It’s just a Shirt!

Soccer is the world’s most popular sport. It has followers all around the globe. I myself am very passionate about it, and I have my favorite teams in both of my home countries, Germany and Mexico, which I both faithfully follow. There are so many nice stories to tell, how soccer brings people from different cultures together and brings out the best in people. And I wanted my first article about this sport to be one that tells such beautiful stories. Unfortunately, recent events cast a giant shadow over the soccer-passionate city that I live in. Which means that this article has a very sad background, but I feel the urge to write about it. But first, let me give you some basic information about the soccer teams in my city, Monterrey in Nuevo Leon, Mexico.

Monterrey is host to two teams. The blue and white striped team of Club de Futbol Monterrey is often referred to as Rayados, and so will they in this article. The club was founded in the year 1945, most of their time playing in the stadium on the field that belongs to a private university. Since 2015, they have a new, very modern stadium on their own. Their ultra fans call themselves “La Adiccion” (the addiction) and the nickname for the team is “La Pandilla” (the gang).

The other club is Tigres de la Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon, short just Tigres. They play in yellow and blue uniforms and were founded in 1960. Their playing ground belongs to the public university. Currently the club is planning to either remodel that stadium or following the example of Rayados and build a new stadium. Their ultra fans go by the name “Libres y Lokos” (free and crazy), and also often call themselves “Los incomparables” (the incomparables).

With my Tigres shirt

It is safe to say that there is a tendency for Rayados for have more followers of the higher socio-economic classes, and Tigres the more humble classes, however, this has mingled a lot over the past decades. Both clubs had spent a great part of their history being not so meaningful teams, the big teams mostly played in the center of the country. It took until 1978 and 1982 for Tigres to win the first two championships of the city, and Rayados winning their first title in 1986.

But in recent years this all changed. In 2009, Rayados started their time of glory. Within only five years they won two national championships and three North American Champions Leagues. Also, in these years, whenever both local teams would meet in play offs, Rayados would be the winners. This happened in a total of five occasions over 13 years. As for 2013, they were the clear number one in the city when it comes to trophies, they were aspiring to get their name to be mentioned with the big ones.

However, suddenly the momentum changed. Rayados fired their coach, Tigres didn’t, they understood they were in a long term project. And it paid off, in the recent years since 2014, they have one three local championships and one international title. In the recent two meeting in the play offs, Tigres would beat Rayados, the last occasion being the first ever final being played between the two. Suddenly, Tigres are the owners of more titles, and the momentum seems to favor them.

Enough being said, I don’t want to bore you and more. Of course, whenever the two teams play, there is a lot of trash talk going on, and many people place bets, where the loser has to pose with the other team’s shirt, or shave their head, or pay some money whatsoever. This happens all around the world. Not to mention, there are many couples and families with fans from both teams. I support Tigres, and have many friends who do the same, just as many friends support Rayados. And of course I have also made provoking comments towards them, as well as they have made provoking comments towards me.

The issue is the following. Since Tigres won the final, on Rayados’ home field, the tone had become more and more aggressive, especially between the two ultra groups Libres y Lokos y La Adiccion. Last Sunday, groups of these two ultra organizations met on a street, both groups on their way to the stadium in the latest edition of the “Clasico Regio”. What happened next is well documented, thanks to numerous cell phones of bystanders.

The group of Libres y Lokos started throwing rocks at the Adiccion, and they soon responded the same way. From the background, a car approached and tried to run over Libres y Lokos, at this moment, they started running away and were pursued by people from la Adiccion. Most yellow hooligans managed to escape, but the blue hooligans captured one. They stabbed him in his side, undressed him and threw rocks at him, especially at his head. When they left him unconscious, they ran away. He is 21 years old and got serious brain injuries from this. He might survive, but will never be the same again.

The game afterwards had lost all its significance and in my humble opinion should have been cancelled. The players must have felt the same, because the game was very boring, nothing really happened, and nobody even seriously tried to score a goal. On TV we could see visiting fans (Adiccion) chanting “Los vamos a matar” (we are going to kill you).

On the next day, representatives from both teams met with the federation and established to ban these two hooligan groups from the stadiums. Probably other teams in the country will follow. But is this really enough, will this fix all the fanatism that is going on in the country when it comes to soccer?

In the aftermath, the clubs are really eager to help solve this problem once and for all. But the two ultra groups are not. The police is looking for a few identified people for attempted murder, but they are one the run and long gone. The Adiccion released an official statement where they are worried that they look like the culprits, emphasizing that they had not started it. Libres y Lokos are reacting in a similar way. They have not learned a thing!

On Wednesday, both teams had their next home game, and each team sent a player to the other stadium and give a message of peace, and they were received with applauses. This is a good start, but hopefully only a start.

Since I am an educator, I decided to start my own initiative with my students, who also support these teams in great numbers. I invited all the middle school students, as well as teachers, to bring their jerseys, and swap them with a friend for a photo. The message was to be very clear: We are all passionate about the same thing. It is just a shirt! Nothing more!

Reactions were very divided. In general, teachers of course liked the idea. So did about half of the students. The other half clearly did not like the idea. I tried to convince them, telling them that nobody would force them. They could just bring their shirts for the activity and if they felt uncomfortable, didn’t have to participate actively.

Some students even made comments like: I will never put on that shirt of the other team! It will give me some disease! Can I burn it after I used it? I was shocked to hear this, but emphasized the positive reactions of other students.

The turnout on the next day was not what I hoped it to be. Many students had “forgotten” the shirt, although I sent a reminded and even got positive parent reactions. In the end, we got some nice pictures, and of course I also participated, of course setting the example for the kids. In the end, it’s only a shirt! There is nothing bad about it.

With a borrowed shirt from the opposing team

I do want to give a shout out to a few girls who did not only swap for the photo, but decided to wear the other shirt for the entire day at school. That’s the spirit! Analyzing closer I can summarize the event on three dimensions: Girls were more willing to participate than boys. Younger students were more willing to participate than older students. Tigres supporters were more willing to participate than Rayados supporters. I don’t want to interpret too much into the latter, maybe this is due to my paper as a role model and since I support Tigres, maybe more students from that camp decided to follow me.

Maybe we should turn this into a bigger campaign and plan on a longer time scale. Clearly, we still have a long way to go. Students have to be educated, as well as parents, as well as our friends, workmates, neighbors, etc. I contacted both clubs and some reporters, inviting them to pass the message forward and hopefully make a viral hashtag, but so far there has not been any reaction. Well, I did receive lots of positive comments on the photo I posted on facebook, which I highly appreciate.

Parents and educators all over the world. It is okay to be passionate about the team of our choice. But it is not okay to send out violent messages, especially to our kids. They will follow our example, no matter if we set a positive or negative example. So let us give them messages of inclusion. Let us show them that we are all friends, no matter which colors we chose. And let us not forget that we need each other. As for today, Tigres and Rayados have the two highest-billed teams in the national soccer league, and they are always among the contenders for the championship. They both only got their because they had a strong opponent. Without each other, they most likely would still be some meaningless teams at the bottom of the table with empty stadiums, not known beyond the limits of the city.

I apologize for rambling on for so long on this topic. But it matters to me. I don’t want my kids to be afraid to go to the stadium, or to even wear their jersey in public.


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