Midway through the multi-Oscar winning movie Gladiator, Senators Gracchus and Falco are discussing Emperor Commodus' decision to put on a series of blood-letting games. Gracchus comments that organizing the games is a shrewd move by the newly crowned leader who is pandering to the masses of Rome and giving them exactly what they want. He concludes:
He'll bring them death—and they will love him for it.
I am definitely not the first to compare soccer to gladiatorial combat, where defeat means death (missing out on the Champions League) and victory leads to immortality. The English game has come a long way since Hillsbourough and the rowdy terraces, but police presence and fan security has been thrust into the limelight by the rampant rioting, looting and general lawlessness that has gripped the UK.
Fabio Cappello has already missed out on his last chance to tweak his England squad before the 2012 Euro qualifier against Bulgaria next month. The cancellation of a planned England vs. Holland friendly at Wembley will be missed by few, but spare a thought for young Tom Cleverly who was to make his England debut and is probably the reason Sir Alex Ferguson is playing dumb over Wesley Sneijer's potential move to Manchester United.
As it stands at the time of writing, the fate of the Premier League opening weekend is in the hands of the London police force. This decision is expected today. The three top-flight games in London are under the most scrutiny, although riots throughout the country, including Liverpool, leave more then a few games in doubt.
Let me begin with a disclosure. I witnessed first-hand the riots and looting in Vancouver after the Canucks lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and I saw the crap that regular people have to deal with because of a handful of idiots. I understand the need for police to regain control of the streets. My hearts goes out to those in London and across the UK whose lives have been irreparably damaged by people who simply wanted to see something burn.
News agencies, police, the British government as well as your average Joe have been grasping for the reason behind all this insanity. Personally, I think this is definitely the most ridiculous: "Showing the rich we do what we want." If that is a justification for three innocent men who lost their lives attempting to protect their community, then the human race truly doesn't deserve its continued dominance of this planet. Bring on the next cataclysm.
Peaceful protests that turn into ugly riots because of heavy-handed police or political injustice are a little easier to stomach that this current turn of events. When war criminals get off easy in Egypt or people rise up against a tyrant in Libya and violence is used to subdue the basic freedoms of a country's citizens, sports should rightly be put on the back-burner. However, when the violence is a result of young adults looting fashion and electronics outlets, authorities should be given license to quell the disturbance and return life to normal as quickly as possible.
But please police of London, for the love of all things holy, don't cancel the opening round of the greatest show on earth. As beautiful, bountiful and fun-filled as summer is, there is a little piece of me that dies in May and rises from the ashes in August stronger than ever. My fantasy team has been meticulously researched and organized, Luis Suarez has been declared fit for the opening match and *gasp* the future of Cesc Fabregas may actually have been settled.
Next year, London is set to host the Games of the 30th Olympiad and showing the rest of Europe and the world that obstacles like this can be overcome will inspire a great deal of confidence in the organizational ability of England's capital. The health of financial markets around the world continues to spiral downwards, Bashar al-Assad's evil regime maintains its iron grip on Syria, new information continues to come to light about Anders Behring Breivik and life continues to get worse in Somalia.
Simply put, soccer means too much to way too many people to let criminals ruin it for everyone else.
During the reign of General Francisco Franco in fascist Spain, the only medium that Catalans had to vent their frustration and anger at the status-quo was cheering on their beloved Barcelona at the Camp Nou. Franco used soccer as a means to let his opponents blow off some steam. When Uruguay soundly beat Paraguay in the final of this summer's Copa America, it provided the perfect opportunity for the champions to thumb their nose at their political and soccer rivals in host Argentina.
Soccer and other spectator sports in general provide the means for the average person to expend pent up aggression in a controlled manner and leave it all on the pitch. Bitter rivals Liverpool and Everton have come together to condemn the rioting on Merseyside, with Kenny Dalglish again showing the same kind of leadership and compassion for the community he has displayed in the past.
Emperor Commodus knew that the common people of Rome were suffering due to higher taxes and political unrest and having just taken over from his more popular father, he needed to gain the support of the masses. In the end, it turned out to be his undoing but the people need their vices and their sport. The fans, this writer in particular, as well as this one, and probably all readers on B/R need their soccer.
At its core, professional sports is a business and players, owners and administrators are making vast fortunes off fans and spectators around the world. But we need our sports. The church of Liverpool Football Club takes the place of religion in my life and the fact that my soccer fasting may be extended is almost too much to take.
So drunk London teenagers, if you're angry at rich people, why not cheer on Swansea City when they take on mighty Manchester City on August 15th? I'd love to hear your opinions on the matter.