Why MLS fan violence matters and why the response to it matters even more

So this weekend a bunch of moronic Red Bulls fans decided it would be a good idea to throw rocks at a bus full of Unions fans as they left Red Bull Arena on their back to Pennsylvania. One close-range volley managed to crack a bus window a photo of which was subsequently published by Philly.com.

I’ll leave it to Fanhouse’s Brian Straus to explain just how stupid this kind of faux-hoolie violence is.

The problem is that this kind of “play time” plays into one of the most pernicious myths of the American soccer skeptic – that one that says that you’ll “be killed by rioting hooligans” if you go to a soccer match – whether in Harrison or Harare. What you really don’t want as a fan of American soccer is some kind of incident or injury leading to a full week of soccer violence columns and TV segments by guys like Tony Kornheiser, Mike & Mike, Jay Mariotti, Skip Bayless calling the sport and its fans a “dangerous foreign element.”

Of course, that’s both factually wrong and utterly hypocritical when combined with American sports’ long tradition of drunken violence, misbehavior, and projectile vomiting. But while the American sports media at large are happy to overlook that part of American sports (primarily football), they will never hesitate to jump on the easy column inches and easy sanctimony that comes with a “SOCCER CAN KILL YOU AND YOUR FAMILY” column.

That’s why it’s so important for fans and clubs to make it so totally clear that the kind of misbehavior we’ve seen last weekend in NY and also in Toronto must be stamped out firmly and quickly. Fans need to understand just how dangerous even a little bit of violence is to this league and the sport in this country. If fans want to see soccer succeed in the United States, they need to take responsibility and take a stake in the fact even a little bit of violence causes enormous harm to the sport’s cause here. In fact, MLS can consider itself hugely lucky that the worst, most-ill behaved set of fans is located in Toronto, rather than in the US. Imagine if a group of boozed up Revs fans had torn apart a T trolley* much in the same manner that TFC fans tore apart a Go Train a few years back? It would’ve ended in a significant black eye for the league and the sport in the US.

That’s why its so important that clubs and supporters clubs police their own. According to Straus, one of the Red Bulls’ rock throwers has outed himself (behind a handle) on Bigsoccer. The ESC and/or other RB fans need to step up here, identify the guy publicly and move to ban him from Red Bull games and from those in any other stadium. This is not a “don’t snitch” situation. If you’re a fan of the Red Bulls and are serious about this sport becoming successful in America, it’s your responsibility to turn the rock throwers in.

Red Bulls fans, you need to get these idiots out of your ranks and you need to do it right now.

*Revs fans, please allow me the rhetorical conceit of imagining a world where one could get anywhere near Foxboro on the T. Sorry.


17 thoughts on “Why MLS fan violence matters and why the response to it matters even more

  1. I can’t find the link to your indignant blog post after Red Bulls fans had bottles hurled at them in the RFK parking lot in 2006.

  2. I didn’t have a blog then, but that event too was completely unacceptable. Also, to my knowledge, the bottle throwers were immediately drummed out of the supporters clubs and a firm message was sent saying that violence like that would not be tolerated by the club itself or its supporters clubs.

  3. I was talking to my father last night about soccer. He hates it. I mean, he really hates it. He likes NFL football (The Philadelphia Eagles) above all else. He’ll watch playoff hockey, and he’ll go to a basketball and baseball game, but soccer to him is pathetic and boring. This is how our conversation went…

    Me: “Dad, you don’t like soccer because you don’t understand it. It frustrates you that you don’t understand what’s happening and why. If someone took a match to sit with you explain to you what’s going on, you’d appreciate it more.”
    Dad: “I don’t want to learn about it. It’s stupid and boring. Guys just standing there passing the ball back and forth. 0-0 scores. That’s not fun. That’s a nap.”
    Me: “Dad, I’ll tell you what: Since you like to go out to sporting events, I’ll get us tickets to a Union game, and I’ll sit there and explain everything to you. It’ll all be on me.”
    Dad: “No, thanks. I might wind up getting caught up in a riot or getting stabbed because that’s what soccer fans do during the game.”

    The first two thoughts on soccer to my father are boring and violence. Granted, I can never make a fan out of my father, but the violence aspect shouldn’t even be an issue. That’s the perception that soccer gives off to casual American fans. These incidents only exacerbate this perception.

    Games are just that: games. There’s no reason to do this. Anywhere in the world, there’s no reason to do this.

  4. I wonder, though, if that hasn’t faded with the generations a bit, like critiques that soccer is ‘Communist.’ (To change with the times, now you get it’s a ‘third world sport’–I guess it’s no less odd, then, that Italy are World Champions now than it was that West Germany always used to beat East Germany).

    I suspect that reaction was in vogue when news coverage of ‘soccer riots’ in England were in vogue here. England’s situation in that respect has vastly improved, so you don’t get that image quite as burned into the psyche as was the case in the 1980s.

    Which is not to say that a few US-based incidents couldn’t bring it right back, only that we’ve probably made some progress that it’s worthwhile to protect.

  5. As we are developing a fan culture that adopts elements from other countries, it is important to protect the image of adopting the right things.

