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Columbus Crew’s hooliganism problem

Referring to West Ham as “Brits” potentially kicked off the violence before matchday

I have deliberetly allowed two days to pass since the initial reports about the fracas at Crew Stadium have passed to comment on this site. I wanted to see what action was taken by the club and what the fallout was before rushing to judgement. After two days of evaluating the situation and talking to people across the country, I have come to the conclusion that the situation in Columbus must be dealt with sooner rather than later.

The simple one word association most Americans have with the sport of soccer is “hooligans.” The second word is “foreign.” So many bloggers and fans simply do not understand the negativity towards the sport we love that emanates from media blowing up incidents like the one the other night in Columbus. So many MLS/USL fans list incidents from NFL, NBA and NHL games and claim that makes these problems acceptable, but reality is that doesn’t matter. The bottom line is the media will treat and the public will perceive any incidents at an MLS match differently than anything at a mainstream American sporting event.

College Football has in the past proved to be a violent sport. Deaths have surrounded the Florida-Georgia game, the Texas A&M-Texas game and Michigan-Wisconsin game in recent years. But that sport is such a fabric of American life especially in the rural south and midwest it’s always chalked up to being drunk college fraternity kids who are living the American way. Nothing about College Football threatens the American fabric according to the demagogues who trash anything related to the beautiful game.

Significant elements of the American media wants this sport to fail and go away. Every time something has happened at an MLS match this year no matter how minor it’s ended up on the “shout shows” like PTI, ATH and Rome is Burning as proof that Soccer is foreign and dangerous. Every time something happens at a College Football game it is simply “those poor kids” and “how terrible.”

Having spent several years working closely with a major international polling firm I can tell you most Americans don’t have the critical thinking skills that they used to on matters like this. It sounds condescending or elitist to make this blanket statement but I have seen empirical evidence that backs up such claims. The reason: Too many Americans depend on TV new, particularly cable news s to shape their perceptions. This trend started in the late 1980s but really intensified in the late 1990s. It’s a bi-partisan thing as the two most prominent prime political shows, the O’Reilly Factor and Countdown, both feature hosts who bash Soccer as foreign and un-American. One host is a right wing conservative and the other a left wing liberal. The liberal actually has a sports background where he used to bash Soccer.

This is what we are facing. I’ve heard time and time again that MLS and USL fans are actually better behaved than NFL, NBA or NHL fans. That may be true but is not the point. We don’t shape the perception, the media which is suspicious of this game does and we cannot give them fodder to bury this sport just as it is surging into the American conscience.

Where does the Columbus Crew fit in this? We’ve had a budding Hooligan problem in this league and in USL for a few years now. When I spoke with Dougie Brimson about the Toronto FC situation two months ago he told me that he had predicted this to the MLS brass a year ago and that they were serious about combating the threat. It seems whatever memo went out from the league office was read in thirteen cities and in some cases over done (like in New Jersey this past weekend) but in Columbus a team that once led the MLS in attendance but now struggles to get respectable crowds has seemingly turned a blind eye to incident after incident.

Here is what has happened around the US & Canada this year:

1) Portland has rowdy fans that sing throughout the matches but hardly ever pick fights with the other teams supporters. They sing, they chant and the Timbers supporters demonstrate to us how passionate football support should be. I do not know of one incident that has made the news recently about the Timbers supporters stepping over the line so to speak.

2) In Houston, after the El Battalion started a fight with Chivas USA supporters, club itself and the other large supporters group the Texian Army took strong action against EB and little trouble has occurred since. The Superliga matches involving Mexican sides at Robertson were basically trouble free.

3) Chivas USA banned several members of a supporters group that picked a fight with the LA Riot squad outside the SuperClassico match in April from several matches and the entire Supporters groups choose to sit out the matches in solidarity with their members.

4) TFC dealt with the problems of violence on the GO trains after matches as well as frequent pitch invaders and no trouble has occurred since. The Metropolitan police in Toronto have increased their presence around the ground on matchdays.

Now let’s look at Columbus and contrast it with the above situations:

1- Columbus did not adequately police the tailgate area before the season opener with Toronto and thus many TFC fans were attacked and with a lack of port o lets for such a large tailgate area, inevitably tensions flared and not only did fans urinate on the ground but they began fighting with one another.

