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West Ham & Columbus Violence Is The Wake Up Call America Needs


If you ask an average American what words he or she associates with soccer, chances are that the first one uttered will be ‘hooligans.’

It’s a word that has long tarnished mainstream America’s view of the sport, but it’s always been perceived as “The English Disease.” That perception, however, will change if incidents such as the one at the Columbus Crew against West Ham friendly continue to spiral out of control across this country.

For me, it feels like deja vu. When the United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, many Americans breathed a sigh of relief that England didn’t qualify for the tournament. I was one of them. For the game to flourish in the States, the last thing the country needed was hooligans running through the streets.

Then and now, I still believe that the issue isn’t so much the hooligans but it’s the way they’re policed. Sure, there are plenty of idiots drunken on causing aggro whether they’re Englishmen or Americans. You’re never going to rid the world of those imbeciles, but what you can do is control it and reduce the chances of it happening within soccer stadiums.

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I was extremely worried about the ability of the police and security in the United States to handle the onslaught of English football hooligans. Living in the United States, I had been to countless international and club matches in South Florida and saw first-hand how inept the police officers and security guards were.

I was at the Arsenal against Independiente friendly in Miami in 1989 when security had no idea how to handle a few hundred Gunners fans that had traveled from England. The armed police officers, presumably brainwashed by images of rioting English fans on U.S. TV, were poised to attack. They hassled the supporters at every opportunity even though all the fans were doing was standing up and singing to support their team. If the cops had such a difficult time handling a few hundred fans, imagine how inept they would be when they were faced with tens of thousands of supporters.

Other instances stick in my mind such as the first few home games for the Miami Fusion where armed police officers routinely went into the stands and created mayhem by brandishing their weapons. Then there was the away game I attended with Fusion supporters in Tampa where a Tampa policeman, obviously high on power, started arresting Miami fans inside the stadium because they were standing in the aisle instead of behind their seats. Conveniently, the police were nowhere to be seen after the game when a pack of ten Tampa fans ambushed us while we were exiting the stadium.

What it comes down to is poorly trained security officers who have no idea how to handle soccer fans. These are people who are not used to soccer culture and feel threatened by spectators who don’t behave like “normal” American sports fans.

By reading some of the accounts from the West Ham against Columbus game, it doesn’t sound like many of the neanderthals who disguise themselves as security guards have learned much since my first experiences with them from the late 1980’s. That needs to change and it’s something that the British police would be more than happy to teach the Americans.

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  1. tommy d

    January 22, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    football hooliganism has not gone out of the game. It’s been stopped by better policing and people bring f**king knifes and stabbin. But because unemployment will start to get higher i woujldn’t be surprised if hooliganism started to reapear

  2. JoeLeeds

    January 12, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    I love it how Yanks seam to think they were starting on English West Ham hooligans. a) why would West Ham fan in england travel all the way to the US to see one friendly match, it’s pointless, only a couple of hundred fans would turn up at the most, the rest are american west ham fans b) Hooligans don’t wear offical club merchendice or any club related merchandise. they prefer for police and security not to know they are a fan of a speciffic club so they can get close and cause trouble with other clubs fans, if a West Ham fan wearing a west ham shirt were to try get with a group of newcastle fans, police wudn’t have it they’d stop him but wearing just plain clothes they don’t know he is a west ham fan. c) American firms, god that is nearly as bad as American Ultras. do ya know when ya see kids who act like there all gangsta and hard but really your thinking there perfetic wannabes, well that’s basically wat serious football/soccer fans think of American hooligans, i mean you didn’t even realize that proper hooligans don’t wear club mechendise (shirts, scarfs, hats) or that the supposed brit west ham fans you were fighting were actually american west ham fans. Serious don’t come to an english ground like Upton Park or Elland Road acting like ur some hooligans, coz u just might find some real hooligans, and you wouldn’t stand a chance. Anyway why wud you want to be a hooligan, it isn’t glamerous like on green street, the people are thugs, the punishments are tough (been banned for life from going to see your childhood team play is no joke, nor is a prison sentance) and the consequences can be deadly like the 2 leeds fans stabbed by dirty turkish scum.

