Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

08 Dec 2005

Blinkered America is Already Among the Thugs

Reader Ian H. sends along this email:

"[This is] an interesting article comparing 'soccer houliganism' in the UK/Europe to violence at football games in the U.S. [It] seems very Philly-centric, but the author essentially claims the media downplays violence at football games (and sporting events in general) in the U.S. while condemning the UK/European fans for their unruly activities."

Posted by: P. Ryan Wilson on 08 Dec 2005

40 comments, Last at 11 Dec 2005, 12:04am by Sean


by elhondo (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 11:58am

The gist of the article seems to be that because we don't use the word "hooligan", we are under-reporting the problem.

I recall seeing problems referring to fan behavior in the local paper, well pretty much every time it's happened. So I think that saying it's a hidden problem is kind of weird stance to take.

We just don't use the word hooligan because we aren't in the UK.

by Walt (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 12:23pm

This article seems like a little bit of a stretch to me but, I’ve never been to a game in Philly. Is it really that bad? From my own experience going to NFL games (in Cincy perhaps not the best measuring stick for fan fervor) the number of visiting fans is usually low and those that choose to wear their colors come expecting to take some ribbing and a few hundred mentions of how bad they “suck�. Never seen a fight go beyond pushing, drunken posturing, and some spilled beer. The only actual fight I have ever seen in 100+ games attended over the years was last fall at the US vs. Mexico soccer match in Columbus.

I would highly recommend reading Among the Thugs (Bill Buford). Anyone who is or thinks they know an over-the-top fan of any team would be brought of short by the lengths these people go to.

by Jeremy Billones (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 12:24pm

Refusing to read the article :)

Did it bring up that "hooligan" has a very specific meaning in soccer circles, where organized groups of "fans" go to the games with the intent of committing mayhem, as opposed to showing up, getting sloshed, and doing something spontaneously stupid?

by Independent George (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 12:40pm

A condescending anti-American opinion piece in The Guardian? No way!!!

by James, London (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 12:40pm

I think the point of the article is that we English are noted worldwide for "Hooliganism", whereas the US (and other countries), don't have the same notoriety.

The irony is that things are vastly improved in the UK. The 1970's & 80's were dreadful. Since all-seater stadiums became compulsory around 10 years ago, the opportunities for hooliganism inside grounds have been vastly reduced. CCTV at grounds, rigid segregation of opposing fans and improved police intelligence has also contributed.

Hooliganism now is highly organised, and takes place away from the stadium. so-called 'hard-core' thugs arrange specific meeting places and times, to give themselves the opportunity to batter f@$K out of one another before (or after) the game, and before the authorities can get involved.

The exception to this, and this I suspect is why English football fans are so notorious, is for England International matches. Rival hooligan groups put aside club rivalries, and unite to 'fight for England'. This produces sences of large numbers of English fans rioting in foreign cities, complete with tear gas, water cannons, and baton charges from foreign police. The media of course present this in full glorious technicolour to the world.

In recent times, the British government has passed legislation to ban known hooligans from travelling abroad when the English soccer team is playing. These individuals have to surrender their passports and report daily to polices stations for the duration of the banning order. Significantly, there was almost no trouble involving English fans at Euro 2004 in Portugal, the first major international tournament which took place after the 'Banning Orders' became law.

The acid test will be the World Cup in 2006. This is in Germany, which rings a very special bell in hooligan hearts. Rioting in Berlin, Leipzig or Munich will be seen as 'winning the war' again.

Given that the Germans have their own hooligan element, (as do the Dutch and Italians, both of whom will be there), if there is no trouble during the World Cup, then it might be time to stop tarring English fans with the hooligan brush. If there is significant trouble, then perhaps we should pick a neutral venue and let them fight it out with the Eagles fans for the 'Undisputed Heavyweight Hooligan Championship of the World'

by Scott de B. (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 12:51pm

Why should you have to rigidly segregate opposing fans? I've been to any number of games wearing the opposing colors, and never been treated poorly. Then again, I live in the midwest, where you find schools like Nebraska where the fans give an opposing team a standing ovation at the end of the game, win or lose.

by ToxikFetus (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 1:22pm

I think it's a little disingenuous to use Eagles fans as the litmus test for American sports fans. They had a freakin' court in their stadium for christ sake. Compare that against the more classy or apathetic *cough*Atlanta*cough* fan bases and the picture might be a little different.