2- At the same match the police presence was so minimal several TFC fans were able to storm the pitch and head towards the goal Columbus was defending.

3- When I discussed the Toronto situation openly and honestly and tried to engage TFC fans on my CSRN show the complaints about me being “too soft on TFC” all seemed to come from Crew fans. Days later several Crew fans were shouting racial obscenities at New England players as caught on You Tube. The Columbus fans also were caught throwing glass bottles and coins on the pitch during the 2nd half of the match.

4- The organization and supporters group in complete contrast to the strong a decisive actions of Chivas USA and Houston in fighting hooliganism tried to cover up the situation and wouldn’t give up the individuals involved. The team would not take action so the league had to after several embarrassing columns were written in newspapers, some of which hardly cover the sport normally. Even more alarming was the attempt by some Columbus supporters to go after sponsors of the MLS Rumors site who had exposed the behavior at Crew Stadium. This is the way off a hooligan, to threaten and bully.

5- In defiance of a league wide ban Columbus fans began sprayed confetti and streamers on opposing players while attempting a corner. Now I cannot recall the specific match but it was done. Why the security did not confiscate the items at the gate is beyond anyone’s comprehension. The league wide ban was more or less enforced throughout the rest of the league. When pressed on the situation at Crew Stadium, Columbus GM, Mark McCullers blamed Toronto FC for the trouble league wide and avoided totally the issue of racist fans.

6- Sunday’s incident: West Ham has a reputation for having rowdy fans, but we’ve hosted English clubs before and never had trouble. The poster promoting the match was an implicit call for some sort of nationalistic pride from the fans, which often times in the past has evolved into violence when West Ham is involved. I’m as nationalistic as it comes when this game is involved whether it be the US National Team, Superliga, or even the Carribean club cup which USL side Puerto Rico participates in. But saying “we take on the Brits, you push us over the top,” is in fact way over the top to steal a line from Crew promotion department. How would Tigres supporters have taken a posted in Dnever prior to the Tecate Cup match two weeks ago that read ” Colorado fans put us over the top against the Mexicans?” The poster and its message strongly indicate to me the Crew management has no interest in stopping the continued incidents at Crew Stadium.

In addition, at some point soon either the local law enforcement needs to be better trained to handle situations like this or the Columbus fans have to be mature enough to walk away. I have to state that I firmly believe that if West Ham had played, let’s say Real Salt Lake instead of Columbus these problems would have been avoided.

Here is my thesis on the situation: Columbus attendance once the highest in MLS has now become among the worst in the league. I believe the organization, desperate to create an atmosphere and attract new fans is purposely turning a blind eye to the things other organizations are stamping out immediately. As I have said to this point we’ve had no repeat incidents in Houston, Toronto or LA because those matters were dealt with by the club before the next home match. Columbus on the other hand has allowed things to fester. They are going to have to take action this time for the good of MLS and Soccer in this country.

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  1. Diadora Soccer Fan

    July 31, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    I believe that what happened at Crew Stadium was unnecessary, but I feel like we’re over dramatizing this incident. Scuffles like this happen in the stands at hockey and football games as well. It seems like the comparison to European soccer hoolaginism is the only thing that’s making this a real story.

    Also, check out my soccer page!

  2. huhfd

    July 27, 2008 at 1:30 am

    This post is a horrible waste of space. There is nothing wrong with Columbus. At all. If you want to address what’s really hurting MLS right now you’d get DC and Houston a stadium so they could stop bleeding money every game.

    Columbus fans are not racist, anyone who says this garbage has never been to a game there. One guy yelling something doesn’t make a city racist, any more than Michael Richards flipping out means that all LA residents/Jews/sitcom actors/people with curly hair are racist. Get some perspective.

