By Farid Barquet Climent
To the memory of Juan B. Climent Beltrán,
atlantista since his arrival in México
and inspiration for these words.
For Ulises Barquet and Clemente Molina-Enríquez,
with my sympathies.
It is strange to believe that a Spanish Republican exiled in Mexico in 1940 would not embrace the team colours of sides that were founded by the local Spanish colonists, such as Real Club España or Asturias, but instead followed a club known as the people’s team: Atlante FC, then owned by the city’s police chief.
The unforeseeable preference for a team without Spanish tradition could only be explained by the lack of solidarity – if not sheer hostility – that other Spaniards and their descendants professed towards arriving Republicans. This unexpected choice can also be understood as an expression of gratitude from exiled Republicans towards the country that received them. Furthermore, there was also the need to integrate, regardless of their origin, into their new community.
Supporting Atlante assisted in the difficult transition from immigrant to immigrated: attending regular matches in stands full of local residents with different trades and backgrounds helped gain a familiarity with customs, language and a new sense of belonging. It resembled an intensive course in Mexican-ness that aided in understanding the equivalence between the expressions Qué tal, señor [How are you sir] and the new Quiubole, Manito [which roughly translates as what’s up friend].
After a Sunday afternoon with born and bred Atlantistas, with whom he may have shared a taco on the plaza, it is likely that the recently converted supporter hurried home to rehearse the expressions and gestures learned from his newly found comrades. The lessons from the stadium would help him camouflage his nationality and increase his chances of finding work and better living conditions in a country that still nestled a stale, leftover, anti-Spanish feeling from postcolonial resentment and a polarized teaching of history in schools.
Transformations around the world would eventually frustrate the possibilities of a safe and dignified return to Spain. Hope that Franco’s regime would be toppled by the lack of recognition from the International Community dissipated altogether after World War II. Perhaps knowing that he would be exiled indefinitely – and eventually for life, by choice – became reason enough to embrace life in Mexico, immerse himself in the work that helped raise a family, and strengthen his following of Atlante FC. The latter became key to identifying with Mexico and with the city he would call home.
He witnessed Atlante’s rise as Mexico’s most popular team when Atlante won two League titles (40-41, 45-46), one Cup title (41-42) and a Champion of Champions trophy (41-42). In 1944 Los hijos de Don Venancio was filmed starring Atlante’s goal scorer Horacio Casarín and player Joaquín Pardavé.
Some twenty years later, despite having only just enough resources, he purchased a couple of seats in the newly inaugurated Estadio Azteca where he could follow Atlante every Sunday and the Mexican National Team when they played home games.
The following decades have been far less fortunate for the Potros de Hierro (Iron Colts as Atlante is also known, or the azulgranas for their blue and red stripes). They were relegated in the mid seventies, at the end of the eighties and at the beginning of the new millennium. Meanwhile, the trophy shelf was only topped up at the start of the nineties and in 2007.
Nevertheless, he was not drawn by the popularity of bigger teams that later rose and caused furore, he proved his stoicism by staying loyal to Atlante, a team that represents more than a feeling of pride. It is a way of remembering the early days of a new life that was entwined with his affection for his newfound football club.
He died in 2008, just a year after Atlante’s latest conquest and – hopefully for the sake of national football and thousands of fans – their last change of venue (they were relocated from Mexico City to Cancún for the 2007-08 season). Perhaps he couldn’t watch the team play 1,300 kilometres away from its supporters, who lost their weekly joy thanks to capricious political handlings.
He didn’t see their relegation this week. But today’s atlantistas have been endowed with the task of “rescuing the early fibres of glory out of the mud,” that same glory that he once knew.
Many of us, in tune with the tropical beats and evocative lyrics of the team song, as interpreted by Sonora Santiesteban, would like to see Atlante and its supporters in First Division, “with the blue and red, the usual determination, back in the fight.” [“Con los colores azulgrana, con la garra acostumbrada, en la pelea nuevamente”]
 Semprún, Jorge, en Augstein, Franziska, Lealtad y traición. Jorge Semprún y su siglo, Tusquets, Barcelona, 2010, p. 62.
 Climent Beltrán, Juan B., El México de ayer y de hoy, Edamex, México, 1999, p. 42.