Clasico Regio loses its innocence as violence overshadows Tigres vs. Monterrey
"We all lost."
The bright yellow letters on the front page of one Mexican sports daily aptly summed up the sentiments after Sunday's Clasico Regio. It wasn't aimed at the scrappy 0-0 tie between derby rivals Tigres and Monterrey, but instead, it referred to the chilling scene ahead of the game.
This piece should be about the game itself, but Sunday evening was the moment the Clasico Regio arguably lost its innocence. The most heralded, organic and high-quality rivalry in all of Mexican football over recent years has almost served as a gauge of how good Liga MX games could be, not only on the pitch but also in the stands. You can get the feel for just how different the city of Monterrey is in terms of fan culture compared to other Liga MX clasicos only by actually experiencing it. That sentiment ramped up in December when the two clubs met in the 2017 Apertura final.
But the positivity surrounding the Clasico Regio was tainted Sunday after a street battle between fans some 7 kilometers from Estadio Universitario left one person in critical condition.
Videos showed a police vehicle suddenly turn off Avenida Aztlan before the street became a battleground within seconds. Fans wearing rival shirts threw objects at each other. Then a car appeared and attempted to mow down those in yellow. While Tigres fans fled, the fans wearing Monterrey shirts charged and managed to catch one rival supporter. Just seconds later, the trapped fan was beaten and stripped naked on the ground in a pool of blood. The latest report from the Nuevo Leon Attorney General on early Monday morning said the person was still in a "critical" state.
The photos and videos were shocking enough, but it could have been even worse.
Tigres coach Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti said after the game that those involved deserved to be in the "cemetery, not prison" but later admitted that his words were exaggerated given how angry he was.
"It is sad because we are brothers, and there is no place for this," a shaken Ferretti said in a news conference after the game. "It is a game of football, a party and not a motive for these cowardly acts of vandalism."
"If we talk about taking this clasico to the level it deserves to be, we won't get anywhere with situations like this. It is honestly very sad."
This isn't the first time this season that a violent scene has occurred around the league. At least five Liga MX games have generated headlines related to violence in the 10 rounds of matches in the 2018 Apertura regular season so far. Plus, there were reports of gunfire -- denied by authorities -- outside Celaya's Estadio Miguel Aleman Valdes after an Aug. 18 second-division game against Atletico San Luis.
Taken as a whole, these events demand action. The issue is what kind. Authorities, Liga MX officials and clubs must quickly consider what form it should take. A lot of social media reactions, from canceling last night's game to stripping Estadio Universitario of next month's national team game, derive from the same anger that led to Ferretti's unhelpful "cemetery" comment.
Under the strictest legal criteria, the violence had nothing to do with the clubs or the league. Tigres seemed keen to stress that when they started their news release with "Notwithstanding that that there were no reported incidents inside Estadio Universitario for the 117th clasico, Tigres lament what occurred."
Liga MX followed suit by demanding that the relevant authorities investigate the occurrences. Making matters complicated is the fact that there is no clear answer to the problem.
"It is lamentable. I think the teams, players, coaches, directors all know the passion and drive with which clasicos are played, but it is a game," current Club America and former Monterrey coach Miguel Herrera said Monday in an interview with ESPN. "I think those porras that are threatening and aggressive shouldn't be in football."
Solutions put forward will range from banning the porras, better policing at games, personalized and numbered ticketing, and fierce repercussions for clubs, whether the incident is near the stadium or not.
It might sound hopelessly naive, but Mexico's number one sport should seek to be a safe haven, an example of harmony for the rest of society. That sentiment is brilliantly encapsulated in the book "This Love Is Not For Cowards: Salvation and Soccer in Ciudad Juarez" by Robert Andrew Powell, who narrates the way the stadium in Juarez almost became a neutral zone away from that northern city's killing spree.
The violent trend in Mexican football also does nothing for the reputation of Liga MX internationally, and it's increasingly common locally to hear of people not going to certain stadiums because of security issues.
Unfortunately, the last thing being talked about the day after the 177th edition of the Clasico Regio is the actual football.