Though it does bring a tear to my eye to remember Jimmy Johnson getting his ass pelted by snowballs.

by Browns Dude (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 1:51pm

The Eagles hooligans just have to get better organized. Come up with a name, sign up members and have them pay dues.

Benfica 2 Man United 1

by James (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 2:01pm

Events I have bared witness too.

High school- Fans ran on the field to fight the opposing team's players. This included a drop kick by a dude in a sling.

College- UMD games, good natured ribbing, nothing to report.

Pros- Needed protection from my buddies who were Philly fans to wear my Skins jersey to the Stadium.
This year after Skins beat Philly a guy tried to fight a girl who was wearing a McNabb jersey. Been to several other skins game never seen anything else. It's my understanding it gets pretty bad with fights at the Meadowlands.

by Neil (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 2:02pm

I read the Guardian article. Its lazy journalism at best. Its probably a calculated attempt to provoke American sports fans. I have attended English soccer games, followed the English soccer team and attended both NFL and MLB games. In my experience there is no comparison whatsoever. In Europe, sports fans are generally intolerant of opposition supporters, and a small but significant minority actively seek opportunities to commit violent acts. In the US its commonplace for opposing fans to sit in close proximity with very little trouble. To say there is anything approaching a hooligan problem in the US is laughable. Do US sports fans get drunk and act like idiots, occasionally letting drunken bravado spill over into a few punches? - yes. Do US sports fans indulge in pre-meditated (normally sober) and organised violence? - no.

by pcs (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 2:13pm

The writer mentions "America's ongoing and ever growing fascination with 'soccer' hooliganism." What? I admit that scenes like the Hillsborough and Heysel Stadium disasters color a lot of Americans' thinking about soccer in England, but an amorphous prejudice does not equal "ever-growing fascination."

You wouldn't worry so much about what other people think of you if you knew how little they actually did.

by Joe (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 2:20pm

I don't know what this author's talking about. Since 1995, I've been to every Dallas game in Philly but one, and there has been a large number of people wearing Cowboys "colours" inside and outside of the stadium. It's the same way at the Meadowlands when the Giants host the Cowboys. I sit at the top of the stadium in the cheapest seats - opposing fans in Philly get ridiculed mercilessly, but in my experience violence is not any different than any other event. I've seen fights at rock concerts, at Rangers games in Madison Square Garden, pretty much every pro event I've been to. Philly fans have the reputation that they are hooligans - it's certainly not watered down compared to English soccer fans as the author suggests. You can't hear national pre-game talk about an Eagles home game without hearing about booing Santa Claus or Michael Irvin.

by Drew (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 2:35pm

All I know about hooligans is what I learned from Scottish Soccer Hooligan Weekly.

by Phil (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 2:41pm

I'm an Eagles season ticket holder, been to tons of Philly games going back to the 1990s, and have also been to see games in Dallas and KC as well. While Philly fans might be a bit more vocal, the level of violence in or around the stadium is no different than the violence seen at any other place where large quanities of alcohol are consumed.

I'm torn between perception of Philly fans that must contribute to a home field advantage and the reality that we're little different than other football fans around the country (and outside AZ).

by James, London (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 2:50pm

Re #20: Neil, it's almost certainly a calculated attempt to provoke Americans, not just sports fans It has the secondary purpose of allowing a certain type of Englishman to feel smugly superior to the 'rednecks' across the pond.

The Guardian is notoriously Anti-Bush (and by extension Anti-American)in it's attitudes. In fact the Guardians' general attitude toward the US is that the best thing in it is Michael Moore.

Clemenceau, (Frech Prime Minister in WW1) famously said that

"America is the only nation that moved from Barbarism to decadence without the intervening period of civilisation"

The Guardian newspaper would see that statement as having real merit.

by princeton73 (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 3:01pm

Clemenceau, .. famously said that
“America is the only nation that moved from Barbarism to decadence without the intervening period of civilisation�

and what's wrong with THAT, you frog ponce

by Guardian Reader (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 3:23pm

Doesnt the US just send all of its hooligans out to Iraq?

by Podge (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 3:23pm

That article is so incredibly lazy. Compare any Eagles (or any team) regular season game, which actually matters to a Chelsea (or Chelski) V Milan friendly where both teams have already won before kick-off due to the money they've got from it is ridiculous.

A little more effort would of made that a vaguely good article. I've never been to an NFL game (English student - praying for an NFL game in England next year) but if its true there is more violence then isn't it more important to look at why?

