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Where Does Sporting Hatred Come From?

I don’t really hate anybody in my immediate world (except, of course, my old landlord, Dick Dumont – yeah: he knows what he did). But it’s easy enough to drop the word hate into conversation. “Oh, I hate that” and “Don’t you just hate him/her?” We do it all the time, but do we truly hate the thing or person? Most of the time it is purely a conversational device. An overemphasis to make a point felt with the force of a sledgehammer rather than a mallet. Hatred – real hatred – is an awful thing to muster up. Especially against people. I should emphasize – in case my mother is reading this – it goes against my upbringing, moral code, inner life, and all that. It’s the thing that – if allowed to run wild – can eat up at somebody until they turn into a mass-murderer – or at the very least a cranky old bastard. I don’t want to be either.

But Sports Hatred – well – that’s different, isn’t it?

I mean I HATE the New York Yankees. But as a concept. It’s in the vein of hating brussel sprouts or going to the dentist. I don’t know the players as people. I’d have to know them to be able to truly hate them. Similarly, I hated Cristiano Ronaldo as a concept – when he was in England (now I feel indifference creeping in) – and of course Manchester United. But I don’t hate the friends I have who follow United or who adore C Ronaldo (and do they even still adore him? the next time he flops over and earns a penalty against Sevilla or Barcelona or Atletico, will they defend him as if it was against Chelsea, Spurs, Blackburn, Liverpool? Off topic. Sorry.)

This question is different for me, an American. I’ve seen New York Yankees fans wander into bars just outside Fenway Park after a heated game. They’ll get dirty looks and maybe a little shit talked to them here and there. But they don’t need a police escort from the park. They aren’t held back in the stadium while the home fans filter out. Hell, home fans and away fans are not even separated in our stadia as they are in so many football grounds around the world.

No, there are longstanding deep-rooted feelings in other parts of the football world, those epic animosities that, growing up Stateside, I can only appreciate from distance. I can’t completely wrap my mind around them. With huge historic overtones fueling the biggest rivalries (Arsenal v Tottenham… The Old Firm…) and with the sense of tribal loyalty that is embedded in world football culture, there’s something out of reach for me even living in Boston, a deeply passionate sports town in its own right with diehard fans, a long, angst-ridden sports history and police who come out in riot gear every time one of our big teams looks like they might win the title.

And while I cannot own the deepest kind of animosity of somebody who’s been following their football club their whole life, I’ve dipped my big toe in it. I’ve seen enough of it to understand how it can well up in a person.

One day we were in the pub watching Liverpool crank out a miserable performance against West Ham United. The Reds would eventually be undone by a stoppage time Mark Noble goal, but even up until that point, there was a feeling of desolation that permeated our corner of the bar. It was a Wednesday afternoon and two Manchester United supporters were at a table at the far end of the room. They seemed to be spending more time cheering on West Ham than watching their own match. I mostly ignored them. Then at half-time, on their way out to get a cigarette, one of them, for some reason, singled me out: “Why don’t you come over and watch a real team?” he said.

Then, only after they were out of ear shot, my Seinfeldian “the-jerk-store-called”-type response came to the surface:

“What? Are Havant & Waterlooville being shown?”

This was immensely hilarious and comforting to me. But ultimately useless since I didn’t think of it until after they’d walked away. (When I told to the story to friends later, I might have credited myself with saying this line in the actual moment. You know how it is.)

If Liverpool had pulled out the win, I probably would have forgotten the exchange. But as we (and as a relative newcomer – I was really feeling a part of that we that day) continued to struggle and eventually fell to the Hammers, the dickish words Why don’t you come over and support a real team? festered in my stomach like day-old food-poisoning.

Beyond that I probably would have kept festering and left it at that. But then the United supporters were still shouting and they eventually got a rise out of my friend Marty, a big Scouser who’s bled Red for decades, and who surely had strong feelings of his own in regard to the very recent loss. Marty was quickly in their faces, shouting and pointing, and in an otherwise quiet, mostly empty pub at five in the evening, I really though it was about to come to blows. Other friends pried Marty away, brought him back to the bar where we – along with the sole West Ham supporter – kicked off a rousing rendition of “Who the fuck are Man United?”

