|Whilst the filthy rich likes of Man United were jet setting round
the globe this summer, one amateur football team from Bristol were
making their own piece of history, by becoming the first Western sporting
team to tour the Zapatista held territory of Chiapas in South East
Mexico. The Easton Cowboys (motto: "freedom through football")
had been on adventures before to Europe and had organised their own
alternative World Cup last year, but nothing really prepared them
for two weeks of heat, altitude, some extremely bumpy football pitches
and, of course, the enforced local alcohol ban.
The background: it's now been five years since the Zapatistas rose
up against the Mexican authorities, demanding land, liberty and
autonomy for Chiapas. After early successes, the rebels entered
into peace negotiations with the Mexican government. When these
broke down, the Zapatistas took matters into their own hands, collectivising
their land and setting up 32 autonomous communities. Cut off from
the outside world and despite constant harassment from the Mexican
army, Western visitors to these communities have been few these
past five years. All this made the smuggling in of a 25 strong team
of footballers plus supporters past army patrols and migration points
all the more remarkable.
"I think some people were a bit nervous," said co-organiser
of the trip Roger Wilson. "There were some barriers to overcome,
also the fact there's been a low level guerrilla war over the past
five years. But for them and us it was a huge success. There was
this feeling amongst everyone that something strange and unique
The Cowboys played three tournaments in the villages they visited
against teams with such colourful names as 'Neuva Revolution' and
'Los Liones'. "Tactically they weren't as sussed out as us
but they were certainly fit. It was quite hard to keep up sometimes."
There were some bizarre moments. "You had Zapatistas riding
up on horses to play football, cows and horses invading the pitch.
Doing the Mexican wave and them not knowing what it was."
The trip originally started out as a joke. "It was first suggested
by someone saying 'wouldn't it be funny if an English football team
came over to play them'," says Roger Wilson of the Cowboys
organisers. "It think they thought it was a mad idea out in
Mexico, but our contact said that we were up for mad ideas. One
of the human rights observers had been to one of our tournaments,
so they knew about our reputation."
The were many questions and barriers to overcome - the heat, altitude,
not to mention safety issues - this is an area which has seen a
low level guerrilla war over the past five years involving government
backed paramilitary groups
The trip was not without its eye-opening aspects - "Things
like going to fetch water every day, which we all for granted. You
realise it is a really hard life, then you realise that the fact
that they've taken this land and are not being paid something like
15p a day had meant their life has wildly improved from what it