Pumas and police: football in Mexico City
Our Mexican photos come from artist and landscape photographer Pablo Lopez Luz. In October 2015 Pablo documented a typical match day at the Estadio Olimpico Universitario, home of leading Mexican club Pumas UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico). “Pumas” were playing Chiapas Jaguares amidst a heavy police presence.
Pumas have won more titles than any other Mexican league team since the turn of the century, despite having one of the lowest payrolls in the league. This season Pumas made it all the way to the final of the Mexican league championship before losing a penalty shootout to Tigres UANL. We spoke to Pablo about what he encountered.
Why did you decide to take photos of a Pumas match?
A couple of months ago I drove to the Ciudad Universitaria ("University City"), the main campus of the UNAM, while a Pumas football match was being played at the Stadium. I was very surprised with the amount of security surrounding the stadium - there were even mounted police! In a way it was a very representative scenario of modern-day Mexico, where seeing armed grenadiers (specialist police units for anti-riot duties) in the street has become a common scene.
Football matches in Mexico City tend to get violent, especially if the home team loses. Therefore the city government has been sending the police for every match to keep order. I thought that this ¨universe¨ could be interesting for an international audience, while serving as a fair representation of the country today.
Why are the Pumas so popular?
The Pumas have a huge following because it is the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) team, Mexico’s most prestigious and loved university. The UNAM was founded back in 1911 and it is the largest university in Latin America. Because of its autonomy and independence, the students and supporters tend to be very proud and politically inclined. The Estadio Olimpico Universitario is the second largest stadium in Mexico, it holds close to 69,000 people.
Lastly, Pumas is one of the main two rival teams in our capital Mexico City. America is the biggest rival of Pumas; the city is pretty much split between the teams. Their stadiums are relatively close and they have played against each other in three finals since the 1980s. America is owned by Televisa, the largest private company in Mexico, whereas Pumas is part of the university. America is usually identified with the upper middle class and rich, while Pumas is more of the ¨people's team”. You could argue Pumas are closer to the Mexican spirit that any other team.
What does football represent about modern Mexico? Why is football so important for Mexico and Mexicans?
Football often represents the social and political stance of a country, as well as the idiosyncrasies of the people. It is a long and complicated subject, but I believe that Mexican football is a fair representation of contemporary Mexico.
Football is important for the same reasons it is important all over the world. People need to have an escape from their everyday life, be it by playing the sport, or through being a fan. In Mexico football is our most watched, followed and played sport, as we do not have the infrastructure to develop professional players in many other sports. Mexican soccer is not aggressive or quick compared with European or Asian football and tends not to be that technical, which in a way also represents the culture of the country itself.
Football is also representative of class dynamics and the meaning of wealth in modern Mexico. Players can become extremely famous and popular in Mexico and are extremely well paid considering their mostly humble beginnings. They tend to lack discipline and spend considerable amounts of money on status symbols and party too much. Big players tend not to stay at the top for very long (compared to other countries) unless they make it internationally and their habits change.
What is the mural on the Stadium?
The Stadium was built in 1952. At that time Mexico was going through strong political and social reform, as well as a very prosperous economic time. Mexico City was quickly developing and embracing the architectural ideals of European Modernism. The UNAM main campus was built in the 1950s by three important Mexican architects following a Modernist model, blended together with symbols of Mexican identity, thus resulting in a Mexican appropiation of the European style. The artist Diego Rivera was hired to create a big "mural" composition, named "The University, the Mexican family, peace and youth sports¨. It represents many important symbols of Mexican culture: the eagle on the cactus; the father, mother and son shielded by the eagle´s wings. There is also the feathered serpent, a symbolic image of pre-Columbian god Quetzalcoatl.
How did people respond to being photographed with this camera?
The response was positive in general. I do not think that the grenadiers or police enjoy being photographed, but they are probably getting used to it. I think a few players were surprised that a journalist was taking photographs with a disposable camera. I was able to go inside the stadium with a journalist badge, provided by a fellow photographer and good friend of mine, Santiago Arau, who covers football amongst other subjects. Photographers in the ¨media¨ area are usually carrying large cameras with huge lenses. Therefore, someone with a non-professional camera was probably an unusual scene. Needless to say, I was quickly kicked out of the stadium!
Who are some of the more interesting people in your photos?
I took a photo of the people in charge of selling food and beer in the stadium. If you look closely, their vests display the Corona beer brand, a sponsor of Pumas. You can also see the Pumas music band with the police in the foreground. I do not know too much about the band, but it seems it is comprised of young university students.
Pumas have a huge following because it is the public university team and this season has been an exciting time for Pumas followers.