Viva Mexico! I watched top-flight matches at two 2026 World Cup stadiums: the Akron in Guadalajara and the legendary Azteca in Mexico City. And experienced the heady commerce of the Mexican game – delicious snacks, free beer and a Pearl Jam cover band – without wearing a belt. Fortunately, my trousers stayed up.
“It’s business” said the travelling San Luis supporter about the unusual Mexican league format. “It’s all about money” said the fan on the bus in Guadalajara after kindly paying my ten peso fare. Liga MX runs two seasons every year, the apertura and clausura, with separate champions after the top eight clubs contest a knockout tournament. The leaders after each 18-match series normally misses out on the title – it had been nine seasons since the table-topping team had then won the end-of-season play-offs. But fans I spoke to said that the format adds unpredictability and, of course, more money.
It’s hard not to like Mexico. The world’s thirteenth largest country is blessed with rich historical sites, a piquant cuisine and two beautiful coastlines. It was also the first land that I travelled to with a wider context – a barely work-related placement that may not have been approved in more austere times. I stayed with affluent families and my hosts asked if I wanted to watch a bullfight or the struggling local team play. It was the easiest decision I have ever made.
I later bought a Monterrey shirt emblazoned with eight sponsors including ‘BIMBO’ (a bakery company) plastered across the middle. It was perhaps more amusing in 2004 than it is now. My Monterrey shirt and a smattering of Spanish were my Mexican legacy. I still have an eye for spectacular football shirts and, when in Oaxaca for the Dia de Muertes celebrations this November, I purchased the local team’s psychedelic home strip, seemingly influenced by Jorge Campos’ goalkeeping colours from the 1990s.
Alebrijes de Oaxaca were leading the second tier, presumably dazzling their opponents with their shirt designer’s brilliance as well as their footballing skills. Oaxaca play home matches in an individualistic stadium designed to resemble the Mayan ballgame court at the nearby ruins of Monte Albán. Sadly, they were playing away during my stay but the following weekend I visited the Estadio Akron, some ten miles west of the centre of Guadalajara.
The Akron, shaped like a nest or a volcano depending on who you ask, is the modern home of Chivas, the pride of Mexican football. Chivas are Mexico’s most popular club – estimated to be backed by around 40 per cent of fans – and only field players of Mexican heritage. I asked Chivas regular Cristian, “like Ronaldo” he laughed, whether this was a disadvantage. “Any Mexican can do the work that people around the world can do” he replied. Javier Hernández and former Fulham defender Carlos Salcido, over 100 caps for Mexico apiece, both came through the ranks at Chivas.
A lively street of eateries and sponsored football games buzzed to ‘YMCA’ outside the Akron. It was my final night in Guadalajara and I had yet to try torta ahogada, a pork shoulder baguette drenched in a thick chilli-infused sauce. “My first and maybe my last” made the vendor smile. A thumbs up following rapid consumption of the most delicious of football snacks returned another grin.
I entered the stadium with a bounce as a cover band on the concourse belted out ‘Even Flow’ by Pearl Jam. It was a strange scene as the lead singer, reading the lyrics from his mobile, followed with Queen’s “I Want to Break Free”. Eddie Vedder to Freddie is quite some vocal switch but, somehow, the crooner pulled it off. When the rock music faded away, the commercial nature of Mexican football was all too evident. I quaffed free samples of a new beer by Tecate, not quite as awful as their normal fare, amidst Heineken promotions and stalls selling sushi, churros (fried dough dipped in chocolate) and crisps served with chilli sauce, a snack seemingly more popular in Guadalajara than in other cities.
Liga MX was so open that Chivas, fifteenth with two games left, had an outside chance of reaching the top eight and securing only their second title since 2006. The football was fast and fluid, full of deft turns and more attacking prowess than defensive solidity. A 3-2 win against Querétaro kept the noisy crowd dreaming.
A few weeks later I visited the Azteca, where Maradona’s hand had instigated my first football tears, to watch Cruz Azul play Atlético San Luis. It was nearly a dead match, the last of the apertura, between two mid-table sides. Again, the idiosyncrasies of Mexican football made these matches slightly more interesting. A team is relegated from Liga MX based on the lowest average points gained in the previous three years.
As in Guadalajara, buying a ticket was straightforward until I elected to pay by credit card. The card machine was never going to fit under the sturdy metal grille. Instead, the woman in the ticket office passed a pen beneath the grille and I entered my PIN using the rear of the biro.
There were more football shirt traders than fans outside the Azteca. Sellers languidly touted for business, even offering to look after your belt during the match for a small fee. Belts, along with backpacks and brollies, had been banned following belt fights between rival fans.
The 7,000-strong crowd may have been dwarfed by the enormous stadium but there was no hiding from the commercialisation. A giant Corona advertisement beamed down from the vast upper stands. Vendors circled the lower tier enthusiastically, hawking twenty different items of limited nutritional value: insipid ‘instant meals’, popcorn, toffee apples and Domino’s pizza. A rabbit, the Cruz Azul mascot, danced next to an inflatable cement bag as the home team ran out 3-1 winners in a match less exciting than the scoreline suggested. The Azteca remains an iconic stadium, but I hope my next Latin American match has more riding on it than junk food and points average.
Chivas missed out on the play offs by two points and finished tenth. América and Monterrey, the sixth and eighth-placed teams, contest the apertura final later in December.