Jul 24, 2008

Major League Soccer Hooliganism, Part II

To read Part I, please click here.

The soccer blogosphere was alive this week with the sound of hooligans. Not literally, of course. It's not like I was sitting in front of my computer listening to "up to our knees in [fill in the blank] blood" or anything like that. Just that there was lots and lots (and lots) of talk about hooliganism, fan violence, security violence, etc. etc. in the U.S. and Major League Soccer.

Kicking it all off, of course, were some fisticuffs that took place at a Columbus Crew-West Ham United "friendly" on July 20. By now we all know the story: about a dozen (or maybe 30, according to many press reports) West Ham fans marched into the Columbus Crew end of the stadium to start a fight with their supporters. Security stepped in, perhaps even backed by pepperspray. There was at least one arrest and perhaps some minor injuries (though I couldn't find documentation of the latter).

The blogosphere reaction was swift and generally split into three camps: 1) Those who not only took the event seriously but called for some form of "swift action" to nip this hooligan problem in the bud, 2) Those who said it was overblown and 3) those (mainly from the U.K.) who took the whole thing with a grain of salt or made outright fun of it.

USA Soccer Spot was probably the most vocal members of group #1. "Columbus, you have a problem," they wrote, arguing that the hooliganism issue is specific to that franchise and not the league as a whole. "You have a problem and it needs to be stamped out not just for the good of your organization, but for the good of the league and the good of the game." Uh huh. Soccer America, who have obviously never been to Giants stadium, called the event "one of the worst incidents of fan trouble involving an MLS club." Bleacherreport.com said it was "a major confrontation" and that "hooliganism is everywhere when it comes to soccer, even within the borders of the U.S." CSRN's American Soccer Spot blog said these "incidents of hooliganism and fan violence" mean it is time for MLS to do a bit of soul-searching. Shakes, Shivers, and Dithers was probably most outspoken of all, writing of "the British disease" finally coming to America. "It is clear that one form or another of disorderly behavior has occurred in every country in which soccer is played," SS&D writes. "So far it has been avoided in America. What we don’t need is for our youth to have British idiots teaching us how not to behave."

Right. Except, the "idiots" in question may not have been British at all. At least, the one who was arrested definitely wasn't, according to the July 23 Daily West Ham United Digest. That and "disorderly behavior" has occurred in every country on every level and in every epoch where human beings have ever gathered. Except for maybe North Korea and until Sunday, Columbus, Ohio.

Next, the "overblown" camp, led first and foremost by the two clubs themselves. The Columbus Crew issued a statement calling such reports of the event a "gross mischaracterization." That might have been what set off USSS. West Ham was not far behind, though. "We understand this was an isolated incident," West Ham chief executive Scott Duxbury told the BBC. "I must agree with the Crew's official position that the incident was blown out of proportion," wrote Columbus Alive's Chris DeVille. "Columbus is burning...err, not really," was the title of West End Football's post on the subject.

Finally, those who made light of the whole thing. "Having successfully exported cholera, colonialism and the Cross to the New World, Blighty is now making an attempt at sending hooliganism Stateside, too," wrote the Londonist. Actually check that. They're in camp #1. I thought this was absolutely hilarious before I realized they appeared to be dead serious. "Why must a small, unbiddable part of me find it impossible to stifle a laugh?" asked the Guardian's Marina Hyde. Of the "Hudson Street Hooligans," the supposed "hard core" of Columbus supporters, Two Hundred Percent wrote "they are, ultimately, little boys living out a fantasy. You see them on YouTube, frantically masturbating over shaky hand-held camera footage of football hooliganism from across the world."

Asked about the incident, West Ham boss Alan Curbishley said "We needed that sort of workout...we wanted to show people what we're about."
(Not quite. He did say that but it wasn't in response to the incident, which I doubt he was even aware of at the time. See how easy it is to take quotes out of context?)

Dave's football blog had an alternate theory: the whole thing was just a publicity stunt!

Time to revisit an earlier Soccer Source post about hooliganism in MLS. The title ("...we should be so lucky") was of course somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Nobody wants to see anything resembling the extremely dangerous atmosphere at football grounds in Europe from the mid-60s to early 90s (least of all me, who has firsthand experience with at least a sliver of that time and place). But there is absolutely no chance of that happening in the U.S. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. The null set. There are many reasons for this, some of which were addressed in that piece. (Socio-economic reasons, cultural reasons, geographic reasons and many more. Too much to get into at this point. Sometime later, maybe).

What we will continue to see--and not only in this country--are episodes of violence or unruly behavior when you put large numbers of young men in a confined space at the same time and add alcohol. It happens at (American) football games, baseball games, basketball games, hockey games and yes, soccer games. Every time it happens at a soccer game we can be sure to hear and read about how hooliganism is coming to the U.S. Don't believe it. It's just somebody else taking themselves too seriously and thinking they know something about soccer culture. Or as the Guardian's Barney Ronay put it, "most likely, one of the culprits here is a lingering US fascination with the cliche and paraphernalia of English football hooliganism." Indeed. Time to get over that, folks. Whenever you're ready...


  1. thats nothing compare with romanians hooligans :)

  2. I never thought we'd see that kind of stuff over here with soccer. I do think we are over dramatizing this a little bit though.