought back from the fence, throwing punches and beer at the police. This lasted for several minutes, and we left the stadium before it was all over.
It was a good old fashioned soccer game - bicycle kicks, soccer riots and all.