Millwall FA Cup Semi-Final: Reasons Why Fan Violence Happens Less in the USA

Alex FergusonSenior Analyst IIApril 15, 2013

On Saturday, in scenes that can only be described as horrific, supporters of English Championship soccer club Millwall were recorded fighting with each other and then stadium police during the English FA Cup Semi-Final at the prestigious Wembley. 

The scenes went from bad to worse—bloodied men, a girl who looked horrified and scared and police clashing with fans—while the game was winding down (which, incidentally, Millwall was losing 2-0 to Premier League strugglers Wigan). 

This wasn't the only time soccer fans clashed with police, either. In Newcastle, after Newcastle lost 3-0 at home to hated rivals Sunderlandthere were clashes between the police and enraged Newcastle fans.

There was also a stabbing incident outside Everton's Goodison Park after Everton's win over Queens Park Rangers (although this writer was at the game, and there was no trouble whatsoever before or after the game, it seemed), which may or may not have involved a fan-on-fan crime. 

But it's not as though English soccer violence never happens. Clubs around the country have been involved in more than numerous acts of violence, as fans of other clubs take fan supremacy to a whole other level off the soccer pitch.

And although there are numerous incidents of bad fan behaviour in or around stadiums every year, this is a rarity rather than a trend. 

So doesn't it happen more in America?


1) Away Support Is Tiny

In the NFL, fans are given seats in the gods to root for their team, and usually, tickets are allotted to away personnel rather than season-ticket holders. As the Minnesota Vikings put it on their website: "The visiting team allotment of tickets is just enough to cover the internal needs of the club. You may contact the host team to find out what their availability of tickets is."

In other words, chances are that you're going to have to find the tickets on the black market. This means that one or two fans on their own are unlikely to feel as safe in numbers if they are with other teams. And friends of mine who are Oakland Raiders fans are assured that if away fans show up wearing their team's gear, it's highly likely they'll have objects thrown at them.

This happens in baseball stadiums, too. (Ask Yankees and Red Sox fans for details!) in college football and basketball, where fans are given a bigger crop of "road" tickets (see SEC games for details)—and while some seats are great, others are in the gods—the ratio of away fans to home fans is simply tiny.


2) Chanting Is Less Offensive 

The most offensive chant that I've ever heard at a college game is from the University of Alabama, when they sing: "Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer...We Just Beat The Hell Out Of You." This, as well as the obligatory "F*** You Michigan" (at Penn State games), can generally be heard coming from the student section. 

British soccer fans, however, manage to find a song for just about anything, and groups of fans like to insult/taunt (they call it "witty banter") each other back and forth. Ninety-nine percent of the time the taunting of one fanbase by another is just that—taunting. Fans get upset now and again, but really, it's just an excuse to wave a finger or two at opposing fans' general direction.

However, Hull fans found that when they started to chant, "Town full of bombers" (referring to the London bombs of 2005) or, "You burnt your own town" (referring to the London Riots of 2011), they were met with their own seats flying back.

Generally, chanting is there to incite annoyance and reaction (think schoolyard teasing), but it gets out of control. 

In the USA, there is no such thing, and therefore, the opposite fanbase is less likely to get enraged.


3) Things Are Too Far Away from Each Other

Aside from local rivalries, it's actually pretty hard to go and root for your team week in and week out all over the country. That's because not only is it an expensive business to drive or fly or take the train, but it's exceptionally time-consuming. And if you consider that the tailgating, especially in the case of college football, is often the most fun part of the day, finding a sober ride can be hard. 

In essence, the notion of the "away fan" generally means "fan there for a long weekend." 

In Britain, you can go from one end of the country to the other in a day, and still fairly cheaply if you still book early. That means that when a group of fans wants to get together, drink their weight in beer on the way up and then riot for four hours before getting a 6 or 7 p.m. train down, they can do that and still be home by midnight. In essence, this keeps things a little more tribal than in the USA.

So when sections of a team's fanbase riots in North America (see the Vancouver Canucks after the Stanley Cup Final loss in 2011 or L.A. Lakers fans after NBA Finals victories or West Virginia fans burning couches), it's generally the fans of the team rioting against the police. But generally, you won't see violence in a stadium.

4) You're Allowed to Drink in (non-College) American Stadiums 

Because the drinking age is 21 and over, it's illegal to drink in college sports stadiums. In other words, they don't want the kids getting hold of the booze (and yes, we know students smuggle it in in every orifice they have!).

In professional sports, you're allowed to drink in the stadium. For MLB games (well, Yankee Stadium, anyways, you're allowed to drink in the stadium (end times vary) and NFL games, you're allowed to buy drinks until the fourth quarter or end of the game. In NASCAR, there's limits in some stadiums (see these regulations at Bristol Motor Speedway) on how much of your own booze you bring in with you...but you can drink as much as you want during the race! 

However, in British soccer stadiums, you are not allowed to drink in view of the field. And with the majority of concession prices in British soccer stadiums, most of the alcohol is consumed before and after games. Usually, bars in the UK are open at 11 or 12 p.m. Now, we know that's considered late by American standards, but British fans tend to try and pack as much in during the three to four-hour period (longer if you're taking the train!). God knows why, but it's a soccer fan's tradition.

Having said that, what it does is that a far higher percentage of fans are drunk before they go into a stadium than they are at a professional game. And with adrenaline pumping and only 45 minutes per half to go without alcohol, and a bit of abuse going back and forth, it's not hard to work out why violence breaks out. 

Having said that, if there's more incidents of fan behaviour like at the MLS game between FC Dallas and the L.A. Galaxy, then you can see fan regulation come in.

In short, there is no tradition of tailgating in the UK—it's simply going to the bar, drinking as much as humanely possible and going to the game. Food not included.


5) Americans Are Nicer

I love my country, I really do. I love being British. But is North America a more friendly and welcoming place than Britain?


Fans of opposing teams are genuinely nice to each other, and although there's sometimes a war of words, it's a rarity rather than something that you're pretty much guaranteed with if you go to a British soccer game. Plus, if you turned the air blue at an American sporting event, it would be frowned upon. Turning the air blue at an English soccer game is a tradition—most of the songs have it.

So American fans, if you hear a guy with a British accent call an opposing player something offensive, don't have him thrown out. He probably doesn't know better.


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