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The Wembley Experience: Lessons About Hooliginism

My experience at Wembley Stadium the other night for the US-England game was outstanding. Not only because of the atmosphere and enthusiasm around international football at England’s National Stadium and throughout London (Although I will point out that this visit reinforced a long held belief of mine having visited both cities on multiple occasions that Londoners are much ruder and more condescending than Parisians, but that people from England outside of London are simply more personable) but because of what I discovered about English football. As has been mentioned in a previous post many of the English fans I spoke to were from outside London and supported lower league sides. Many said that they find the Premier League dull and predictable while being curious about MLS, especially the play of the British players who used to play football in England. (I was asked specific questions about Rohan Ricketts, Terry Cooke and Ronnie O’Brien) This stands in direct contrast to the legions of American fans who flock to the Premier League and spend time ridiculing their own domestic league.

As has been discussed on both the American Soccer Show and on this blog the past few weeks MLS has a developing problem with controlling fan behavior. In my conversations with English fans I attempted to get a sense of how supporters of the clubs in the Coca Cola Championship, League One and League Two deal with the problems. The answers I got were fascinating. As Dougie Brimson pointed out in our interview with him a few weeks back, self policing is the key. If any fan attempts to create a violent atmosphere or a “showdown” with supporters of other clubs they are simply ostracized or thrown out of the supporters groups. In addition, supporters work with local police and with opposing clubs and their supporters groups to head off any problems before they become issues. Acknowledgment is a key to dealing with problems as I have been repeatedly told.

This was demonstrated to me as on a few separate occasions English fans did try and start unsolicited taunting of me or other US supporters only to be called off by another England supporter or to stop when they saw groups of four or five police officers nearby both before and after the match. The police presence was impressive but to me even more impressive was the maturity of some English fans to tell their fellow supporters to chill out when they saw me sporing a US jacket and scarf. That’s not to say I wasn’t taunted often or that some fans were trying to provoke a reaction out of me. For example, when I walked on the train at Queens Park Station to go to Paddington to switch to the Heathrow Express, four English fans greeted me with chants of “you are gay, you are gay” chanted like U-S-A, U-S-A. I did not react but did see others on the train sort of stare down the four young, drunk looking fans and I simply ignored them.

But as I said acknowledgment is part of solving the problem. This past week we had arguably the worst incident of fan behavior in the thirteen year history of MLS. As our friends at the MLS Rumors site have discussed in the conversation they have been leading for several weeks now, it is important to recognize and confront these incidents as they occur. When we discussed Toronto FC a few weeks back we saw somewhat militant but intelligent responses. It was obvious from some of the responses and my subsequent conversations that many TFC supporters take the situation seriously and are attempting to deal with it. However, anything that has gone on in Toronto pales in comparison with the events in Columbus this past weekend.

What’s even more disturbing about the situation in Columbus is that little accountability has been demonstrated by supporters of the Crew. When we discussed TFC a few weeks back, ironically enough a few comments were left by Columbus fans claiming that the behavior of TFC supporters who came to Ohio for the MLS opener had created the environment where many Crew fans were unwilling to go to the subsequent matches. Now we have learned if anything it is the behavior of the Crew’s own supporters and the lack of willingness of their supporters groups to police their own that have gotten us to this position.

So defensive about the situation are some Crew supporters that they have even threatened to go after the sponsors of the MLS Rumors site which broke the story. I ask those particular Crew supporters, Why stop there? Why not go after the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, WBNS TV, You Tube and the MLS itself, among others for acknowledging and confronting the situation in Columbus. If you are so convinced your fans are being thrown under the bus why not boycott any media outlet that doesn’t rubber stamp your agenda of sweeping these issues under the rug. From my vantage point the response of some in Columbus is simply nothing less than cowardly and insulting.

The incidents of racism were so ugly in Columbus on Saturday night that they do not bear repeating. They have cast MLS in a negative light in the mainstream media, the type of situation we had hoped to avoid and why specifically I wrote the piece I did several weeks back. The irony once again is that it was a few Crew supporters that claimed I was not tough enough on Toronto FC. But it is Columbus who now must do something about this situation before others are forced to take action against them.

One thing I have learned from speaking with Dougie Brimson and my experiences at Wembley is that while these sorts of incidents are common place still England, they are dealt with quickly and firmly be it by law enforcement or by supporters groups. If we don’t develop the same culture of self policing and honesty about these incidents here in the US we are doomed to a consistent repeat of the sort of ugly incidents that have engulfed so many football leagues throughout the globe in the not so distant past.

