Friday, 30 April 2010

Americans Should Sort Out Their Own Hooligans First

A planned football match (that’s the one where you use your foot to kick the ball and don’t throw it or carry for a couple of yards in between the adverts) between Rangers and Celtic to be held at Fenway Park in Boston this summer is now in doubt after a newspaper campaign to halt the derby in the city after claims that Rangers fans could run riot.
In a local rag, ‘The Boston Globe’, Mark Stokes wrote: "One can't help wonder how the city of Boston will fare after a Fenway game, should the Rangers faithful feel the need to express themselves, as they did in Manchester in 2008.”
"Following their team's defeat in the UEFA Cup Final, the blue-clad fans left parts of Manchester in a shambles and forced the local constabulary to don riot gear to restore order.”
Writing on the Ibrox Disaster in 1971 Stokes claimed: “It is widely accepted that the tensions between Celtic and Rangers fans played a major part in the 66 deaths.”
A suggestion that angered both sets of fans.
After complaints, The Globe withdrew the article from its website and Stokes apologised.
But the Globe began to ‘stoke’ this up a week ago, when another of the newspaper's bloggers, Garrett Quinn, wrote of the proposed game: "It's Catholic v Protestant.” “It's Irish v British.”

Now, normally any opinion about the rest of us that emanates from the most parochial country in the history of the planet wouldn’t merit a response, other than to point out that it would undoubtedly be as ill-informed as the CIA, Fox News or the guy that tells their military where to drop their bombs.
I have no intention of getting into any argument about whose fans done what, where and when. Nor am I going to suggest that there is any connection between the content of the stories and the fact that ‘The Globe‘ is published in Boston. What I am going to argue is that the US is a country in denial of it’s own sports fan violence.
Riots at sports events occur far more frequently in the US than the UK. But American popular culture, almost without exception, portrays the "hooligan" as a ‘soccer’ fan.

It doesn’t seem to matter that many college games end in drunken mob violence and that numerous American city centres see running battles between sports fans and riot police. The US sports media, indeed the media in general, continues to present hooliganism as something that doesn’t happen in America.
This blinkered provincialism saw the 1996 decision by the US State Department to warn US visitors to London that Millwall was as dangerous as Guatemala. A country which, at the time, was more or less governed by right-wing death squads.

A typically breathtaking example of these ill-informed double standards can be found in an article by Mickey Charles on
Although he points out that: "There are riots in the streets after a championship comes to town in any sport. Looting, burning cars, terrorising women and ripping their clothes off as part of the ceremony seems to have reached obscene levels ..."
But he goes on to claim that this is nothing compared to the psychopaths of European football when he suggests: "... the fans rushing on to the field don't want to embrace the players. They are carrying knotted ropes used historically for lynching*, rocks, beer bottles poised to be thrown and whatever else is not nailed down. Frenzied followers of one team chase down those of the opponents, not to congratulate for a good effort, but to dismember."
*(For those unaware ‘Lynching’ is an old tradition in the US. Much favoured by the KKK in southern states)
Have none of these guys been to Philadelphia?

At a 1980s Philadelphia Eagles against the Dallas Cowboys game a Cowboys fan in a wheelchair was pushed to the top of a steep ramp by two Philadelphia fans. They ripped his Dallas shirt to shreds after threatening to push him down the ramp.
In 1997, Veterans stadium – the then ground of the Eagles - saw a fully functional court set up it’s basement, along with a small jail, after a game against San Francisco resulted in an estimated 60 fights. When the Lincoln Financial Field (the team's current stadium) opened in 2003, it was equipped with similar facilities.
And you know that things haven’t improved when one of heir own fans, Al Petrillo, talks about the “shit-faced drunk and out of control” fans beating up and breaking the leg of a 60-year-old Washington Redskin’s fan. Petrillo has worked with security at Philadelphia Flyers ice hockey games where, violence is just as rife. "Especially in the play-offs. There's fights at every game. There was this guy in a [New Jersey] Devils jersey, just sat there minding his own business. A Flyers fan walked past him then just turned around and just beat the piss out of him."
The reputation of the Eagles fans is so bad that they were congratulated by, when they failed to boo a little blind boy with cerebral palsy when he faltered while singing the national anthem during a snowstorm.
But it’s not all about Eagles’ fans.

Here are just some of the more famous examples of US fan violence:

In 1974 the ‘Nickel Beer Brawl’ at a baseball game at Cleveland Stadium caused the Cleveland Indians to forfeit the game to the Texas Rangers after drunken fans started a riot.

In 1984, Kansas State defeated KU at football. After the match Kansas fans rioted, smashing windows and signs, overturning a car, and uprooting street signs. Police who attempted to intervene were chased by students who hurled obscenities and bottles at them. Five police officers were cornered for a time and pelted with rocks and bottles. At one point, the Kansas Highway Patrol called Governor John W. Carlin's office to request that he declare a state of emergency and send Kansas National Guard troops to Aggieville
Two years later, despite a number of precautions, Aggieville was the site of another riot after Kansas State again defeated KU. Students wearing t-shirts that said ‘Riotville’ and ‘Riot II’ mingled amongst the crowds that filled the main street outside the bars. As night fell, the crowd again turned violent. Almost every building in Aggieville had its windows smashed.

In 1984 (one night after the first Aggieville Riot), violence erupted outside of Tiger Stadium in Detroit after the Detroit Tigers defeated the San Diego Padres in the World Series. 

A Tigers’ fan holding a World Series pennant in front of an overturned and burning Detroit Police car.

In 1990, a victory celebration in Detroit after the NBA Finals degenerated into a riot that left 7 dead.

In 1993 three people died in Chicago after the Chicago Bulls won the NBA championship.

In 1998, Denver Broncos fans rioted in the streets of Denver after their team won Super Bowl XXXII.

In 2000 Los Angeles Lakers fans rioted in the streets of Los Angeles after the Lakers victory over the Indiana Pacers in the NBA Finals - starting bonfires dancing and stomping on parked cars, and even turning a news van over.

In 2003 in Oakland, California fans rioted and destroyed property after the Oakland Raiders lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII. The rioting fans left several streets strewn with burnt-out cars and smashed glass. One McDonald's restaurant was looted and set on fire. Three fire-fighters suffered injuries while at least 23 people were arrested, in most cases on charges of public drunkenness. When the trouble broke out, huge squads of officers marched through the streets and authorities closed off some areas of the city.

In 2004, in a NBA game between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons, a brawl erupted between Pacers players and Pistons supporters.

And just in case a trip even to nearby Philadelphia is too much for the hacks at the Boston Globe, they might like to reflect on the events of October 2004, when fans of the Boston Red Sox rioted just outside of Fenway Park after the Red Sox won the American League Championship Series over the New York Yankees. And to take a quote from Mr Stokes “forced the local constabulary to don riot gear to restore order.” In restoring that order, Emerson College student, Victoria Snelgrove, was killed. The result of being hit in the eye by a pepper spray pellet fired from an FN 303.

Stokes need not look as far as Glasgow for a story. There is one on his doorstep.
It’s a story about a long-term deeply rooted and entirely home-grown problem that affects American sport that no one is willing to recognise exists.
It’s about mindless drunken violence inside and outside stadiums.
It’s about cop-taunting, car-burning, vandalism and death.
It’s about hooliganism.
It’s about putting your own house in order before pointing your finger at others.