    • Joe

      January 12, 2011 at 10:17 pm

      You say hooligans are bad, but then you say “proper hooligans” do this and that and imply that Americans can never be “proper hooligans”. Do you not get that you’re just glorifying hooliganism in another way?

      Hooligans are giant pieces of trash who are a waste of human life. These trash pieces come in all nationalities, and they’re all equally worthless.

  3. g

    November 27, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    no longer a problem?! what about glasgow rangers they completely wrecked the whole of manchester, nearly murdered a policeman, stabbed 5 st petersburg fans, that was in a few hours they have also rioted in bucharest and spain last year and back in scotland. 3 people were stabbed and dozens more injured after the millwall west ham match, and this is an article from the newspaper on the tottenham chelsea match

    “At least 10 people were stabbed as hardcore soccer violence erupted on the streets of west London. Drinkers fled as running battles broke out between about 40 thugs carrying knives, baseball bats, wooden clubs embedded with nails and hockey sticks. The riot began last night outside the White Horse pub in Parsons Green, known as the “Sloaney Pony”, following a dramatic FA Cup clash between Chelsea and Spurs. Police believe it was either a prearranged fight organised over mobile phones and the internet or Tottenham hooligans had ambushed Chelsea fans “in their own backyard” so still a problem me thinks!

  4. Darren Noble

    July 26, 2008 at 12:06 am

    Boca juniors are you some Leftie prick?racism doesnt come from pissed up kids,it comes from people fed up with the immigration of millions of aliens and the policies of government,thats why people turn and stand proud,not pissed up yankee kids!!! Grow up and learn the 14 Words We Must Secure The Exsistance Of Our Race And A Future For White Children!!!!!

  5. Darren Noble

    July 25, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    Iv been told the trouble was caused by yanks with West Ham shirts on so why start slagging us off again? True if you come to Upton Park then you might!!!get grief,so dont come…..You know!!! COME ON YOU IRONS

  6. uaint gotta clue

    July 23, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    You wrote:”If you ask an average American what words he or she associates with soccer, chances are that the first one uttered will be ‘hooligans.’” The average American doesn’t know what the word hooligan means and can’t spell it let alone associate with soccer. The average American associates the word “boring” with soccer. You have no clue. Are you 15 years old? Don’t quit your real job at Micky D’s.

  7. Hammersman

    July 23, 2008 at 4:42 am

    Come on You Crew…i seriously wouldn’t do anything to piss off “soccer” hooligans. I mean, you may be good at having a fight, but fighting is what they do for fun, they are very good at it. Its not just a massive ruckus, its organised mayhem! Not only that, they fight like minded people, who also know what they are doing. Take it from someone who knows what they are talking about, and stay out of it man! You would be ruined!

  8. Boca Juniors

    July 22, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    The Columbus fans have always been animals……………….. That’s why I was particularly unhappy when the legendary Guille the among greatest players in Boca history signed for that shitty outfit……WHY WHY GUILLE. YOU COULD HAVE ASKED AN AMERICAN BOCA SUPPORTER OR TWO DOWN HERE IN MIAMI ABOUT WHO TO SIGN WITH. WE DON’T HAVE THE FUSION, BUT SIGN WITH A REAL FOOTBALL CLUB IN MLS LIKE DC OR LA, NOT COLUMBUS.

    Hammer you may laugh but Columbus has an actual firm called Hudson Street Hooligans. Seriously, they do. Columbus for your information has several competing firms if you will and trouble seems to follow that club ever since they put all the firms in the same area of the stadium.

    The incident of racism at Crew Stadium earlier in the year was despicable and the failure of the the club to take strong action . STRONG ACTION NOT SOME B/S OH WE WON’T TOLERATE RACISM NONSENSE.

    Columbus is shit tiny college town with piss drunk kids who are angry at the world. That’s why this happens.

  9. Hornchurch Hammer

    July 22, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    How old are you COYC, you sound about 12?
    For your information.
    ONE West Ham supporter was arrested, he is a US national.
    He was asked for help by a 15 year boy, who had been punched in the face by one of your “hard” men.
    He delivered instant retribution & was maced & arrested for his trouble.

