Philly Sports Live

From The PSL Soccer Desk: Hopes Against Hooliganism

“They are going to be writing ‘soccer sucks’ articles from now until the end of the world.  It will never end.”

That quote was from a Twitter follower of mine in response to Matt Zencey’s op-ed piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer today, discussing soccer in America.  My follower, like I, have come to the conclusion that, like death and taxes, American soccer fans are guaranteed to have to put up with detractors of the game as part of our Earthly existences.  And I’m okay with that.  What I’m not okay with is when those who opine say things without doing their homework.

Mr. Zencey, listed in the article as a former editor of the Inquirer, bashed the sport as being “much ado about not enough”, that it “offered the best acting this side of Broadway” when it came to players diving to draw fouls, and suggested that excitement could be added to the game if substitutions were made on the fly, like in hockey.

I’m not going to dwell on that aspect of the article.  These are arguments that drinkers of Soccer Brand Haterade™ have made for declaring the sport as “stupid”, “pointless”, and my personal favorite, “gay.”   There are nuances to any sport that you will either embrace or decry, and the ratio as such directly affects whether or not you like that particular sport.  Of course, Zencey does a great job of typifying that while at the same time contradicting his own argument by saying:

“I don’t begrudge [soccer fans] their pleasures. Mine is baseball – definitely an acquired taste. It involves intense bursts of sometimes breathtaking athleticism,  followed by much longer spells of squinting, spitting, glove-tugging, and standing around doing nothing on the field.”

The part of the article that did, however, make me perform what the kids call a “facepalm,” was when he went into discussing violence that is invariably linked to soccer and their fans:

“I just hope U.S. soccer’s growth doesn’t unleash the same violent passions and hooliganism that sometimes erupt in Europe and Latin America.”

Here is where an hour or so of research would come in handy, and not make the author, as well as those who make assumptions about said hooliganism, look like blithering idiots.

There are literally thousands of professional soccer clubs in the world.  They don’t just represent entire cities and regions, but neighborhoods, class structures, and even religions.  Celtic and Rangers is not just a rivalry because the two teams inhabit the city of Glasgow.  Celtic’s history lies in a mostly Irish Catholic background, while Rangers fans were traditionally from a Protestant core.  The geo-political gravity of that rivalry is enough to make Phillies-Nationals look like a dart game between my friends and I in a bar in Delco somewhere.  The violence of the Old Firm rivalry, as it’s called, is a black eye on the sport for sure, but it goes beyond what color jersey you have on.

Another example is the violence that occurred at Port Said Stadium in Egypt last February, where 79 people were killed and over 1,000 were injured in an incident at a game between Al-Masry and Al Ahly.  That incident was not caused simply because of the result on the scoreboard.  It was a direct result of the instability in that country and the agitators who used the game as a springboard for unrest.  I’m surprised that Mr. Zencey failed to put that all together, seeing as he was at one time an editor in one of the U.S.’s largest papers as well as author of a book about Sarah Palin’s Liberalism.  Maybe he was watching the Pro Bowl that weekend.  Who knows?

America’s sports scene is virtually unparalleled in the world.  Baseball, football, and basketball are so big that it dilutes athletic competition into an auxiliary part of life.  The culture and nature of sports in this country has put it into perspective as “just a game.”  The culture and geography of Europe, South America, and Africa are so tied to soccer that it has engrained itself into many facets of one identity.  As big as soccer will become in this country (and it will get bigger, Mr. Zencey, with or without you), it will not get to the point of geo-political class warfare.  I promise.

Finally, Unlike Matt Zencey, I actually know a number of members and leaders of different MLS supporters groups.  The people that lead those groups and most of their members care about two things and two things only: growing the game of soccer, and helping out communities they exist in.  When members of the Midnight Riders and the Rebellion faced harassment from the New England Revolution’s ownership about their chants, other supporters groups, including the Sons of Ben, Chicago’s Section 8, and even New York’s Empire Supporters Club joined in to support them – peacefully.  Two years ago over 100 members of the Timbers Army and the 107ist joined the SoBs in organizing a tailgate at PPL Park to raise money and awareness for Neurofibromatosis.  Events such as Help Kick Hunger, supporting Chester’s food banks, have proved that their passions lie in humanity, as well as soccer.

The cause of the only instance of violence that has occurred at a Union game was the impetus behind most fights in any other stadium in America – alcohol.  A drunken fan, sitting amongst the Sons of Ben in the River End, threw a bottle at an opposing player.  When he was identified by fellow fans, he started swinging.   The fan was discovered to have borrowed season tickets from an SoB, and the group’s leadership terminated that person’s membership and tickets immediately.  There have been no incidents since.

So Mr. Zencey and I agree on one thing.  I too hope that hooliganism and violence do not rear their ugly heads at American soccer matches the way they have elsewhere.  The only difference is that I pay attention to the world outside of the South Philly Sports Complex.  I’ve actually gone to a game and interacted with these people who embrace soccer.

Maybe he should too.