The Clásico Tapatío is one of the older sporting rivalries in the Western Hemisphere, with Chivas de Guadalajara and Atlas facing off twice a year almost every year for the past century. The rich history of the rivalry has so many moments of unbridled joy and crushing heartbreak that it’s impossible to imagine one without the other.
Before becoming a commentator at Telemundo Deportes, which is airing Saturday’s edition of the Clásico Tapatío on its flagship Telemundo as well as the Telemundo Deportes app and pre/post-match coverage on sister network NBC Universo, Manuel Sol saw both the positive and negative of the Clásico Tapatío, having donned the rojiblanco jersey from 2001 until his retirement in 2007. I asked him what his most memorable Clásico Tapatío was, and his answer was “I have various clásicos that I liked a lot obviously because we won.” While the answer still makes me laugh a little, the reasoning made me realize better what he meant. He went on to say that he enjoyed those most because “for the people of Guadalajara, these clásicos are lived with a lot of passion, with a lot of intensity, and always when I won I gave joy to the people.”
Of course this year will be different, with the clásico being played in a stadium that’s completely empty minus a few reporters, photojournailsts, videographers, and team and league staff. “That’s a big change,” says Sol. The fans “are what prompts you to give the extra, to give one hundred and ten percent - the people.”
“Supporting (and) shouting for the team is what makes you play with more heart, and you give more. It’s a big change to play a clásico without people, it doesn’t seem the same,” he continues, but acknowledges players are probably somewhat accustomed to it by now. Still, he brings it back to the fans, noting that “soccer gives us joy in difficult times,” and that players would be in the right mindset on Saturday.
I also asked what advice he’d give the players ahead of the match, and he said while it’s difficult to give advice before a clásico, he’d say “whenever you play a clásico it’s not important where you are in the table. It’s not important if you played well or played badly.”
“That is not important as much as what you deliver on the field in this match. How much heart? How much fight? How much do you give yourself if such a value is a classic? The one that fights the most, the one that enters the strongest, the one that has more to say is the one that wins this type of the game. Is it you?”
While it may feel like forever since there were fans in the stands and you could experience the atmosphere we took for granted while taking in any game (let alone a clásico), the passion of the fans and the players is still the driving force behind any team and any rivalry. The Clásico Tapatío has always been one of the more passionate rivalries in Mexican soccer, and there will most likely be joy to at least one set of supporters when the final whistle blows.