Oct 30, 2009

Hooliganism in the USA, part III

To read Part I in this series, please click here.
To read Part II.

Yes, this again. Soccer hooliganism is coming to the USA. Check that: it's already here.

In fairness, the "analysis" is a bit different this time. Whereas in the past hooliganism was all about things that were (supposedly) going on in Major League Soccer, it is now all about stateside supporters groups of English teams. Not just any English team, mind you, but one Liverpool FC.

I'm getting ahead of myself. The above links to an open letter addressed to an "esteemed member of the football media" (who sent it to me). It concerns the 16-year old individual who tossed the now-infamous beach ball on the pitch at Sunderland's Stadium of Light on Oct. 17. As we all know this caused contributed to Liverpool's 1-0 defeat that day because the Sunderland goal was scored when the (soccer) ball bounced off the beach ball and into the Liverpool net. As you might imagine this angered the otherwise polite Liverpool supporters a great deal, and they vented their anger on various bulletin boards and other Internet forums. At some point--perhaps (hopefully?) in jest, perhaps not--they threatened the young lad's life, which understandably upset him a great deal.

Apparently, some of these fans were in the U.S. and other places outside the mother country. To wit:

“These people were from America and Australia and all over the world – so-called fans who never come to Liverpool," said the 16-year old, who added that after discovering this he "just ignored them."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what led Mr. Wesley Chin to pen that letter to members of the media. As far as I can tell, it does not appear to be an act of satire, at least not intentionally.

Chin writes:
"I respectfully ask that this story does not fall through the cracks, and receive the attention that it deserves. We, as football fans to the beautiful game, simply cannot allow these reports of violence, hate, and intolerance be swept under the rug. The people responsible for the threats against this boy need to be held accountable for their disgusting actions, and not be given a pass for their actions. By letting this slip by us, it sends a message that they can say and do whatever they want with online protective anonymity. Silence is consent."

On second thought, maybe it was intended as satire? In that case the joke is on those of us stupid enough to take it seriously. Anyway, here goes:

Dear Mr. Chin,
Thank you for your letter (which was not sent to me personally, but whatever). I agree that violence, hate and intolerance should not be swept under the rug. I also agree that people who issue threats of physical violence need to be held accountable for their actions.

But with all due respect, I think you are taking this far too seriously.

While I do not in any way condone the actions of a select few soccer fans who threaten physical violence, I do not believe this is a reflection of the sport itself. Sports fans are a passionate group, as you point out. Sometimes this passion gets the better of them and they say and do stupid things. Sometimes, they actually mean them. In such instances, authorities need to get involved to protect the individuals affected.

This is not unique to soccer. Bill Buckner received death threats. So did that kid who interfered with the foul ball at Wrigley Field. In some non-soccer circles (college sports come to mind) death threats would be an improvement over some of the banter found on Internet boards.

I am sorry that you are left "feeling completely disgusted" by the news. However, referring to it as an "atrocity" is I think a bit much. So is your "silence is consent" talk.

I have been a fan of the beautiful game for about 30 years and have watched it grow in this country for the past 20. This blog, now two years old, is very much a reflection of what I have experienced. I feel fears of hooliganism and fan violence not only overblown, but alarmist and self-serving.

Allow me to refer you to an earlier statement I made on the subject of soccer violence. I realize this situation is a bit different, but think the message still applies. Please take it to heart:

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: socio-economic reasons, cultural reasons, geographic reasons and many more. Too much to get into at this point. (Sometime later, maybe. Though probably not).

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...

Are you ready, Mr. Chin?


  1. Thanks for giving the story some attention. But I feel you're missing the points on two fronts. It's not an issue of whether hooliganism is coming to the US .. it isn't. I couldn't agree with you more. But that's still not to say that people need to be outspoken about violence within sports across the board (being a Yankee fan in Boston should be all I have to say on that matter). And it certainly does not excuse the fact that this still stokes the fire.

    1) A child in school can tell someone "I'm bringing a gun and shooting you all", and he is expelled instantly. Is it any more plausible or realistic that this actually would happen? Since when was threatening someone's life more or less serious? The issue isn't whether or not it would be carried out, but the fact that it was said. More importantly, in this case, said to a kid. If we are to overlook this as a case of "fans will be fans", can't we on the flip side also say to the Liverpool fans: "it's just a game"?

    2) Drawing the comparison to free speech. It's clear that certain members of the American-based Liverpool supporters want their cake and eat it too. They were quick to mobilize against Cohen for his remarks over something they deemed offensive, and demanded accountability (to which he payed for). Where is the outrage over this? Where is the public statement from Liverpool Supporters Club of NYC against the comments of their fellow fans? Could we, by virtue of their own word, assume that Liverpool condones these actions? These issues can't be a la carte... show some consistency and be accountable.

  2. I suppose I think even making this a debate about free speech (or any broader philosophical issue, really) is giving it more attention than it is worth. Fans do these things all the time. It's not good that they do and I wish they would stop, but it's part of the reality of the world we're living in. When these things happen, by all means enforce them to the fullest extent of the law. Just leave out the proselytizing.

  3. How's it going man,

    I'm one of the writers over at SPORTSMONARCH.com. I found your site on Blogspot and I'm very impressed by it. I think we should partner up and gain some more traffic on both ends for us. I want to build a site where sports fans from all over the world can come and debate on certain sports issues. I need your help. This could benefit both of us. Let's exchange links.