The One-Word Reason That Keeps Soccer on the Fringe

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The One-Word Reason That Keeps Soccer on the Fringe

This article may seem a little out of character for those who have read my columns before. If I offend anyone with my words here, all I can say is: Allow me to introduce you to the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Onward we go...

I played soccer in elementary school.

I was good at it, too—led the team in shots on goal as a winger, and made the All-Star team in the eighth grade. My team won, 3-2. I scored one goal in that game.

My kids played soccer as young children. I even coached a year for my oldest son. He was long-legged and deceptively quick, and was on the path to becoming one of the best sweepers in the league.

Until, that is, he had a head-on collision with a charging center on a breakaway and sustained a broken collarbone.

He lost his taste for the game after that.

I know what the MLS and EPL are. I know who David Beckham is. I've heard of the World Cup.

I was on shore leave in Torremolinos, Spain during the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Wall-to-wall soccer fans, some of them half naked, all of them drunk, and all raucously rooting for and ferociously defending their team.

Which brings me to my point.

I really could care less for any of it.

Oh, I've tried. I cheered for the US women when they won the Gold in the Olympics in Greece. I paid mild attention as the US men's team tried to qualify for the World Cup.

But my heart truly wasn't in it. And it all boils down to one word, one aspect of the game that I truly cannot stand. No matter how hard I try, I cannot overlook it. It spoils the game for me.

The word?

Hooliganism.

Organized groups, or clubs, of soccer fans whose sole reason for existence is to vandalize, intimidate, and utterly destroy anything and everything that stands against their chosen team.

Including, in some cases opposing fans, whether they are recognized hooligans or not.

Win or lose, they fight for their team.

This is not a racial problem; while some groups are associated with or promote racist, anti-liberal, ultra-liberal, or anti-racist agendas and organizations, this transcends any cultural lines. Hooligan "associations" can be found in all corners of the globe, and they are all equally as violent, equally as lawless, and equally as dangerous.

And they all share equal responsibility for soccer's continued bad reputation.

Occasionally the clubs will organize brawls well away from the stadium at a pre-arranged place and time so that they can carry on without too much fear of police intervention.

Can anyone say gang fight?

Just as often, though, brawls will break out spontaneously in the stadium, in some cases killing not only members of the "fight clubs," but innocent bystanders and police as well. Occasionally players lives are endangered as the violence escalates and spirals out of control, or they are specifically targeted by the opposing fans.

Can anyone say reckless endangerment?

Come on, admit it. You've seen the videos. Fans pressed up against fences, trying desperately to escape the chaos, projectiles flying willy-nilly through the stands, soccer players running for cover as "roughs" pelt them with anything they can get their hands on. I would dare say at least one person reading this has seen it in person, maybe even participated.

If you have participated, I am talking to you. You're a cretin. A low-life, socially inept, morally devoid buffoon who does not have the mental capacity to resist the mob instinct and keep from acting like an utter moron.

You want to defend hooliganism? Well, then let me give you some info to defend against.

England, 1314: Edward II of England banned "football" for fears that it could lead to social unrest or treason.

They were identified early on, folks.

England, 1885: Preston North End defeated Aston Vila, 5-0; players from both sides were beaten severely by fans from each club, including one Preston player who was beaten so bad he lost consciousness.

England, 1886: Preston fans fought with Queen's Park fans in the first recorded instance of an off-site meeting of "fight clubs".

England, 1905: 70-year-old "hooligan" arrested and tried for being "drunk and disorderly."

Apparently it crosses age lines, too.

England, 1973: Manchester United fans instigated riots up and down the country when their team was relegated to a lower division. Young Bolton fan stabbed to death by a fan of an opposing club, simply for being there. Both events resulted in crowd segregation and fencing at matches.

England, 1985: 39 Italian fans died, after being crushed to death by a falling wall they were trying to hide behind, when Liverpool fans broke through barriers and attacked them.

England, 1989: 96 fans died and 766 others were injured in the Hillsborough Disaster, when unruly fans attempted to push through narrow fences and barriers to get into the game, whether they were allowed to be there or not.

