How El Tri help Mexicans escape from harsh realities
The Mexican novelist Juan Villoro said that if a World Cup of fans existed, the most likely final would be Mexico v Scotland. “Neither country has ever done well on the international stage,” wrote Villoro in his book , “and, perhaps because of that, each has opted for the compensatory pleasure of filling stadiums instead.”
So what accounts for Mexicans fans’ enthusiasm despite the pain (their last quarter-final came in 1986)? The answer may lie in the chance of escape, a chance for Mexico to forget all its real-world troubles and revel in irrational, unbridled hope.
El Tri have since the tournament began in 1930, more than any other team in history. Despite that unfortunate achievement, every four years Mexico overflows with dreams as football stops traffic, closes shops and pauses classes to unite the country.
This year especially, football is likely to serve as a welcome withdrawal from the daily horrors of drug violence and the shadowy machinations of the 1 July presidential elections. Perhaps even more importantly, it takes place nine months after . In the face of such events, Mexico is eager to come together to watch the spectacle of Russia 2018.
“Celebrating soccer in is a pretext to explode without consequences, to let go of all the violence without a big fuss,” Mexican writer Fabrizio Mejía Madrid told the Guardian. “It’s like setting off a firecracker.”
Mejía Madrid, who has dedicated his career to writing about social phenomena in Mexico City, says that Mexicans feel they can minimize their own failures, and the failures of the country, by enjoying the small victories of El Tri. “There is a party even when there is a tie,” he said.
The World Cup will be played in a tense political environment this year as leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador seeks the presidency for the third time. After his first loss in 2006, his followers paralyzed the country with massive street protests. But now as people have become more disillusioned by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, that has ruled Mexico for more than seven decades with only a brief stint out of power. Corruption scandals and the have haunted the term of the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto.
“Everyone is talking about the elections, and maybe people are seeing the excitement around the World Cup as a breath of fresh air,” says 31-year-old Guadalupe Borja. “It is something that can release us from the haze of political contamination,” she said, “even if we know, deep down, that our team isn’t really going to make anything better.”
Borja went to an all-girls Catholic school in Mexico City and she vividly remembers the 1998 World Cup in France when all the teachers, who were nuns, suspended classes to watch the games. That year Luis Hernandez, the star forward with memorable bleached-blond hair, scored four goals to become the most successful Mexican World Cup scorer. Borja recalled her classmates outfitted the only blonde girl in the school with a headband like the one Hernandez wore and paraded her around in proxy celebration chanting “México, México, México!”
“Every time there is a World Cup, I want to feel that same level of emotion,” she said.
Borja’s memories are typical. Offices turn all available televisions to the games and workers stop what they are doing for 90 minutes, the government sets up giant screens in plazas around the country and cantinas are full with spectators round the clock.
Borja’s generation has never seen Mexico make it to the quarter-finals, even though the team has participated in the past six World Cups. The last time Mexico reached those heights was in 1986, when the country hosted the World Cup for the second time. Much like today, the tournament then took place just one year after one the worst earthquakes in Mexico’s history that claimed tens of thousands of lives. In 1985, President Miguel de Madrid shunned international help after the earthquake and the public made their disapproval of his leadership known by at the Estadio Azteca the following year.
But that negativity was not the central theme of the tournament. Instead people rallied around each other by gathering at , a column topped with a golden statue on the Paseo de Reforma that stands as a national symbol.
“The idea of going to the Angel was about taking back the streets [after the earthquake],” said Mejía. It is a tradition that is carried on to this day. Inevitably, whatever the final score, fans overrun the monument clad in green and white jerseys and waving giant Mexican flags after every game.
That patriotic spirit that cheered the team on its home pitch, helped Mexico to the quarter-finals in 1986. Now despite all the odds, Mexico fans are once again yearning for a strong showing this year.
“There is a lot of expectation to see if [the team] are really evolving,” said Aldo González a 34-year-old Mexico fan who is traveling to Russia with his brother and a friend. González hopes Mexico can overcome their losing streak and lift people up back home. “We all know the country has a lot of problems,” he said, “so at least we have soccer to help us escape from our reality.”