About Kartik Krishnaiyer

A lifelong lover of soccer, the beautiful game, he served from January 2010 until May 2013 as the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the North American Soccer League (NASL). Raised on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the old NASL, Krishnaiyer previously hosted the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, the Major League Soccer Talk podcast and the EPL Talk Podcast. His soccer writing has been featured by several media outlets including The Guardian and The Telegraph. He is the author of the book Blue With Envy about Manchester City FC.
View all posts by Kartik Krishnaiyer →

6 Responses to The Wembley Experience: Lessons About Hooliginism

  1. GoMentalUnited says:

    Just to let you know how serious this issue is. It has been rumored that certain watchdog and Human Rights Groups are getting involved here.
    It is just a matter of time Until North American soccer has it’s own “Heysel” type of incident if proactive measures are not taken.
    Don Garber’s message on the MLS site was a plus, however, it was very disappointing in that it fell short of denouncing racist behavior.
    In addition, the journalist from the Toronto Sar succeeded in stirring up trouble between TFC & Impact fans. This sort of irresponsible journalism should be met with charges of incitement. Hate speech and racist behavior is outlawed in Canada, this sort of thing should be outlawed as well. Freedom of speech has noting to do with incitement, especially when violence follows as it did in Montreal.
    Watching closely,
    TZ

  2. JayRockers! says:

    GoMentalUnited said in May 31st, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    “It is just a matter of time Until North American soccer has it’s own “Heysel” type of incident if proactive measures are not taken.”

    You are kidding, right? Do you know how many sporting events happen in the USA on a daily basis? Name the last (or perhaps first) time there’s been crowd trouble like that at any sporting event in the United States.

    Sure, the average American sports fan consumes way too much alcohol at the pre-match tailgate. But ever since the ESPN-fueled weekly “pitch invasions” in college football and college basketball became the norm instead of the once-in-a-lifetime celebration, there really hasn’t even been a major catastrophy. Even the Pacers/Pistons brawl on the court was the result of the players entering the stands. If the players stayed where they were, you never would have had that scene. You’re more likely to get hurt after the game in the city streets (Boston, Detroit, Univeristy of MD) than at the sporting event itself. Or at a concert in one of those stadiums (Cincinatti).

    There’s plenty of police presence at professional sporting events in the USA that you’ll never see organized crowd trouble the way it happens in Italy on a weekly basis. And the reason I brought all the other sports into the mix is because, at the end of the day, MLS is just too small-time to kick off a major international incident.

    Thx,

    Jay!

  3. matt spencer says:

    Thanks for the post Kartik. Couldn’t agree with you more. A true test of character is not whether or not an incident like this happens at a match in your city, but rather, how you as supporters respond to such an incident and make efforts to respond to and prevent them in the future. Columbus fans are failing miserably and I think it may be time for the team or league to take action if the fans can’t or won’t.

  4. LH says:

    Columbus better clean up its act.

    Kartik I bet you feel better about us north of the border now after you’re boys hurled this racism the other day, eh?

  5. eplnfl says:

    First, let me comment as to your reception in London:

    I have had two trips to London and will agree that the residents are like those of any world class capital overrun by millions of tourists. They become cold to everyone. On the other hand once out of the big city, New York, London, Paris, Rome etc.( I haven’t been to Paris I should say) the people become much friendlier and out going.

    When the USA played England in Chicago the English fans that made the trip and there were a good number, appeared to be great fans who were making the best of a chance to visit Chicago and follow England. The US fans at the game treated them with respect and some curisoity since we had articles in the paper before the game giving some warnings of past behavior. The English football fan is much more like the NFL or NCAA football fan in the US. They all share extreme passion. I can not print in a public forum some of the behavior I have observed at a Bear-Packer NFL game. So name calling by some younger English fans, is mild compared to want you may see at an NFL or NCAA football game. I have been personally present at a Big Ten football game were some college age fans encouraged violent behavior towards themselves and also began to actually tear up the seats in the stadium in the name of fun!

    That brings me to the incident at the Crew game. The one drunk fan should be found and banned from any future sorting events. There is no excuse, even extreme alcohol consumption for his behavior. However, does this show as Dougie Brimson has asserted that organized fan violence and unacceptable behavior is becoming common place in the MLS. Hardly! MLS can not survive hooliginism, yet the act of one extreme idiot should not be used to attack an entire fan base. Another incident in a differnet city or more trouble with Crew fans would be reason to worry about a systemic problem.

  6. Brian says:

    The issue of MLSR is not an issue of “breaking the story” because they actually didn’t break the story at all. They simply took the youtube video that was posted on BigSoccer.com and ran with it. If they had posted the video and then stated that the team and the supporters groups needed to ban the fan for life then no one would have been too angry with them. A few days later though, they decided to use some of the most unethical practices that I have seen (even from a blog).

    In a “follow up story” they forged pictures and bent facts in order to back up their claim that the entire columbus supporters section were neo-nazis. Let me repeat that so it is fully understood … using “evidence” (one piece being that they named their supporters section using german) they made the case that the supporters section of the columbus crew were skinheads. The use of faulty facts and photoshop jobs just added to the disgrace. That is slander any way you slice it and MLSR should hope that the issue doesn’t get too big and the spotlight is put on them.

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