El Classico de Michoacan

by Steve Sparks, July 17, 2013

Michoacan is the mostly rural Mexican State from which the vast majority of Hispanic people in this Valley originate – they tell me that it is not dissimilar to Anderson Valley in many ways. As this community continues to maintain valuable links to its original culture, one of the aspects of this that remains of great importance is found in the world of fútbol – soccer to Americans, football to us English.

There are three adult soccer teams here in the Valley, playing every Sunday through the spring and summer. They feature many players who are themselves from Michoacan or whose forebears were, and they play in the Ukiah, Northern California, Men’s Soccer League. One of the teams, Léon, is currently in the second division; the other two. La Laguneta and Valladolid are in the top flight. These two have a long-standing and often somewhat ‘unfriendly’ rivalry when it comes to the fútbol field, even though many of them work together and, more often than not, went to school together at A.V. High School, and their children continue to do so. For the second time this season, they faced each other last Sunday at Tom Smith Field in Boonville to compete in what is increasingly referred to as ‘El Classico de Michoacan’ – the name taken from professional soccer’s ‘El Classico’ that features Spain’s top two club sides, and, most knowledgeable fans would say, two of the best ten teams in the world, Real Madrid and Barcelona.

La Laguneta is the small town in Michoacan from which perhaps 75% of the Valley's Mexican population originally came. They have had a team here for thirty years, from when the Mexican community first settled in the Valley. coinciding with the arrival of the wineries and the need for field-workers. This team, playing under the name of the town, has won several titles over the years and their fans are well known for being 'very excitable' and for enjoying a few pre-/during/and post-game beverages, although in recent times they have relatively little to celebrate as success on the field in the post season has been in short supply. They are long overdue a post-season title.

The other team is Valladolid, organized by the Ferreyra family that resides in Anderson Valley too. They are also from Michoacan, although they are originally from the state's largest city. Morelia. Their team has been in existence for about twenty years and the team’s name is that of the old name for Morelia (and before that, a region in Spain). Many of the family have played for the team, several still do, and they have generally dominated the league in recent seasons. in the past eight years they have won the post-season title five times.

As coach of the high school football team, I have a bond with both teams, having coached about 80% of the players who played last Sunday when they were student athletes at Anderson Valley High School in the last decade or so. Some players graduated in the past few years, including four of the finest players ever to put on the brown and gold of AV – Valladolid’s Omar Ferreyra, Domingo Ferreyra, and goalkeeper Christian Mendoza, plus Sergio Gutierrez, who is in his second year playing for La Laguneta after a season with Valladolid. Three even younger players who appeared in last Sunday’s match will play for the school in this upcoming fall season – Jose Gaxiola and Fernando Ferreyra Jr. for Valla and Omar Solano for Laguneta.

Other teams in the fourteen-team league are from the region stretching about seventy miles from here, north, east, and down to Santa Rosa. Occasionally a team has challenged our two pre-eminent teams but overall the two Anderson Valley clubs have dominated the league championships for fifteen years. Fútbol is in their blood and this also explains the success of the local high school team over that time, given that we have one of the smaller schools in the region with just 160 high school students in total. This upcoming fall season will see a squad of twenty-four Mexican kids, with me their English coach, and once again hopes are high for a successful campaign.

Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors etc, etc, all show up for El Classico which is a very festive occasion and often an exciting exhibition of fútbol. I always stand on the side of the field with Valladolid’s bench players and fans. I like the Ferreyra family, they play excellent fútbol, and I am always welcome to the post-game fiesta at their house in Boonville after every home game, at which I am fed delicious food and get to share a few beers as the ‘world’s game’ is discussed at great length. I know many La Laguneta players too, and their families. they are friendly and welcoming also, but I suppose I have made my choice and there is no going back. That is football where I come from – you don’t change sides, whatever the circumstances may be.

Anyway, the two teams played earlier this year and Valladolid won 1-0 with an unconvincing win that needed an own goal by a La Laguneta defender to secure their win. Valla are at the top of the current standings and Laguneta’s last victory against their hometown rivals in the ‘El Classico’ was several seasons ago. After dominating this rivalry for many years in the 80s and 90s, to have become the Valley’s ‘2nd team’ in recent times does not sit well with many connected to the Laguneta team and nobody could argue that they are not due a win.

I arrived at the pitch in the heart of Boonville alongside the high school about 15 minutes before the 10am kick-off. It was already a very warm morning and under a perfect blue sky the temperatures were on the rise and expected to hit the mid-nineties by midday. As the game kicked off, and I took my place on the Valla touchline surrounded by Valla family members and friends, there were only about fifty people in attendance but by half-time this number had swollen to over 120, with maybe 70% on the opposite side of the field supporting La Laguneta.

The game was a disjointed affair although for long periods in the first half Valladolid dominated with their possession-style fútbol. They had several chances to open the scoring but their finishing was not at its best and Laguneta proved to be dangerous with their counterattacks. The game turned in the final ten minutes of the half with two goals for Valladolid, from Omar Ferreyra and Erik Delgado, both close range shots following smart passing moves in the midfield. It was 2-0 to Valladolid at the break – a deserved lead that on the balance of play should have been more.

The lead could have been increased early in the second half but then Valla went off the boil, allowing Laguneta a chance to get back in the game. Several Valla players seemed tired and off their game and this led to a number of substitutions that brought on fresh legs but did not help the cohesiveness of the team and their efforts became scrappy and ineffective. However, following a clumsy foul on the edge of the Laguneta penalty box, Valla’s René Barajas sent his free-kick towards the corner of the Laguneta goal. It was reasonably well-placed but the ‘keeper should have made the save yet he misjudged it and the ball ended up in the net. It was a crucial 3rd goal and it seemed to have put the result beyond doubt.

To their credit, and that of their many supporters, Laguneta did not give up and, if anything, had more possession in the final 30 minutes of the match. With just 15 minutes to go they pulled a goal back and then with the game in its final few minutes they made it 2-3. There were concerned faces on the Valla bench as the Laguneta fans celebrated vociferously on the opposite touchline. But it was too little too late and the whistle for full-time went moments later. Despite the poor second-half performance, Valladolid deserved victory overall and they maintain their position at the top of the standings with eight matches remaining. Laguneta are tied for 4th place and, with just the top four teams making the play-offs, their season will come down to the wire. However, if they can continue to repeat their efforts from the second half of this match, the post-season should be within their reach.

Following the game, I was once again pleased to be invited back to the Ferreyra home in Boonville for the post-match festivities. These featured a wonderful feast of Corundas prepared by Edelmira and Vidal Ferreyra Sr. This is a traditional dish of Michoacan. similar to tamales, with masa mix wrapped in a long green corn plant leaf, and folded, making a triangular shape and steamed until golden. Eaten with sour cream and red salsa, and on this occasion served with perfectly roasted chunks of pork, it was absolutely delicious, particularly when washed down with a couple of Modelo and Pacifico beers. It was an afternoon of game-analysis, laughter, friendly banter, and a sharing of fútbol/football knowledge and reminiscences. It reminded me very much of my own playing days back in England (without the fish and chips) and the gatherings that would follow every match. Being the only non-Mexican person at the ‘party’ was irrelevant.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the Valley, the majority of our Mexican community, those hailing from La Laguneta, were not in celebratory mood, no doubt drowning their sorrows with a few beers of their own. However, without victory in El Classico for twelve matches, they were perhaps cheered by the belief that surely their time will come. I’ll keep you posted. ¥¥

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