  6. Did your dad ever go to an Eagles game in the 700 level of the old vet? Next time he brings up violence, tell him that the vet was the first stadium in America to have a court room in it to take care of the hooligan eagle fans…

    The thing is Americans don’t consider the fan problems associated with their sports as hooliganism…that is only in soccer…every time fires are lit on college campuses after a loss, or fights in an arena or stadium, or things go crazy during a championship celebration and cars get flipped over, it is nothing more than hooliganism…We just say it’s rowdy drunk guys out of control…

    Here is the topper…an incident two years ago involved a woman (Yankee fan) running over and killing a Red Sox fan with her car after an argument…


    Next time violence comes up with soccer, just know the argument…it will never go away, but you can say it isn’t just isolated to one sport…

  7. My dad has been to a few Eagles games in the 700 Level. He loved it there. The atmosphere was wild. Also, the Vet had the court because it was easier to process the drunks there than to load them all in paddy wagon and haul them over to the courthouse. It wasn’t just the 700 Level guys either that got booked and tossed in the drunk tank. In hindsight, it was bad PR for the Vet, but it was a good idea for processing drunks and troublemakers.

    I understand that all of these guys who drink and cause trouble are hooligans. Phillies games today are just a breeding ground for college kids to get fall down, stupid drunk and start shit. They don’t realize that their actions are no better than a group over in England or Italy who only go to matches to get fall down, stupid drunk and start shit. People here don’t associate the two. We’re no different than supporters in Europe and South America and Asia and anywhere else. It’s just that those countries’ problems with hooliganism were more pronounced here in America to Americans. Today, there are incidents in practically every sports event in America where some type of hooliganism is taking place, from fights in the stands, to fights in the parking lots. It happens everywhere. It’s just not broadcast unless ESPN deems it necessary to broadcast it. I’m not justifying what was done then, I’m just saying that it’s no different in Europe back then what it is here today, and even if you eradicate the problem from the stadiums, you’ll still face it out in the parking lots and streets. The real way to end this is, like was stated in the blog here, for people to basically police themselves. If a RBNY fan is causing problems, it’s up to RBNY fans to put a stop to it. Just like when I go to a Phillies or Flyers game and someone is unnecessarily harassing a visiting team’s fan, I’ll tell somebody because I wouldn’t want that person to be me.

  8. Give me a break…a rock to a window will cause MLS to collapse. right…i used to live near a big university campus and i found a bottle inside my car, obviously smashing the window in the process. Do you think the university’s reputation was altered by that or that they closed doors?
    “forzalajuve”, sorry but you are pathetic. maybe for you, your dad is your model, but don’t try to make him look like a model, or someone worth listening to for other soccer fans. he is a narrow minded, stereotyping old guy who hates soccer. what’s new? his opinion about soccer is worthless. you seem to be almost as ignorant as he is when you think that all soccer violence is caused by drunks who want to fight. In europe, south america and pretty much everywhere where there’s soccer violence, a lot of it is caused by politics, tens of years of rivalries or lots of passion. There are groups of hools who only seek violence, but even them, follow certain rules like don’t fight regular fans, stay away from crowded areas, don’t vandalize…
    if soccer doesn’t grow faster is because of people like you, not because of a rock in a window, or a punch in the face….

  9. they should just send this yahoos to South America during a big derby to see what real football hooligans look like. It be like when they take “tough” suburban kids who get in trouble to country jail and make them crap their pants when real criminals harass them.

  10. Give me a ********ing break. It was 3 drunk assholes who probably aren’t even Red Bulls fans (they were wearing no RBNY gear whatsoever), probably pissed off Devils or Rangers fans or something. You make it seem like it was some coordinated attack by a RBNY supporters group or something. You also fail to mention the SOB members walking back to their bus taunting and cursing at the RBNY fans waiting in line for meet the team day (which is what I’m sure sparked the rock throwing). Oh, and how about the group of about 15 Philly fans that tried to start a fight with 3 RBNY fans. Something hilarious about people from Philly trying to complain about the behavior of sports fans.

    I’m not defending the idiots that threw the rocks, and they can be banned from the stadium for life for all I care, but this story is the definition of blowing something out of proportion.

  11. What’s your dad, an Eagles fan, worried about soccer fan violence for? Oh man, the irony is amazing! Don’t they have an in-stadium jail in Chester too?

    Great post Aaron. Agreed on the violence but in fairness there are unsavory elements of every fanbase. As for Revs fans tearing apart a T car…if we didn’t get frustrated enough to do it after any of the four heart breaking Cup losses I don’t think we’ll ever resort to that kind of violence (but I don’t want to jinx our urban SSS either).

  12. Well said! I’d love to see these so called Red Bull tough guys meet some surly, drunken Ranger supporters after a particularly nasty loss to Celtic. Maybe we could arrange a meeting with Bill Gardner and the ICF or Millwall’s Bushwackers so they can see what a proper firm looks like. pathetic, they have the nicest stadium in the MLS and these morons have to act the fool.

  13. MLS fans could all be nuns and it wouldn’t matter. People who have an animosity to anything will make up any excuse to prove how boring, bad, stupid, dangerous, whatever something is. I was having a conversation with a typical American sports fan who said soccer is “stupid” because they put names of corporations on the uniforms. You’d never see anything like that in the ‘four major sports.’ Of course not. Our sports are so pure that we only have a commercial break every two seconds to show us those names or put them on our sports stadiums instead. Why name a ballpark after an important person or some poetic ideal to capture the beauty of the local area when you can slap a corporation name on it. I mean, isn’t it better to give the new National League baseball stadium the name “citifield” than maybe to call it Jackie Robinson Stadium, to honor an iconic and important person in American history?

    At least we don’t put Samsung on the front of our jerseys though.

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