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Soccer’s shame

No other game in the world provokes such violence.

I have reproduced this post concerning the Egyptian soccer riot from my home blog, Alpine Opinion. I reckon it’s got nothing to do with the political situation in Egypt and is just typical of the game of soccer (that should raise some eyebrows – or fists):

While some people try to explain the appalling soccer match riot in Egypt that resulted in 74 deaths and over 1,000 injured as politically motivated and connected to the recent overthrow of President Mubarak , I don’t buy that.

It’s just another clear example of how soccer fans are the most violent sports spectators in the world. Consider this ABC report on how the riot is believed to have started and remember that there is a history of intense rivalry between the two Egyptian clubs and among their supporters:

Witnesses said fighting began after Al Ahly fans unfurled banners insulting Port Said and one ran on to the pitch carrying an iron bar at the end of the match.

Al-Masry fans reacted by pouring onto the pitch and attacking Ahly players before turning to the terraces to attack rival supporters, including “ultra” Al Ahly fans who played a leading role in Egypt’s revolution last year.

The Muslim Brotherhood blamed the clashes on supporters of fallen president Hosni Mubarak, and came as the country struggles with a wave of incidents linked to poor security.

That clearly suggests the riot was instigated by football-related emotions (out of control emotions) and that the so-called political aspect was a secondary factor. The Muslim Brotherhood’s claim appears politically motivated, as you’d expect. After all, they want to run the country and they’ll latch on to this to promote their cause. Yeah, riding to power on the back of tragedy.

Getting back to soccer and the reasons for all this violence among the crowds, I once wrote elsewhere – tongue in cheek – that it can be attributed to the boring nature of the game and lack of goal scoring, causing rival fans to focus more on each other than the action (or lack of) on the field. Some pretty appalling refereeing decisions don’t help either. I think there’s some validity in that, although how do you explain the absence of such extreme violence at cricket matches that can be equally boring spectacles? Well, that’s because the vast majority of spectators at a Cricket Test match tend to be from the host nation, so there isn’t the same crowd rivalry in play. All you’ll get at a cricket game is a bit of drunken yobbo behaviour but I don’t recall there ever being a riot resulting in deaths in all the long history of the game.

In Australia too, there have been incidents of riotous crowd behaviour at soccer games, although not to the extent we’ve seen elsewhere. Last year, Victoria’s Assistant Police Commissioner described soccer fans as “the worst behaved” following some ugly incidents between the supporters at a game in Melbourne involving flares and punch ups. Contrast that to Aussie Rules – the worst behaviour you’ll see at an AFL game is the odd obnoxious loud mouth, a bit of indecent language and occasionally (very rarely in fact) an assault. Not that any of that is acceptable but, compared to soccer, AFL is a very fan-friendly game. And, let’s face it, the game itself is just so much more entertaining, exciting and interesting. I mean, there are no 0-0 results at the footy!

Wow, that will get the soccer fans out there fired up, I’m sure. It has before. They’re a precious lot, the supporters of the so-called beautiful game. And an angry lot. Obviously. Last time I said something like that I was vilified all over the place as an “AFL Bogan”. But that’s certainly a case of the pot calling a white cup “black”.

There is just no doubt that the game of soccer brings out the very worst in those who go to watch it. Or maybe those who watch it are just among the very worst? I dunno, but if you don’t believe what I’m saying here, have a look at this long list the ABC has compiled chronicling the deaths, violence & destruction at soccer games played all over the world:

May 1964, Peru
During an Olympic qualifying match between Peru and Argentina, the referee disallows a Peruvian goal just minutes from the final whistle. The move sparks protests from fans, which turn into riots after Argentina wins the match. The violence kills 318 people and injures more than 500.

January 1971, Scotland
Barriers on a stairway collapse as fans are leaving a match between Rangers and Celtic in Glasgow, causing a massive pile-up of fans. The accident kills 66 people, including many children, with bodies stacked as deep as six feet.

October 1982, Russia
Fans are crushed as they leave a UEFA Cup tie between Moscow Spartak and Dutch side HFC Haarlem at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow. Officials from the former Soviet Union do not disclose the tragedy for years. When they do, they give an official death toll of 66, although the number could be as high as 340.

May 1985, England
At least 56 people are killed and more than 200 injured when fire broke out in the stands at Bradford.

May 1985, Belgium
Thirty-five fans, mostly Italians, die in rioting before the European Cup final between Italy’s Juventus and English club Liverpool at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels.

March 1988, Nepal
A hailstorm erupts as 30,000 fans watch a match between Nepalese and Bangladeshi teams. At least 93 people are killed and 100 more injured when fans attempt to flee from the hail.

April 1989, England
In Britain’s worst sporting disaster, 96 people are killed and hundreds injured after a crowd surge crushes packed fans against barriers at the English FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield. Many die while standing up and the pitch becomes a makeshift field hospital.

January 1991, South Africa
Forty-two people are killed in a stampede during a preseason game in the mining town of Orkney between the Kaizer Chiefs and the Orlando Pirates. The incident was sparked by a Pirates fan who attacked Chiefs supporters in the crowd with a knife.

May 1992, France
Before the kick-off of a French Cup game between Bastia and Olympique Marseille in Corsica, a stand of the Furiani stadium collapses, killing 18 people and injuring about 2,400.