    PS: I hate to break the news, but “Green Street” wasn’t a documentary, just a shit film.

  10. Come on You Crew

    July 22, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    We will fight to defend our turf no matter what.

    We did not seek a fight or want a fight.

    It was the West Ham fans who came trying to start something.

    The Brits feel they can piss all over us in the press and laugh at our league, disrespect us as people and dictate how we should view the game.

    Nobody wants trouble but let this be a warning to future European sides, particularly British sides that come to Crew Stadium, if you disrespect us and our way of life and our ground you’ll have a fight on your hands.

    We have many firms developing in MLS. Every one is committed to the same thing. Stopping the continued foreign disrespect of our tradition, our game. These foreigners be they Mexican, or British are given ample hospitality when they come to the United States and all they do is put us down and try and give us an inferiority complex.

    We have our own game and league. Embrace it, respect or leave!

  11. Brian

    July 22, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    I live here in Philadelphia, and it is not uncommon to see fights break out at Philles-Mets games, Eagles-Dallas or Giants games and Flyers-Rangers games. I am not saying that fights happen at every game, but its not like they don’t occur. It is no different than what happened in Columbus between the Crew and West Ham supporters.

    The problem here is that the security is clueless on how to handle these incidents. I was at a Phillies-Mets game and a fight broke out in the section next to mine, and the first people to get involved were the ushers, who average about 65 years old. They were simply overrun by the drunken idiots who were fighting. It took about 15 minutes for security and police to arrive, and then they couldn’t get things under control for another 20 minutes.

    Of course, Eagles fans are notorious for their idiotic behavior. In the old stadium, the Vet, they set up a court room with holding cells in the basement to try those who were arrested at the game for being stupid and disorderly.

    Also, it is ture that the majority of sports journalists in this country and some news pundits hate soccer. The reason for their hatred is not so much b/c they are left wing or right wing, it is b/c they preceive soccer as something that is used by dictators and thugs to advance their political agenda (see Iran, Germany and Italy under Hitler and el Duce, USSR, et al).

  12. Kartik

    July 22, 2008 at 8:26 am

    Good article Chris. Very good article actually.

    This is precisely the point I made two months ago on my CSRN show and blog and got beat up for. The simple one word association most Americans have with the sport is “hooligans.” The second word is “foreign.”

    Particularly in a place like Ohio where Xenophobia runs hight that’s a bad combination. That’s why countless posters on my blog and here at EPL Talk don’t get it. They lists incidents from NFL, NBA and NHL games bit 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.

    I have to repeat for the 500th time: significant elements of the media wants this sport to fail and go away. Everytime 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 polling firm I can tell you most Americans don’t have the critical thinking skills of people in Europe any longer. It sounds condescending or racist to say that but it is true. I have empirical evidence to back up my statement. The reason: Too many Americans depend on TV news 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’m so tired of MLS/USL fans telling me “we are no worse than the thugs at an NHL game.” That may be true but that’s not the point. We don’t shape the perception, they do and we cannot give them fodder to bury this sport just as it is surging into the American conscience.

  13. Marleeeen depreciation society

    July 22, 2008 at 5:52 am

    from what i’ve heard it was started by an incident of friendly fire by the security guards on their own. mind you, the game would be bound to attract thugs who have long since been banned from english grounds and cross that with the americans propagander induced mindless patriotism, this was bound to happen.

  14. bloody Limey

    July 22, 2008 at 4:18 am

    Having been to many football games in both the USA and UK, football hooliganism is such a rare event in this day and age, seemingly it’s gone out of fashion? In my humble experience, these incidents are usually started and escalated by ‘Security’ and happen in bars, pubs and clubs around the world on a daily basis.

  15. Hornchurch Hammer

    July 22, 2008 at 3:30 am

    Good article.
    I’m led to believe that there are often outbreaks of fighting at US sports events, is that correct?
    It is very rare to get this at UK based sports events nowadays, including West Ham!
    So, yes it is a policing problem & no it most definitely is no longer a British problem as it was in the 70s & 80s.

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