The now-defunct Mexico City club continues to cast a long shadow
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Football Pink.
American sports fans know the breakup story all too well. You get season tickets. Your team wins. You love every minute. Then, a decade passes and your team’s owner blackmails local politicians for a newer and shinier stadium. Neither side blinks nor caves. Suddenly, the Baltimore Colts reside in Indiana. The Kansas City Scouts head West to the Rockies. Heartbreak lingers, but at least the team lives on.
That’s not always been the case in other countries and for other sports. In fact, one of Mexico’s greatest soccer clubs in the early 1900’s, a team who rose to dominance and stood on the threshold of greatness, abruptly stopped playing. But it had nothing to do with money. Or stadiums. Or conning the taxpayer. Rather, it was a case of principles. Morals. And community.
This is the story of Asturias F.C.
At the start of the twentieth century, Mexico, and eventually Asturias, owed much of their success to the chaos of Spain. In sum, the country was a bloody mess and talented, successful migrants filled Mexico with ideas and know-how. In Iberia, the unexpected death of King Alfonso XII in 1885 and assassination of Prime Minister Antonio Canovas del Castillo in 1897 left a power vacuum. The Great War soon ravaged Europe, and a soldier by the name of Miguel Primo de Rivera forcibly seized control of the government in 1923. He instituted draconian Castillian laws that included banning the use of regional languages in Catalunya, the Basque region, Galicia, and elsewhere.
Not surprisingly, many Spaniards fled the country. Several landed in Mexico, a relatively prosperous country. They also brought with them fervent passion for a game taught to them by the English: futbol. Despite setting foot on a new continent and in a new country, regional pride stirred in ex-pat hearts. On February 7, 1918, three immigrants from Asturia, Jose Menendez Aleu, Antonio Martinez, and Angel Diaz founded the Centro Asturiano de Mexico in the Capital, Mexico City. Like many other similar associations sprouting up around the world at the time, the goal was simple: a bunch of dudes wanted to meet regularly and play sports, a somewhat novel concept for the middle class at the time.
Even a continent away, though, Spanish regional pride harbored an ugly side. As researched and reported by the excellent Futbol de Cafe, Julio Alarcon, former Director of Deportivo Espanol and President of the Capital League, forced Asturias F.C. to play a trial game before getting admission. Reports vary – one says they only played Centro Union, others say they played three teams – but conclude that Asturias F.C. played well and won. Still, the Liga Mayor rejected them. However, the Asturians started their own league along with clubs like San Cosme, Blanco y Negro, and others. Asturias F.C. won the start-up league easily and grew in popularity, leading to the Liga Mayor to accept them in 1920.
At this time, professionalism slowly crept into the game across the world, but the League was still Liga Amateur del Distrito Amateur. Asturias won the League Cup their very first season and the Cup and League double the second. The club formed an Asturian Culture Center in the Polanco area of Barrio Miguel Hidalgo, a now upscale part of Mexico City North of Chapultepec Park. In 1927, the Federacion Mexican de Futbol was formed. Five years later, In 1932, the Copa Eliminatoria returned and was renamed the Copa MX thanks to a trophy donated by the FMF. Asturias F.C. won the tournament five times over the next decade. In total, they’d won the Cup (Eliminatoria and MX) eight times.
Equally important, in 1936, Asturias F.C. inaugurated the Calzada Chabacano el Parque Asturias, their own proper athletic complex. The stadium included a roofed seating area near the halfway line and could hold 25,000 spectators. Teams from South America traveled to play Asturias, including Botafogo from Brazil and Colo Colo from Chile. However, during this era, stadiums were largely constructed of wood. Here’s the problem: wood is flammable. As the Spanish Civil War raged across the ocean, Republicans tore apart Real Madrid’s field to use the wooden stands as fuel. On March 29, 1939, angry Necaxa fans set fire to stands of the Parque Asturias after a late penalty gave Asturias a tie and the title. The firemen arrived within minutes, but lacked enough agua to put out the flames. They ensured an orderly escape for fans, but soon the stadium was reduced to ashes.
Asturias F.C. continued to play, and in 1944 the Mexico City Amateur League joined forces with various regional leagues to create a professional Liga Mayor, known today as Liga MX. With Argentine goalscorer Roberto Allalay and Austrian coach Ernesto Pauler, the Asturians finished that first season with 27 points from 18 games. They were level on points with Espana, and played a tiebreaker, soundly winning 4-1 with two goals from Abally. A few years later, though, Pauler would leave and an English coach would introduce defensive football to the Asturians with average results. In 1950, Asturias F.C. left Liga MX in a dispute with the FMF, along with Real Club Espana and Moctezuma de Orizaba.
The club still holds more Copa MX titles than Club America, but hasn’t fielded a team for over 60 years. Even though they won those titles during the so called “Amateur Era”, you can’t fault them for playing in the best competition available. After all, they did play and beat Necaxa and Club America in those amateur tournaments. What’s most amazing about Club Asturias, though, is that it still exists. In fact, only a few years after Asturias F.C. closed shop, Club Asturias collected over 260,000 pesos in donations to help eradicate tuberculosis in provincial Mexico. In 1956, the Club had enough funds to buy and build a new Parque Asturias, this time part-community center part-sports fields. No stadium naming rights or public subsidies necessary.
Could you imagine an NFL owner shutting down a team and turning the stadium into a community center? The NFL can’t even properly donate to help victims of domestic violence. In the US, sports teams are franchises and businesses – so long as it benefits them, they benefit the community. But never vice versa. And that’s why Asturias F.C. impresses, especially after hanging up their boots. Early on, the team overcame regional rivalries and stadium disaster to accumulate silverware. However, unlike other other Mexican soccer clubs lost to the sands of time, they didn’t close shop and disappear. Today, the Centro Asturiano may not win trophies, but it forms a vibrant part of life in Mexico City. Their lovely Club Campestre Ecologico even features soccer fields for kids and senior leagues. There’s also art classes and swimming. Sometimes, there really is life after death. And a club really is mes que un club.