Toros Neza, the craziest team in Mexican soccer history, will surely bring back painful but rewarding memories. Despite their demise in the 90s, the mythical squad still manages to bring smiles to fans’ faces, almost 20 years later.
Bart Simpson, Butt-Head from Beavis and Butt-Head, two calacas, Mexico’s not-to-be-spoken-of ex-president Carlos Salinas de Gortari, and Gene Simmons of Kiss were all present in the team’s promotional photos between 1995 and 1997. This eclectic gamut took the field every few weeks at the Estadio Neza 86 (the club’s stadium in Nezahualcóyotl) to foster an insane and continually incomparable love for the beautiful game.
Bart Simpson wasn’t actually there, of course. They were masks, and the cracks behind them were dazzling players like Argentine midfielder Antonio Mohamed (current manager of Liga MX-leading Monterrey) and countrymen Federico Lussenhoff, Germán Arangio, and Silvio Rudman. Chilean Rodrigo “El Pony” Ruiz also featured, as did Nidelson Silva da Melo, the Brazilian forward fondly remembered for his frequent drinking escapades. Last but certainly not least are Mexican legends Miguel “El Piojo” Herrera (you know, the guy who was sacked as Mexico manager following an airport tussle with a TV commentator) and Guillermo Vázquez, the former player currently at the helm of Pumas UNAM. Goalkeeper Pablo Larios Iwasaki, “El arquero de la selva,” was equally prolific. In short, this was a squad and a half.
The team’s crazy antics commenced when the roaring and raging Toros Neza made it their mission to show squad unity. In this vein, they decided to dye their hair the same color. Every damn one of them. Step two? Masks and cowboy hats, because why the hell not? With surprises around every corner, even rival fans started tuning in. They were out of their minds. Completely nuts. While it all seems like one elaborate show in retrospect, their biggest achievement was exceeding expectations over the years.
“Most people talk about the crazy stuff, but the results and the style of play are the things that we can’t forget,” Piojo told Mediotiempo. Toros Neza matches were like rollercoaster rides; they could score a staggering five or six goals within a single game, and turn right around to get demolished by a similar scoreline the following weekend.
“Score as many goals as you can without thinking about how many your rival can net” was the philosophy that led them to the Verano 1997 tournament title match, where they fell 6-1 to Chivas away. We’re almost two decades out from that fateful day, and I still believe that this bunch of rebels was beaten because it found itself in unfamiliar territory out in Guadalajara. These guys truly thrived in front of their fantastic fan base at Neza 86. They honed their craft for their hometown of Nezahualcóyotl.
Nezahualcóyotl is the biggest slum in the world. Its population has increased to 1.1 million in recent years, and the over 300,000 houses distributed across 26 square miles make it one of the most densely populated places in Mexico. According to government data, almost half of the city’s inhabitants live below the poverty line. Those who live beyond its limits avoid it at all costs, wary of its infamy as a region riddled by gang violence and robbery.
For Toros Neza players, defending basic needs was a part of their daily struggle. “That’s why we’re known for being harsh people,” says local chronicler Germán Aréchiga. “We don’t want trouble. But at the same time, we don’t accept injustice or let ourselves be bullied.” A popular powerful proverb in Neza states that young men have only three things to learn in life: how to be a good fighter, how to kill it on the dance floor, and – naturally – how to be the best futbolista.
The people of Neza filled their team’s 20,000-seat stadium for almost every match. A full house through the good times and the bad. It wasn’t until five years after the club’s inauguration in 1986 that they were really able to enjoy soccer at the highest level; 1986 marked Mexico’s second shot at hosting a World Cup. Neza was one of twelve host cities.
Aréchiga recalls the local government building white fences in front of houses near the stadium in anticipation of the big event, no doubt an effort to make poverty less visible, more distant. “They also put green sawdust over the dusty land to give the appearance of grass,” he told Chilango Magazine. Can you imagine British singer-songwriter Rod Stewart bearing witness to that? Perhaps this is what led him to get totally smashed at a local pulquería after Scotland–Uruguay ended in a scoreless draw. Sir Alex Ferguson was the former’s gaffer that day at Neza 86.
Stewart wasn’t the only world superstar to make the trip to Neza; Diego Maradona was there. Not to take to the pitch, but rather as another hincha eager to watch Uruguay (and iconic Celeste midfielder Enzo Francescoli) get destroyed 1-6 vs. Denmark. The Scots and Danish in particular are remembered as borrachos in Aréchiga’s memories, obscenely drunk before, during, and well after the match. They could have cared less that Neza was a dangerous place by definition. If anything, they were the danger that summer; on occasion, police had to take them by force to Mexico City hotels in order to avoid confrontation.
These are just a few of the stories that keep the memory of Neza 86 alive. They’re special (and almost unbelievable) memories that bring smiles to our faces.