|Basketball Riots in L.A., Soccer Thugs in Europe|
Posted by FoM on June 21, 2000 at 08:40:23 PT|
Only the Violence Is the Same
Source: Time Daily
The mayhem that followed the Lakers' NBA win is symptomatic of the current state of L.A.; English soccer fans' feuds, however, are still mired in World War I.
Mass violence around sports events is a traditionally European pastime, which is why images of an L.A. crowd driven berserk by the Lakers' NBA win seem so, well, weird.
Even as Los Angeles recovered from a night of rioting that began outside the Staples Center arena, far-off Brussels was bracing for mayhem as England faced a crucial Tuesday-night soccer showdown with Romania. Hundreds of English fans were arrested Saturday in the by now traditional outbreak of thuggery after their team beat Germany, prompting European soccer authorities to threaten to send the English team home from a continent-wide tournament if that behavior is repeated.
But sociologists concur that it's not sport per se that makes men mad enough to risk arrest and injury in a sports riot — as the Europeans well know, a high-stakes sports clash provides the pretext rather than an explanation for any violence it sparks off. To be sure, when some of the 10,000 fans who'd gathered outside the arena to watch the game on a giant screen began burning Indiana Pacers T-shirts, that may have been interpreted as an exuberant, if ugly, stomping on the opposition's colors. But when that same crowd began hurling debris at the limousines carrying those privileged enough to have been inside the hall, it began to take on a class dimension — insiders versus outsiders mimicking the city's wider social divisions — before evolving into an orgy of looting and attacks on police cars and TV vans characteristic of the garden-variety L.A. riot. Even though recent events in Denver and Chicago suggest that the victory riot may be emerging as something of a ritual in cities that win national championships, in the end those riots are about a lot more than sport.
TIME's London bureau chief Jef McAllister notes:
"This makes you realize how deeply rooted tribal violence remains in European societies. When I first worked as a stringer here 20 years ago, I did a number of pieces about the problem of football hooliganism. Learned professors were offering up accounts of how the violence represented a form of working-class solidarity, that the working-class fans had become detached from the better-paid players and that the fans were forced to stand huddled on terraces, that it was all a symptom of Thatcherite Britain's social conditions... But the players are paid even more now, the social conditions have changed, the terraces have been replaced by seats, and yet the violence persists. And while it's diminished to some extent in domestic games, it's at its worst when the national team is playing. Despite the history of World War II and the institutions of the European Union telling them that they're all one, European soccer fans are still playing out the violent national passions of World War I."
Over in Europe, the pattern of violence is different. In an almost bizarre replay of World War I, English hooligans have once again traveled onto the continent with their team to do battle with the supporters of the German and Turkish teams. This ritual has been established over 25 years, and has confounded many of the traditional sociological explanations of soccer hooliganism being about alienated working-class men playing out their class resentments in hard times — after all, many of the most notorious hooligans are from the gainfully employed middle class, and the phenomenon has persisted from the economic recessions of the '70s to the booming '90s.
The irony is while the U.S. is reputed to be a far more violent society than any of its European counterparts, it would be almost unthinkable for fans of an American franchise to travel in a pack to a distant city and set upon the supporters of the home team until the police force them apart. Perhaps, though, what the European football violence signifies is that the testosterone-soaked youth of Europe are no less violent than their American counterparts; only that the absence of access to guns in Europe keeps the murder rate down. And then there's the reality that for all the progress in creating a single European economic entity, there are plenty of Europeans who take the ritualized combat of the soccer field as a call to battle with centuries-old tribal foes.
The Dutch police, however, believed they might have found a way to limit the problem. When England played Portugal in the Dutch city of Eindhoven two weeks ago, there was scarcely an incident. Police spokesman Johann Beelan said afterwards that might have been a result of innovative policing. Besides warning some 100 known hooligans that they were being carefully monitored, the Dutch authorities took such deliberate steps as playing happy pop music throughout the town — to drown out the war chants that English hooligans use to rouse themselves before charging their opponents — and lowering the alcohol content of the beer sold in the city center on match day; English fans are notoriously dependent on alcohol to get them in a fighting mood. And then there was the impact of the permissive Dutch marijuana laws. Many of the fans spent much of the day in the city's coffee shops, where marijuana is legally available. "It may have helped relax them," said Beelan. "Even the hooligans enjoyed the party... There were lots of things for fans to do and everybody had a good time." Not that the Dutch police believe marijuana is the magic bullet for football violence. In the end, Beelan continued, the Eindhoven match may have gone off so smoothly mostly because the English hooligans were simply saving themselves for their country's match against Germany.
By Tony Karon
Web Posted: June 21, 2000
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|Comment #1 posted by Casanova on August 02, 2000 at 20:05:13 PT|