At some point, I found myself standing on a chair, screaming the words at the two young men in the corner. My face was red. All the nervous pints sucked down during an afternoon of bad football were spinning through my veins. I was outside myself. Who was that guy on the chair? It wasn’t me. I was feeling that tangible hatred. At that moment it stopped being only conceptual.

Before that day, I never would have seen myself behaving in this way. If my good friend Noel – an older United supporter and former co-worker who used to tape Liverpool matches for me and discuss football all hours of the day – had walked into that pub at that moment, I would have crawled under my chair and tried to melt into the floor boards in embarrassment. My point is, something switched on inside. It was a minor outburst in the big scheme of things, but that bit of aggro I could see but never understand in other supporters came up inside me in its own small way. That pure sporting hatred that was always a foreign concept stopped being the conversational hatred and turned into live unadulterated vehemence.

I still can’t fathom the depths of it that sits in supporters who have followed their club for decades. That’s beyond my experience. But I caught a glimpse of it that day and for the first time could at least understand where it can come from. That the potential of it is in all of us, no matter how civilized we think (or hope) we are. It might take one too many drinks or one too many snide comments or one to many miserable match points dropped to switch it on. But it is there.

I hope I don’t see that side of me that was standing on the chair again. Win or lose, I’ve cut down on the pints at match time and – though there will always be supporters in the pub who try and wind up others around them, I try to ignore them. This is easy in the States, where they are still in the vast minority. Most supporters of other clubs I’ve met in America – though we might exchange remarks and try to out sing each other in the heat of battle – are generally happy to be among other football lovers. In this country it’s a blessing to find others willing to discuss and enjoy football. Most Americans seem to want to check for signs of a recent concussion when you say you love soccer. When you find someone to talk football with, you might groan when you discover they follow your rival, but the important thing is they love football!

Even friends from England who role their eyes at me when they discover I follow Liverpool are generally still happy to chat about the beautiful game though their love is for Chelsea, United, West Ham, City or Spurs. We can appreciate each other’s passions even though they go in different directions even if we talk some trash from time to time on match day. I often find myself looking for something positive to say about the likes of Lampard, Rooney, Carlton Cole, Wright-Phillips or Lennon so when I run into these friends I can expand the dialog. It’s like when you see a play your dear friend was in only you hated the play: “Well, the costumes were niiice… and you were great!” You look for positives even though the plot did nothing for you and the music was like fingernails on the chalkboard.

My glimpse into pure sporting hatred scared me a little. Though I’ve resumed hating United purely as a concept – that ugly little beast must be hiding in me somewhere. I am glad he came out that day in a modest outburst. It was minor enough to cause little trouble, but real enough to teach me about myself.  Show me a side I didn’t think existed. Now I know.

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  1. Duke

    September 24, 2009 at 10:09 am

    If you think there’s no analog for European sporting rivalries in the U.S., I would say you need to look a little further. Chicago/Green Bay is one of the oldest rivalries in the NFL, and one of the most heated. Make the trip to the stadium and see, and there will be plenty of away fans, too. Cubs/White Sox is another good one, and these teams haven’t even played each other regularly until the last few years, when MLB implemented inter-league play.

    The thing I’ve noticed about the teams I have really come to hate: I hate the fans as much as or more than I hate the team. I think this is why the Chicago baseball rivalry is so out of control; the fans are all mixed up among one another. Just about every family in the area has a mix of Cub/Sox fans, and they can’t seem to avoid getting on one another’s nerves.

    I detest both Pittsburgh’s and Green Bay’s football teams (along with a couple others ;-P) mostly because their fans are obnoxious: Any penalty called against them is a horrible injustice, any penalty against an opponent is richly deserved. A loss by their team is the result of poor officiating or outright cheating by the opponent, a win is only natural because their team is vastly superior to everyone else. And they are (sweeping generalization here, I know…) by and large ignorant about the sport and it’s subtleties.

    Now, I’ve been an NFL fan long enough to know about Raiders fans and the Black Hole. I think it was summed up pretty well by one former player who said that he used to keep his helmet on when on the sideline because fans (who had been searched on the way in) would take the batteries out of their cameras and throw them at visiting players heads. Now there are some people you should be able to build up some hatred for! I’m sure that San Francisco fans and San Diego fans could spew some vitriol over them. But I can’t get myself too worked up about it. It’s just too far removed from me.