Spain, 1998: Real Sociedad supporter killed by Alético Madrid fan. Alético fan had ties to a neo-Nazi organization.

Spain, 2003: Deportivo supporter killed by his own as he tried to protect a member of a rival group from serious harm.

Germany, 1998: French police officer beaten severely by German fans, sustaining brain damage from the incident.

Germany, 2005: German fans clashed with police and rivals in a riot that damaged several cars, shops, and resulted in 52 arrests.

Germany, 2006. Germany won against Poland, and celebrated by rioting in the streets, attacking police with fireworks, chairs, and anything else not tied down. Of the 300 arrested, 120 were known hooligans.

Germany, 2006: 23 policemen injured in rioting.

Germany, 2007: 800 fans attacked a smaller force of 300 police officers, injuring 39. All lower division German matches were canceled as a result.

United States, 2008: 100 rival fans broke into fighting in Columbus, Ohio, during a match between Columbus Crew and West Ham United. Another riot was narrowly averted at Giants Stadium between members of the Empire Supporters Club and the New Jersey Sports Exposition Authority over perceived mistreatment. Things finally simmered down with the arrival of the New Jersey State Police.

Even we Americans aren't immune.

Mexico, 1998: While mostly low key in Mexico, hooliganism does exist. One fan died and several others were injured when Mexico lost to Germany in a World Cup match that eliminated Mexico from the running for the trophy.

That sure changed the outcome of the game. Oh wait, it didn't.

Peru, 1964: 300 people were killed and 500 others were injured during riots at an Olympic qualifying match between Argentina and Peru.

Olympic qualifier. Dead people. Contradiction? I think so.

Argentina, 1968: 70 people killed in stampedes after young thugs threw burning paper into the crowded stands.

Argentina, 2002: In a two-week time span, three people died and hundreds more were injured in hooligan-related violence. A report released that year identified over 40 people murdered as a result of hooliganism over the preceding 10 years. The season was even suspended for a short period in an attempt to quell the violence, to no avail.

El Salvador and Honduras, 1969: These two countries actually went to war for six days after soccer hooligans clashed so violently that the two countries broke off diplomatic relations with each other.

So much for peace and fellowship through sports, eh?

These are just some of the higher profile events connected with hooliganism. Minor fights and riots barely register on the radar of the public eye; they aren't sensational enough, apparently.

I'm all for supporting your team. I'm a Steelers fan, and will ardently defend my team until I'm blue in the face. But I'm not going to organize a group of guys to go to the Cleveland Browns game with the intent of doing nothing more than starting a fight. I have more intelligence than that.

When was the last time you heard of a riot breaking out at the World Series that killed fans? The Super Bowl? The Rose Bowl?

I'm not talking about minor, isolated incidents. I cannot and will not deny that they happen. But as a regular, pre-planned act? As a reason for being at the game?

Can you really see the fan clubs for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks setting a time and place for a good ol' fashioned beat down? If the Steelers and Titans happen to meet in the AFC Championship, is there a risk of the fans storming the field to take out their frustrations on opposing players and fans?

Don't think so, folks. Hooliganism is nearly an exclusive by-product of the soccer world. Maybe it's because fans feel a need to prove their manhood in some way to compensate for watching a game played by pampered pansies engaged in a cross between kick ball and keep away.

Have you seen a soccer player get injured? The Academy Award for Best Dramatic Performance could go to any player injured in a soccer game badly enough to warrant being carried off the field on a stretcher, as they writhe in pain that would indicate they had lost a leg or ruptured an internal organ.

It usually doesn't take much. Occasionally a hangnail will suffice.

Someone will take offense. Someone will try and come out to defend hooligan "fight clubs." Someone might even call me out.

If you do, then you are a hooligan, and your opinion is sullied by your association with the phenomenon.

Here's your fair warning: I don't engage in a battle of wits with unarmed people.

Do your best. Or in the case of any hooligans, your worst.

I've got REAL football to occupy my time.

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