October 1996, Guatemala
Around 80 people are killed and more than 100 injured as an avalanche of fans tumbles down seats and a flight of stairs at a World Cup qualifying match between Guatemala and Costa Rica in Guatemala City. Fake tickets had reportedly attracted far more people to the stadium than it could hold.

April 2001, South Africa
At least 43 people are crushed to death when soccer fans try to force their way into Johannesburg’s huge Ellis Park stadium midway through a top South African league match.

May 2001, Ghana
At the end of a match between Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko, police fire tear gas at fans who were tearing up seats. Tens of thousands of people rush to get out, and 126 people are killed in the chaos. It remains one of Africa’s worst soccer disasters.

March 2009, Ivory Coast
At least 19 people are killed during a stampede at Abidjan’s Felix Houphouet-Boigny stadium before a World Cup soccer qualifying match against Malawi.

February 2012, Egypt
Fans riot at the end of a match in the city of Port Said when the local team al-Masry beat Al Ahli, one of Egypt’s most successful clubs, 3-1. At least 73 people are killed and hundreds more injured.

Says it all. No other sport in the world can ‘boast’ such a record. Not rugby, not cricket, not AFL, not NFL, not cycling, not boxing and not even at the Olympics (well, not in the Olympic stadium, I do remember Munich).

Soccer fans … hang your heads in shame.

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5 Comments

  1. sport lover says:

    Dear Ray,

    It beggars belief that you seek to attribute blame to one particular sporting code over the kind of violence you have chronicled in your list of 14 tragedies above. As I am sure, or would at least hope, you would appreciate, the vast majority of the examples you listed took place in nations with severe political/social problems, quite unlike what we are lucky enough to experience here in Australia. Football, the so-called “world game”, is so called for a reason – it is played the world over in every manner of nation you could imagine. Unlike Australian Rules, which is played in just one nation that has always, relative to the rest of the world, enjoyed a large degree political and social stability. And I am also including Christian denominational stability/harmony too, which is most cases has been the basis of football violence in the United Kingdom. Do not get me wrong, I love AFL and have adopted it as one of my favourite sports since having arrived in Australia as a child. I am not, as you seem to be doing, trying to play one football code off against another. But I do believe your reading of the situation is somewhat insular and narrow-minded, and certainly not at all helpful for anybody except the Sam Newmans of the world who insanely seem to believe people only have the capacity to support one brand of football. But back to the original point I was trying to make before I sidetracked myself, blaming football (soccer) for the tragedies you listed above is as absurd as blaming music for the kinds of tragedies that have befallen thousands of people at rock concerts/festivals over the years. I would expect a man who was able to string as many words, in plain English, as you did in the article above, to have a much better grasp of logic than the conclusion of your article would suggest you have. If you don’t like football (soccer), that’s fine – the code has survived for many years without you, and will continue to do so. But please, for the reputation of your own intellect, do not attempt to tar it with the kind of brush you have in this piece of nonsense. It doesn’t help anyone, least of all you.

    Yours, Felix

  2. sport lover says:

    Additionally, although it barely needs to be pointed out, many of the examples of “deaths, violence & destruction” that you attribute to football (soccer) are clearly no more than cases of shoddy, negligent engineering. I repeat, your nonsense in this article does not help anyone, least of all your reputation as a social or sporting commentator.

    Yours, Felix

  3. Ray Dixon says:

    Water runs down hill, ‘sport lover’, and likewise you can’t dispute the history of violence connected with soccer. You can brush it off like you do by pointing to the political problems in those countries but how then do you explain the British riots & deaths? And in Belgium. Yours is a head-in-the-sand approach, but the fact is soccer fans worldwide are renowned to be the worst behaved. I’ve advanced my theory, what’s yours?

  4. Robert Hacker says:

    Football is the no.1 team sport in the world with daylight second and maybe rugby a long distant third. AFL sits somewhere down with yak racing, probably not in the top 100. It is a total irrelevency in world terms. Millions attend football matches every week and a tiny percentage of games would have violence in the crowd. Yes put those incidents together and it might seem a lot but that is only a reflection of the incredible popularity of the game worldwide. In very few countries would some-one even think to make these arguments. Embrace the passion, you’ll feel all the better for it!

  5. Ray Dixon says:

    Millions attend football matches every week and a tiny percentage of games would have violence in the crowd. Yes put those incidents together and it might seem a lot but that is only a reflection of the incredible popularity of the game worldwide.

    Hi Robert – thanks for your point of view but we are not just talking about a bit of “violence in the crowds”. You make it sound like it’s just a bit of biffo here and there when, in reality, what we’ve witnessed in soccer over the decades is a long history of full-on riots resulting in scores of people (sometimes hundreds) being killed.

    As for your argument that these incidents are the inevitable by-product of the game’s popularity (which I find a incredulous argument), FYI, millions of people attend a variety of other sports every week too but we don’t see anything like the type of death & destruction we had in Egypt and at all those mentioned on the list.

    And you can put down AFL as much as you like but, according to Victoria police, soccer fans are the “worst behaved” spectators in the State. Considering that AFL is by far more popular and attracts much bigger crowds down here, it kind of kills your argument that the violence at soccer is only “a reflection of the incredible popularity of the game”. Until there’s a better explanation for the soccer violence phenomenon, I’ll stick with my theory that it’s related to the nature of the game.

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