IT’S fair to say that wherever you are in the world if there is a communication breakdown between languages, it’s wise to speak the universal language of football.
Since arriving here nine months ago I’ve often found myself being stared at, blank-faced, by a Mexican wondering what the hell I was going on about.
However if my ignorance – or indeed stupidity – in grasping the language has taught me one thing it’s this: if all else fails mention Manchester United, David Beckham, or Christiano Ronaldo.
Smiles, laughter and nods of approval will be forthcoming.
In fact here in TJ, any mention of me supporting Club Tijuana (nicknamed ‘Los Xolos’) – as a Brit – will almost certainly be met with a hug, and the offer of dinner with the person’s family that evening.
Football is, and always will be, the universal language.
You can use it in any situation to get even the most hardened anti-foreigner to help you out…
Me: “Kay horra porvavor?” (pronounced in manner of English man trying to sound Mexican)
Me: *point at wrist.
Me: “Er… Christiano Ronaldo…?”
Mexican: “Ah… si, SI… FUTBOL!”
Cue nod, and friendly hand on shoulder.
Me: *points at wrist again.
Mexican: “Ahhh… cinco y medio.”
Football here in Mexico is as big a deal as it is in England.
There is truly fierce rivalry and passion akin to something seemingly religious.
Los Xolos (pronounced ‘Cholos’) were only formed in 2007 and, in just five years, they’ve broken league and cup records for their efforts.
- 2010 they won the prestigious Apertura tournament, and last year they won the national Mexican premier league title – achieving the feat in the shortest time after promotion to the top flight in Mexican history.
A couple of weeks ago they beat the world club champions Corinthians, of Brazil, 1-0.
Such has been their meteoric rise to success, their stadium isn’t even finished yet.
Like the team, the stadium is in development
In the last few weeks Jacks and I have been lucky enough to catch a couple of games at Estadio Caliente, Los Xolos’ home ground.
Our first experience of 'Los Xolos'
For someone who is used to watching football matches in the driving rain in England, watching a game in bright sunshine with mountain views in the distance is simply magical.
Supporters take their seats at Estadio Caliente
The whole experience is nothing short of brilliant.
A carnival atmosphere is almost guaranteed with sections of fans having formed their own bands, complete with trumpets, drums and enough flags to rival those seen at The Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations.
One of the most colourful and standout groups of fans are bizarrely known as ‘Masacre’ (translated in English as ‘Massacre’).
They take their seats in a kind of ceremonial pageant, which almost upstages the arrival of the players on the pitch.
Loud, proud and as flamboyant as you could possibly imagine, these guys are the die-hard fans who dance and sing through every second of the game – despite the score-line.
Parts of the crowd literally bounce up and down in time with the drumming, celebrating life like it’s the last party on earth.
The spectacle creates the atmosphere of an English FA Cup tie, but with a South American flavour.
Los Xolos test their opponents defence again
One of the most bizarre differences between English football and Mexican football is the technique used by companies to advertise their products.
Sure you have the advertising hoards surrounding the pitch, and the company stands within the ground, but these guys go to unusual lengths.
So picture the scene... the ref blows for a foul and play momentarily stops.
An announcer comes on the Tannoy system and, instead of asking for help in returning a key discovered in the ground to its rightful owner, he says this: “Hamburguesa con queso… ahora a Carl’s Jr en Tijuana”.
Yes, that’s right. Advertisers use every spare few seconds in the game to advertise their services and products – including cheeseburgers.
You almost expect to hear: “That goal was sponsored by Coca Cola…”.
Weird hey? If you ask me the FA is clearly missing a trick!
There are other more subtle differences between English and Mexican football.
When the ref blows for a free kick he marks the spot of the foul with some sort of white spray paint, and then again where the 10-yard point is where the opposing team’s player must stand.
The stadium scoreboards in North American football are also different in that instead of counting up to the game’s normal 90 minutes of playing time, they count up to 45 minutes during each half.
While there are no doubt many differences between English football and Mexican football, the universal outspoken disapproval of another team by fans is a global addiction.
And it’s no different here – but obviously the insults are in Spanish.
Even before the game has kicked off the banter starts with the reading of the players’ names on the team sheets.
“Numero uno for los Xolos…” – Cue loud cheers.
And then the opposing team sheet: “Numero uno for …” – Cue loud cheers of “PUTO” (‘faggot’ in English) for each and every name.
Once the game kicks off the goal kicks are also comedy gold.
“oooooooooooooOOOOOOOO…. PUTO!!!!!!!!” shout the thousands of men, women and children crammed into Club Tijuana’s stadium as the opposing team take a goal kick.
I can’t help but laugh each and EVERY time, especially when they get louder.
It’s much like the “you’re shiiiiiiit AAAAAHHHHHHH….” heard in English stadiums across the kingdom during the same moment.
From comments made by Jacks during the last couple of games, I think I’ve got work to do in explaining the rules and ways of football.
“If it starts raining, do they stop playing until it stops?” she asked during last Saturday’s game.
During a goal kick I questioned the thinking of the opposing team’s goalkeeper in wearing bright purple shorts and socks with a blue and white striped top.
“Which one?” asked Jacks.
“Um… the only goalkeeper playing on the other team…”
I think I’ll wait a few weeks before trying to explain the offside rule.
Los Xolos' Fidel Martinez fends off two opposing players
Raul Enriquez on the attack
As I’ve said before, Tijuana sadly has undoubtedly one of the worst reputations and images in the world – not helped by Hollywood.
So to me with the city’s team nicknamed after sacred Aztec dogs, metaphorically it speaks volumes of the team.
Like the city itself, they are almost ‘underdogs’.
The attitude here reminds me of my birth town of Plymouth which was almost completely annihilated during World War Two.
It too boasts that gritty sense of belief, togetherness and pride in being media outcasts.
So I’m proud to say that I’m now a Xolos fan. And possibly the only English Xolos fan.
I wonder if they’re in the market for a foreign striker?
I mean, I played English Sunday league football for a few years… (ahem).