    So maybe it’s just a matter of fans living too close together. Familiarity breeds contempt, right?

  2. matclarence

    September 24, 2009 at 3:25 am

    Where Does Sporting Hatred Come From?…… I think they’re in the Spanish second tier mate…

  3. Lyle

    September 23, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    America is just a more tolerant, friendly country than England or really most other countries. This would not happen in the U.S. — shameful (Liverpool fans as well):

    • Gaz

      September 24, 2009 at 9:21 am

      Did a Liverpool fan make fun of you as a child or have you developed this vendetta as an adult? ? I think about 50% of the posts I’ve seen by you have been anti-Liverpool. Talk about sporting hatred.

      That, honestly, is nothing. The same happens all over the country every weekend. If only it would stay at that level and not raise to the violence that it often does.

      • Lyle

        September 26, 2009 at 8:36 pm

        No, cause I’m not from England. I don’t have anything against Liverpool at all actually, but there fans have some issues and they one of the Big Four. It’s not like Millwall or Leeds are anywhere near the Premier League. Other clubs in England have fan issues as well, so do more clubs on the Continent where people are killed every year just for going to a football game or into the environs around a football game.

        Liverpool fans need to acknowledge they do this kind of thing. It’s on the video. It is what it is. What’s pathetic is all you and others can do is apologize for it. It’s stupidity.

  4. F1Mikal

    September 23, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    I recently discovered that at American NFL football games, there are VERY few supporters of the opposing/visiting side. Only during the playoffs are both sides’ supporters present. This may contribute to the ‘lack’ of hatred.
    I am sure the sheer size of the country inhibits most of that travelling support.


    • Lyle

      September 24, 2009 at 12:47 am

      A better sport to look at is college football where there are allotted away fan sections. Years ago there use to be more fighting and what not, but now it is just a lot of friendly banter or maybe some people giving each other the bird. Student body sections also can come up with some lewd chants.

  5. CA_backpacker

    September 23, 2009 at 11:43 am

    Mix alcohol with sports passion and you get a volitile mix.

    And don’t think it isn’t seen at US Stadiums. I was at a Raider v Chargers NFL game where a drunk Raiders fan got in a fight with a Chargers fan and bit off his ear!

    • MarkB

      September 23, 2009 at 11:16 pm

      Down here in Alabama, there was an incident a few years ago where a University of Alabama football fan shot his own son. Seems the kid had the poor judgement to ask his old man for the car keys right after Alabama had lost a close game and the old man pulled out a gun and shot him. The police report mentioned that alcohol may have been a contributing factor. Ya think?

      • MarkB

        September 23, 2009 at 11:29 pm

        Actually, he only tried to shoot him in the head. The kid turned away and he missed. And the kid had asked for a car and not car keys. I stand corrected.

  6. Think Free

    September 23, 2009 at 1:14 am

    liverpool is the worst city in europe .. they hatred and prejudice from this armpit is legendary. ask any so called minority in the UK and they always mention Liverpool as the place they dare not visit……add this with the fact they have not won any Premier League titles and you have a dangerous stew of prejudice and self loathing…it’s the only team in the League you want to lose. Ask John Barnes about Liverpool he will tell you about so called Liverpool supporters!! Everton is a bright light in a horrible City!!

  7. ray

    September 22, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    nah gaffer most liverpool supporters put club way before country and couldn’t give a toss about rooney scoring for england.

  8. The Gaffer

    September 22, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    Good topic Ethan. For the people who know me, they know I’m very easy going and don’t hate too many people. The only football tribe I’d rather not hang around are Cardiff City supporters, but that’s because of their heated rivalry with Swansea City, the football team I support.

    What I find interesting is how sporting hatred go out the window during a World Cup. Imagine if England makes it to the semi-final or final next summer. Will Man United supporters be cheering for Steven Gerrard when he scores a last minute winner? Will Liverpool supporters jump for joy when Wayne Rooney scores the opening goal? And so on. Somehow I think so.

    The Gaffer

    • TT

      September 22, 2009 at 9:33 pm

      On that last point, the ARG-EN-TINA chanting Man U morons will hate who exactly when Heinze breaks Rooney’s foot or Tevez dives over Rio to win pen next June?

