MÉRIDA, YUCATÁN – ‘Futbol’ (football in English, or ‘soccer’ to North Americans) is something of a national obsession in Mexico, with most cities boasting at least one ‘professional’ team. Mérida has CF Mérida, more familiarly known as ‘Los Venados.’
We’re nearing the end of the ‘Clausura 2014’ season, and on Saturday night, a good sized crowd of over 6000 enthusiastic supporters were at Estadio Carlos Iturralde (part of the Kukulcan sports complex in Mérida) for the final home game of the competition. Encouraged perhaps by the half-price tickets (special offer for the final game) or possibly the ice cold beer on sale, the crowd was in excellent spirits. Unfortunately however, the same could not be said of the team, which returned a (sadly only too common) mediocre performance, even though their opponent (‘Ballenas Galeana’, from Cuernavaca, Morelos) has been one of the worst performing teams of the ‘Ascenso MX’ league this season. The ‘Ascenso MX’ is basically Mexico’s second division, and CF Mérida, under chairman Juan Manual Noya and manager Ricardo Valiño, languishes at position 9 out of 15 after 13 games, with one remaining to be played.
As often the case, the game started slowly, with little action, and the score was 0–0 at half time. In the second half, things warmed up (literally perhaps, given the 35°c evening temperature), and five minutes in, Morelos scored, a lead which they held for twenty minutes, until, finally, Mérida scored. Nine minutes later, Mérida scored again, holding a 2-1 lead until the final minutes of the game, when, a penalty awarded to Morelos evened the score 2-2, which remained until the final whistle.
So ended a typical ‘Venados’ game. They were losing, they were equal, they were winning, and finally they ended in a draw. Out of the 13 games so far this season, 6 have ended in draws (along with 4 wins and 3 losses).
Once again, CF Mérida looked like a fractured team without any clear direction or cohesion, which in fact is exactly what they are. Over the last few seasons, there has been a revolving door of players, with few continuing from season to season. One of the few players to remain as a permanent fixture is number 4, Rodrigo Javier Noya, long one of the worst players in the team, who is now the captain. Note the same last name as the Chairman… A coincidence? I think not.
Interestingly even the ‘official’ supporters of the team are fractured into two groups (unique in my experience), always well separated at opposite ends of the stadium, each with its own flags and band, a result, apparently of a historical ‘falling out’ which pre-dates my knowledge. They try to out-play and out-flag each other, often causing a cacophonous racket which must be heard to be believed. Sadly the two groups of supporters seem a perfect metaphor for the team itself.
The season will end next week, with ´Los Venados’, as normal, also-rans.
In the wider world, there’s a little event called the Football World Cup coming up in June, taking place this time in Brazil. The Mexican national team ‘El Tri’, suffered a ‘Venado-like’ year in 2013 (following a great victory in the 2012 Olympic Football tournament in London), and barely managed to capture the final place in the tournament during the qualifying rounds. Under new manager Miguel Herrera, they appear to be bouncing back and Mexicans are ready to support their team’s journey in Brazil, which will begin with a game against Cameroon on (the rather inauspicious) Friday 13th June. Of course in Mexico, Friday 13th is not considered unlucky (that honor goes to Tuesday 13th), so we look forward to the first of many victories. We plan to be reporting on the Mexico games - not ‘on the scene’ unfortunately, due to budgetary restrictions – but thanks to the miracles of television, and the fact that every screen in every bar in the country will be showing the games. Need a better excuse to go to a bar at 11am on a Friday? We can’t think of one!