  3. soccer1969

    July 25, 2008 at 1:10 am

    I have a novel suggestion, Kartik Shut up about things you know nothing about. Your knowlege on the beutiful game is already limited but your knowledge of these incedents is downright laughable. While you have taken the time to write about these incedents it seems as though you haven’t taken the time to find out about these incedents from someone who was there. If I’m wrong allow me to apologize. I was at all 3 games, in the case of Toronto FC their fans were already drunk before they got to the stadium. In the case of New England while deplorable and reprehensible it was only one person who made all of us look like idiots. As for your comments on The West Ham game I was there and saw everything that happened I heard what the West Ham fans were saying to the Crew fans and vice versa and having been to a number of games in both MLS and abroad. For you to sit there not only in print but on your podcast in judgement over the Crew fans and Crew stadium as though there is a huge massive problem without intimate knowledge of the situation shows how little you know. There were nowhere close to 100 people fighting Hell I was there and there wasen’t even a punch thrown depite what was said in the papers and how is it the Crew organization’s fault that 5 West Ham fans deceided to go to the Crew section and start screaming obsenities all that happened from then on was two groups shouting bad things at each other and then leaving each other alone. I am not saying the Crew fans were blameless but they didn’t start anything. The one arrest had nothing to do with the two groups at halftime. Kartik your disgraceful article needs to go in the trash where it belongs.

  4. MannieG

    July 24, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    Texian Army? Strong action against EB? That’s a laugh! First off there’s no proof it was EB, secondly…ugh, where did you get that hot steaming pile of crap from? Piss poor journalism.

  5. Gregory McSwiggins

    July 24, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    2) In Houston, after the El Battalion started a fight with Chivas USA supporters, club itself and the other large supporters group the Texian Army took strong action against EB and little trouble has occurred since. The Superliga matches involving Mexican sides at Robertson were basically trouble free.

    Are you serious? You don’t even know how things went down…Are you sure El Batallon started the fight? And if you knew anything about either of the support groups, you would know that the texian army has no say, nor would they take any action against El Batallon. freakin’ tard.

  6. james

    July 24, 2008 at 5:47 am

    Shouting loud and chanting isn’t hooligonism, in Europe it is expected at a game, both sides enjoy the banter if one side chants one thing, the away team chant an insult or something back, its just the way it works and hardly ever spirals out of control. In the UK the chanting creates a great atmosphere. Shame you dont seem to have this in the MLS. The new Eastern bloc of europe countries such as Poland is where the violence problems seem to be now. Hammers to win agianst MLS 2nite!

  7. Kiwi Yank

    July 23, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    The Crew fans who even brag in calling themselves Hooligans sicken me.

    Stick to your guns on this. This was the last thing we needed in MLS when so much momentum has developed for Soccer in the country.

  8. Joseph T.

    July 23, 2008 at 11:46 am

    A thoughtful and well reasoned piece. I’m glad sanity has returned to your brain after the hysterical anti TFC rant you authored a few months ago when TFC hadn’t had 1/100th of the trouble Columbus has since caused.

    You should be ashamed of that piece and proud of this one. Send these suggestions to the Crew and let us see if they will engage you in a conversation about the problems currently at hand.

  9. John. Harris

    July 23, 2008 at 8:28 am

    Excellent piece Kartik.

    Months ago when you interviewed Brimson I was one of those who said you were being taken by someone trying to hawk their book. Well I am back to tell you I was wrong.

    Columbus has to stop this situation. They need to take tough action. They need to either suspend the entire supporters club that engaged in this fight for the rest of the season, or increase policing with trained crowd control experts. They cannot keep putting out the statements they have and blaming other people and as you said trying to cover up what happened in the case of the racism and the bottle throwing. This needs to be dealt with ASAP.

  10. The Soccer Blogger

    July 23, 2008 at 2:33 am

    Have to agree with your points raised, not a clever headline, full stop.

    One thing that has always annoyed me is the automatic perception that is made when the words “English (or British) soccer fan” are mentioned. OK, yes there have been issues in the past but you’d like from the press, media and general reaction that it was a monopoly.

    I go to many games in the UK, have done for a considerable number of years and never see any trouble, inside or outside the grounds. You can get some pretty hostile atmospheres I agree, especially when the big teams play.

    I think people should start to look at other countries and what goes on there and stop fixating on the UK. Look at places like Russia. Organised soccer holiganism within the country is now at epidemic proportions. You should have seen the security when England went to play there earlier this year!

    Italy – people actually get killed there. A policeman was killed there recently by hooligans! Germany, Holland, South Africa. The list goes on but it’s always the perception that hooligan = English / British.

