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Guadalajara Stadium Violence Disrupts Soccer Championship Season in Mexico

The second high-profile brawl in Guadalajara this year is raising questions about policing and crowd control at Jalisco Stadium in Mexico's second largest city.

by Duncan Tucker
Dec 5 2014, 12:35am

Screen-grab via YouTube

Violence at Mexican soccer stadiums reentered the headlines and alarmed the public during pro championship playoffs this week after clashes broke out between fans and police in Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city.

Three people were arrested and 23 injured — including 20 police officers — after supporters of the local football club Atlas attacked visiting fans from Monterrey in the aftermath of the Atlas team's 2-0 defeat at Jalisco Stadium on Sunday night.

The Guadalajara police department said one of the injured fans had been mugged, another took a steep fall, and the third was run over by others during scenes that witnesses described as chaotic.

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"There were pockets of police in riot gear, explosions going off, which I assume was tear gas being fired," said Tom Marshall, a British soccer journalist who covers Mexican professional football and attended the match. "I saw a young couple crying from the tear gas in their eyes, and the police were just shouting at everyone to get away."

The game was a crucial quarterfinal match in the Apertura 2014 tournament, which saw Atlas eliminated.

"Some of the police were wielding metal bars," Marshall told VICE News. "I saw one kid who looked about 15 years old with a beer can in one hand and a rock in the other, discussing with a friend whether he could get away with throwing it at them."

It was the second high-profile brawl at the venue this year and the latest in a recent string of violent clashes at Guadalajara soccer stadiums.

On March 22, at least 50 people were wounded and 18 were arrested when Atlas hosted their cross-town rivals Chivas. 

Twenty-one officers were injured at that game, including two who were left in serious condition after being punched, stamped on and beaten with their own batons, authorities said. "We gave the police repressors a little taste of their own medicine," boasted members of a Chivas fan page on Facebook later that night.

Guadalajara city hall responded by briefly shutting down the stadium and slapping the Atlas club with a fine of 2.2 million pesos, or $156,000. But as Sunday's events illustrated, security at the team's stadium remains lax.

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According to the Guadalajara police department, only 230 police officers were on duty at the game attended by more than 45,000 people. The police were backed up by as many as 450 private security guards, and joined by another 100 uniformed police officers shortly after the violence broke out.

Club Atlas condemned the brawling as "intolerable" and said it would investigate the incident. On Thursday, Atlas club president Gustavo Guzman complained that the city did not send the agreed number of municipal police officers and called for the presence of state police in future "high-risk games."

"This is a wake-up call for Mexican soccer," one columnist wrote after Sunday's violence. The Mexican Football Federation also launched its own investigation.

"There's a major problem with policing that comes to the forefront when it's a big game," Marshall said, regarding security at games in Guadalajara.

Chivas fans beat a Guadalajara police officer with a club as a match in March turns violent.

Across town, Chivas' Omnilife Stadium has also seen its share of violence.

In February 2013, Chivas supporters fought with fans from Leon and smashed rocks through the windows of the visiting team bus as it was pulling out of the stadium. The ambush, which left the bus driver with shards of glass in his eyes and face, was reportedly a revenge attack for the non-fatal shooting of an 18-year-old Chivas fan in Leon, a city in Guanajuato, the previous year.

Marshall, who is based in Guadalajara, noted that when local rivals meet in Monterrey or Mexico City, there is typically a larger and more organized police presence that results in fewer violent incidents.

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What the stadium looked like prior to the violent incidents.

Mexican soccer games have been traditionally known for their lively, family-friendly atmosphere, in which rival fans mix in a manner that would be unimaginable in places like England or Argentina.

But this began to change in the late 1990s when club Pachuca, in the state of Hidalgo, hired a Chilean adviser to introduce South American-style barras — groups of hardcore supporters who often blur the line between fandom and hooliganism — in a bid to enhance the atmosphere at games.

Like England's notorious hooligan groups, the barras provide fans with excitement and a sense of belonging. "It's hard to describe what it feels like — the excitement, the chaos, the songs," Omar Rosales, a 21-year-old Atlas fan, told VICE News. "It's like a sponge that absorbs you."

A member of Atlas' Barra 51 since he was a teenager, Rosales said that after years of scraps and adventurous away-days in other cities, "I began to feel like I was in a real family. If you fall down in a fight, someone will pick you up, even if they don't know you, because we all have the same passion for the team."

Members of the barras go to games primarily to offer enthusiastic support for their team, but the combination of alcohol, drugs, and often the humiliation of defeat is what leads to confrontation with opposing groups, Rosales said.

"It's also a question of ego. You want to prove that you're the toughest, so people keep the jerseys or the flags that they steal from rival fans as trophies."

Two of the young men arrested after violence broke out at Sunday's match.

Rosales agreed that security in Guadalajara is not as tight as in other cities.

"When I went to see Atlas play Toluca [in the state of Mexico], there was much higher security. They had about 200 police officers just to guard one bus full of Atlas fans," he said. "It's been over 60 years since we won a trophy, but whatever happens with the team, we'll always be with them, through good and bad."

Separately, Mexican soccer stadiums in recent weeks have been the site of numerous signs of protest decrying the government's response to the case of the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School who were disappeared by police in Guerrero in September.

Eduardo Herrera of the Pumas squad in Mexico City flashed four and three with his fingers at a recent game, a reference to the missing students.

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Follow Duncan Tucker on Twitter @DuncanTucker.