As far as I can see the main difference between there and England is that we segregate home fans, which stops violence in games, but can cause greater violence after games as fans are bunched together leaving the stadium. Also, at the vast, vast majority of stadiums you can't have alcohol in sight of the pitch, and you can be refused entry for being drunk. Therefore you have a choice between getting drunk and watching the game, which i think decreases violence. The violence that english hooligans are most known for is generally away fans causing trouble either in domestic or continental competition, where the fans have gone to the other city/country early in the day and spent the morning and early afternoon drinking.

by Adam B. (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 4:12pm

Having been a season ticket holder since the 70s, it's clear that there's less violence at Eagles games now than 5-10 years ago. The team's better, which helps, but I also think it's that the "cheap seats" (a) aren't cheap and (b) aren't as bad as they were at the Vet.

If you show up in a visiting team's jersey, you'll get an "ASS-HOLE!" chant for a minute or so. That's about it right now.

by Drew (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 4:17pm

I guess one only needs to read the last line of the article to see how professional of a report it is.

My question is, is the US media really "fascinated" with soccer hooligans? His two examples come from Comedy Central and a comic strip. How often is English soccer (hooligan-related stories or otherwise) discussed in the mainstream media in America? Where I live, basically never. I saw more coverage of the "basketbrawl" in one day than of every soccer riot in my entire life combined.

I wonder if this article wasn't spawned from sour grapes over the author not getting the homo-erotic self-discovery he originally wanted. It didn't happen, so here's an article about how horrible you all are instead. Where's ya top boyz, zen!

by civilized philadelphian (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 4:28pm

to clarify the rumor about rendell:

i've always heard that he was the ringleader, offering a big payout to whomever hit johnson, and taking a few bucks from anyone whi wanted to enter the competition.

by bignick (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 4:51pm

I've been to a number of Eagles games, both regular season and playoffs. The worst that happens to you when you were another teams colors is that you get heckled and get some "A-hole chants". The only time I saw anything worse than that was when a cocky SOB was talking trash the whole game and standing up pointing to the crowd. Needless to say he got some trash and beer thrown at him. As long you are not obnoxious, Eagles fans pretty much leave you alone.

by joel in providence (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 4:52pm

i like the guardian, but this article is crap.

there is almost no evidence of organized hooliganism in u.s. sports. in europe, south america and a few other places, though, you have extremely organized ultras who use pagers and cell phones and web to organize... and they often have politcal connections that fuel the anger and violence.

by elhondo (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 4:52pm

Re: #9

Are you talking about the same UMD that tries to burn down college park?

by IzzionSona (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 5:11pm

Though I must say, Miami (of Ohio) hockey fans can be absolutely merciless, they don't resort to violence--in no small part due to the fact that the university doesn't have a liquor license for concessions.

Last weekend, in our home series against then-#3 Michigan, there were three or four people who were positioned along the path between the entrance to the arena and the reserved seats, where the majority of the Michigan contingent was sitting. They took great pleasure in prosecuting people wearing Michigan colors, doing a call-response gig of "Michigan" "SUCKS!" with the crowd. But really, other than that and a few game-related chants ("Michigan returns to full strength." "They still suck!"), the crowd was pretty tame.

Anyway, no real point, just thought it was a fun story. And that it was really sad when the guys prosecuting the Michigan fans started doing it to like 10 year old kids.

by TomS (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 5:19pm

I've been to most MLB and a few NFL/NBA venues pretty evenly spread across the country, primarily as a "visiting team fan." The only place I had anything thrown at me, including batteries and other metalic objects, or experienced any other "violence" was in Philly. Usually there is plenty of expected verbal jousting, taunting, etc. but all in the spirit of competition. Never have I purposefully started anything or escallated a situation. When we were in Philly, we were purposefully on our "best behavior" and not wearing any colors due to advertised reputation, yet still...

So I would have to conclude that the Philly rep is a well justified one.

The UK article one the other hand...

by Sam B (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 5:48pm

Hey, I'm British.

I read the article a couple of days ago, and while I thought it was very anti-American in places (esp. the end), it probably has something (somewhat) of a point...

I don't think its bad journalism to pick on Philly just because they're possibly the worst team - in the US, you won't hear anything about my club, but you might about Millwall, or some of the worst episodes. Personally, I can't imagine that there's much difference at all between the two sporting/fighting cultures.

by bobman (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 5:49pm

You know, the Quidditch World Cup had a lot of rowdy hooligans too. The Ministry couldn't doo much. But Harry Potter will put them in their place by the end of Book 7.