      • DaveMo

        September 23, 2009 at 9:57 am

        No worries there. ARG-EN-TINA are on track to fail qualification.

    • Cam

      September 22, 2009 at 11:50 pm

      Good point Gaffer, in the normal Prem League season the only time you would see me mentioning Steven Gerrards name would be in anger, and probably followed by a few profanities…on the other hand, world cup time I’m giddy like a school girl when Steven Gerrard gets the ball!

    • ovalball

      September 23, 2009 at 9:12 am

      No doubt about it, Gaffer. Depending on your viewpoint, Stevie/Wayne may be an a$$hole, but for that moment in time he’s MY a$$hole. Kinda like I used to think about Jesse Helms before/after I moved to NC.

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      September 23, 2009 at 12:22 pm

      Liverpool supporters, many of them at least could care less how England do. Not sure about United support since most of them are plastic, front runners anyhow.

  9. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    September 22, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Sporting hatred in the true sense is non existent in American pro sports. Nobody, with the exception of family members of players and staff really understand the passion of football in American pro sports.

    It does exist BIG TIME, at European football levels in the college game though, particularly here in the south and in the interior or the country and the middle west.

    • Eric

      September 23, 2009 at 9:34 pm

      i completely agree with that. Southern college rivalries, particularly in american football, are the only things clooossssee to european football passion

      • MarkB

        September 23, 2009 at 10:59 pm

        I have the misfortune to live in Alabama, and I can tell you there is some SERIOUS hatred on or about the third Saturday in November where college football is concerned.

  10. Paul Bestall

    September 22, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    It’s a strange thing sporting hatred. I’m quite unusual in that I support a southern team, go all over the place with them but live up north. It’s hardly supporting the Dolphins living in New York, but you get my drift.
    All my fellow Yids hate Arsenal, where as I don’t hate them. I dislike them, but I don’t hate them. No doubt if I was a born and bred Spurs fan from North London, I probably would.
    I’m more angry when we lose, it ruins my weekend. Really does. Though I get quite annoyed when the Redskins lose, especially as my new phrase now seems to be Jason effing Campbell.
    Yet I despise Real Madrid above all other football teams, but that’s family history more than anything, and you couldn’t pay me to watch Leeds United or Sheffield Wednesday.
    Odd, but football creates stranger emotions in us all than we know what to do with.

  11. will

    September 22, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    One of my best friends is a Scouser. I love him to death, but I f’ing hate Liverpool. I get blind with rage when I see them celebrate and I’m giddy when they lose.

    • randomsausage

      September 22, 2009 at 6:17 pm

      Being Scottish I have a special contempt for the Auld Firm.

      I keep telling my Celtic supporting friends that really they’d be much better off if they relocated the team to Dublin, since most of the players (even the Scottish ones, want to play for Ireland) and most of their fans seem to get all misty-eyed over some field in Athenry.

      And to my Rangers chums, they can sod-off down to London to be near their beloved Queen.

      They are both a pox on Scottish football..and indeed football in general, perpetuating outdated sectarian attitudes in their more base supporters.

      • xcat

        September 22, 2009 at 6:43 pm

        well said

  12. Tyson

    September 22, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    lol interesting story and you do bring up a good point.

    I watch a lot of sports and I don’t really care if my favourite tennis player loses or if my favourite boxer gets knocked out.

    On the other hand if United lose its a completely different feeling.

    I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because I was a United fan from a very young age and remember times of happiness with the club or maybe it is because a lot of the controversy that goes with some of the misdeeds in football can be infuriating.

    Football does seem to get a reaction out of you but I think it may just be that at its heart it is still the old game.

    Look at the Adebayor incident for example. Arsenal fans were furious he left but in any other sport if an athlete changes camp the reaction is hardly the same.

    It could also be the sense of occasion. I mean these clubs have been around for centuries they predate us by a long time and are steeped in historic rivalries. Maybe we just realise this is bigger than us and give it more respect than other sports or sports personalities we identify with.

    Great food for thought but man not an easily answerable question.

  13. randomsausage

    September 22, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Clearly, you’ve never been at a Rangers-Celtic game. I think you might have a heart attack, you poor wee lamb.

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