    I wish people would chance the record!

    The Soccer Blogger

  11. Phillip

    July 23, 2008 at 2:33 am

    I just don’t see the racism issue.

    *feign shock*


  12. Luis

    July 23, 2008 at 12:26 am


    A problem without question exists. But you seem to want to skirt around the issue of racism which is becoming an underlying theme of what has developed in MLS and USL-1. I do not think it’s hit the USL-2 level yet but considering they play in smaller grounds, I wouldn’t doubt it comes and with more potential for violence than in MLS or USL-1.You point out that the poster from Columbus basically said that we had to stop the Brits. This is exactly the attitude towards Mexican fans and Mexican-American fans who wear America or Chivas shirts to matches in this country. We face it and we feel it. In some places it doesn’t exist: Houston for instance has been quite good. Others like the Galaxy games or Chicago we’ve felt segregated for sometime. I think the Blanco signing may have changed the Fire a bit but that previously was a highly segregated crowd.In Columbus they were spoiling for a fight. We need you against the Brits is what the poster says. To me that is not some innocent plea to come to a match. That’s a plea to affect a match and attack foreigners whether verbally or physically, in this case visitors on vacation. This is not what MLS should be about and its not what the United States has traditionally been about although these days their are politicians and TV commentators exploiting the issue.Andrea Canalas who I believe you have had on your show had an outstanding piece a few days back about the American Dream and how so few writers want to talk about it when it applies to Mexican-American kids. I feel that same hatred brewing in MLS stadiums. In short these actions in Columbus and other places are not surprising. A racial element exists to them that is undeniable. And yes, the game will be marginalized as a hang out for right wing forces much like it was in the Balkans and Italy for years. You claim the left is against futbol. That is not true. Many Americans on the left are against the sport having been exploited by dictators and right wing fascists worldwide to further their de-humanizing agendas. Racial related violence or organizing at futbol matches will reinforce the worst fears many have about our game and destroy its chances for growth in the future.

  13. Berlin

    July 22, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    Now I understand why Carson Palmer hates the place so much, they’re gonna ruin it for everyone. So help me god if they sterilize this sport and I have to sit through the whole game like the KC Chiefs, I’ll start watching tennis. Men’s tennis.

  14. eplnfl

    July 22, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    I keep reading that the West Ham fans that started the incident may not of been UK nationals at all but American fans of West Ham. If this is the case those individuals should be identified by team and law enforcement agencies in both countries and barred from any stadium or match they may try to enter.

    MLS and the Crew need to act quickly to prohibit entry into the stadium or parking areas where the tailgating takes place of any persons who maybe involved in organized disorderly activity. While I’m not in favor of managing the news some of the groups and people involved in this may take comfort in being called hooligans. Therefore the responsible media and league personal should be clear to label these people for what they are criminals.

    There was a report of a fight between TFC fans and Fire fans in Chicago two weeks ago. The story goes after Chicago scored a late goal to win the game a can was thrown a TFC fan that struck a young girl and a fight ensued.

    What can we do to stop this quick, the 99.5% of fans that come to the games want only a good time and good soccer. I truly had a excellent time at the Fire/TFC game, best time at a sporting event for me in years. That includes seeing the USA winning the Gold Cup in person at Soldiers Field.Any fan who sees an incident brewing must report it immediately. Do not let it get out of hand. Anyone who starts a incident or takes part in it must be banned from future games for at least 5 seasons and criminally prosecuted.

    While the problems with fan violence are not only MLS’s problem, review the on the field attacks at Chicago White Sox games the last several years,MLS
    can not afford hooliganism however slight.

    We all here love the sport and are proud that it’s history in the US has been a non-violent one and whenever we go to a game we can see that it remains non-violent.

  15. KEV

    July 22, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    This is some pretty heavy reading for one night.

    I completely agree that Columbus must be dealt with and quickly. I agree with your premise also. I simply disagree or actually totally disagree in complimenting Toronto FC when they caused the trouble in the first place.

    Can you imagine what may happen in the CONCACAF Champions League when a Latin team goes to BMO since they are so rowdy and so damn much like Brit hooligans?

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