Or else.

by emcee fleshy (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 6:43pm

Perhaps it's because we're better armed here in the States. A solid beating just isn't enough to make the papers. Somebody's got to get shot before it makes good copy.

As an Atlanta resident, I can promise you that you'd have little to fear for wearing opposing colors to the Ga. Dome. About as dangerous as wearing a Banana Republic t-shirt at the Gap.

by JMK (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 8:04pm

Been to quite a few Eagles home and road games the last few years (@ Dallas, DC, Chicago, Denver, Miami), and its the same everywhere. If you wearing the opposing team's jersey, you will have A-hole chanted at you.

by Stevie (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 10:11pm

I just think of Bill Hicks saying "we are the hooligans, the hooligans"

by Paul (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 10:28pm

Re 17, no, the hooligans went to DC.

by Gary (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 1:09am

My mother took me to a Giants at Philly game as a 14 year old -- both of us dressed in full Eagles regalia, of course -- and it was crazy. We were pretty high up in the seats and there were women, bloody from fighting, being taken away in handcuffs. Someone rolled down the aisle near us.

She still apologizes for taking me to the game, though I loved it at the time. Thank God the Division of Youth and Family Services never learned about it.

by Walt Pohl (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 1:40am

Philadelphia should build a whole marketing campaign around this article: "Philadelpia, America's most European city."

by Phill (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 7:05am

One of the curious things about hooliganism in the UK is that soccer has traditionally had so much of it, and now has segregated fans and so forth, while the much more violent sport of rugby (union or league) has a very friendly atmopshere with the fans happily intermingling with no trouble. The only time I ever heard anyone giving abuse to the opposition supporters, he was quickly shouted down by his own side. Mind you, in rugby fans still applaud when the other team scores, or to acknowledge good play by the opposition.

Organised violence at sports events is a kind of self-perpetuating culture. Once it starts, it's very hard to get rid of. Particularly when the media perpetuates it.

by DGL (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 10:47am

#35: Have you never heard the saying, "Football (i.e., soccer) is a sport for gentlemen played by hooligans, and rugby is a sport for hooligans played by gentlemen?"

by Neil (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 11:08am

Massive generalisation here but it could be a blue collar/white collar thing. Rugby has more of a middle class audience, less predisposed to fighting you would have thought. Similar to the MLB in the US, which has always struck me as having a more genteel atmosphere than the more working class NFL audience. And by extension NASCAR ought to be constant fighting in the stands. I dont know whether thats true but I know having to watch NASCAR would make me feel pretty angry.

by Adam B. (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 12:22pm

Rendell didn't throw the snowball -- he bet the guy next to him $20 that he couldn't reach the field. Fantastic link.

by Andrew (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 4:11pm

What is not mentioned here about Eagles fans is that while we will be incredibly obnoxious, combative, and abusive (to the opposing team its coaches and owner, and its fans), before and during the game, afterwards, if we lose, we will go and congratulate them on playing well and beating us.

The abuse is a measure of respect. If you can stand up to it and beat the Eagles, you earn respect. If you cringe in fear of the abuse (and especially if you are a player and fold like a cheap suit in the face of it), you are worse than the scum in a urinal, and are just a total loser.

This is part of why last years Patriots have an amazing amount of respect from Eagles fans and local press this year. Eagles fans turned Jacksonville into an Eagles home game last year, complete with very loud and clear boos at the introduction of the Patriots (so loud FOX could not drown them out), spontaneous chants of "Fly Eagles, Fly", etc. during the game, a very loud din on Patriots offensive series, and so on. And the Patriots were able to win against that backdrop.

by Sean (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 12:04am

This article says more about Steven Wells than it does about America, England, football or hooligans in general. He makes several huge errors, one alleging it was Rendell who threw the snowball when Rendell paid someone to throw it. And the snowball didn't hit Jimmy Johnson, as Wells alleges.

Wells is also lazy. He claims the Iggles wouldn't give him a press credential. Big whoop. He couldn't buy a ticket from a scalper and go in and interview people? Is the Guardian so cheap that it won't fork over $100 for a ticket?

Maybe if he had gotten inside the stadium, he wouldn't have to rely on stale 20-year-old anecdotes.

But the money quote is the last sentence of the story, telling Americans to "shut the fuck up." This reflects the true agenda of Wells and the Guardian. They simply cannot abide any--any--American criticism of the U.K. Which explains why Wells reviles respected author Bill Buford--an American--for writing "Among the Thugs." Buford dared to take on a U.K. football institution and embarrassed their fans.

What's the matter Steven? A little thin-skinned, aren't we?