Soccer: War by Other Means
Like most Americans, I am not a fan of soccer. Were I so, I would call it by its universal name, "football," which transcends languages. The Spanish call if fútbol and the Germans call it Fußball. It has become a sad reflection of the state of modern man, but most of us Americans are oblivious to what it shows us.
As Nobel Peace Prize Winner Bob Geldorf has noted.
The only way to escape from football really is the United States – Bob Geldorf
Oh! Yes. There are a few American soccer fans. The world has noted that they were good sports this time around at the world cup, and were rather well behaved, which for soccer fans is amazing.
I quite like the american fans. And that's in general, in all sports. They are the most benign, most cheerful, they like the game itself, and always have beer and hot dogs around. They are civil ... they are there to just have fun. - Dimitris Metzikof Papadakis, comment on abcnews.go.com
American soccer fans are atypical on every level.
What most Americans do not grasp is that soccer is serious life and death to most of the planet. It is an orgy of nationalistic excess. America wages war. The rest of the world wages soccer.
Soccer produces death tolls. Even we Americans remember the British hooligans who were famous for their organized murder raids. In 1985, at Heysel Stadium in Belgium. British fans stampeded opposing Italian fans, and 39 people died. The Italian fans tried to counter-attack, but were stopped by the police. Where were the police when the British fans attacked? British teams were banned from European competition for years. I guess when one's empire has faded, that energy has to go somewhere.
We won't even mention the 96 fans unintentionally crushed to death at Hillborough Stadium in 1989 thanks to unregulated open seats and stands. And those are just the steady, level headed Anglo-Saxons.
In the Celtic Fringe up in Scotland, the Celtic-Ranger rivalry has often required squads of police. The Celtics are the darlings of Irish Catholics, while the Rangers are the darlings of Scottish Protestants. Ulster's troubles were recapitulated on the fields. Fans have died from the violence attending the matches.
Opposing fans fought an on-pitch battle in the aftermath of Celtic's 1–0 victory in the 1980 Scottish Cup Final at Hampden. This remains one of the worst invasions onto a football pitch ever reported, and was instrumental in alcohol being banned from football grounds in Scotland - Wikipedia
Given that both sides are Gaels, the ban of alcohol must have really stung.
A war between El Salvador and Honduras was sparked over a soccer game in 1969. Yes, there were other causes, but tens of thousands of casualties mounted up, thousands died.
To really capture the insanity, one has to go to Argentina. Soccer was brought to Argentina by British nationals doing business in the country around 1900. Their major teams have English names. Buenos Aires has the Boca Juniors, which in Spanish would be Bocacitos; and River Plate, which should be Rio de la Plata. The worst is Rosario's Newell's Old Boys, a name so British, it would hurt even our American ears. The Argentines now call it Newell's.
During the formative years, British prejudice would not allow Argentines to play with them. The Argentines never forgot the insult; and they started teams of their own, eventually outperforming the British. Oddly, the Argentines, though resentful of the English, either kept or adopted English names for their clubs. But the Argentine-British rivalry is a microcosm of soccer.
In 1966, in a world cup quarter-final, a German referee threw out the Argentine team captain, Antonio Rattín, under a questionable call. Rattin then proceded to insult the British by sitting on the attending Queen's red carpet and scrunching their flag. The British were horrified, but all of Latin America supported the Argentines. The Latins accused the Germans and British of colluding; and that the game had been stolen. The Argentines to this day revel in Rattin's breach of protocol, where it has been proudly replayed in a commercial. Rattín is considered a defiant hero in Argentina; the British are still mad over it.
In 1978, during the Dirty War in Argentina, it was reported that the detainees, who were being tortured, and the torturers, took a break to listen to the World Cup playoffs, where both rooted for Argentina.
In 1986, four years after the Falklands War, during another quarter-final, Argentine soccer legend, Diego Maradona would knock a goal into the British net with his hand. The referees did not notice the foul, and the point was awarded. After the game, Maradona would say it was the “Hand of God,” which was responsible. The name has stuck to this day. Then to add insult to injury, a few minutes later Maradona would make what is probably the most famous goal in soccer history as he ran by the English to score a second and deciding goal.
Argentina would win by one point. They had taken revenge for the Falklands War. And the cheating “Hand of God,” goal? Well, hadn't the hated British cheated the Argentines 20 years earlier in 1966 with a crooked referee? The Argentines felt it was double revenge. That one of the goals was dishonest only made the victory sweeter.
Diego Maradona was given the name, “El Diego,” and became a national hero. Amazingly, though furious about the "Hand of God," the British were honest enough to credit Maradona's follow up second goal as breathtaking.
As should be obvious, even to us Americans, soccer is war by other means.
In Argentina, urinating on fans as they exit the stadium is common. One only wonders what they do if their favorite team loses.
My father has recounted stories of going to the stadium with an umbrella to avoid being urinated on when walking below the stands – ALTERED ARGENTINA
Brazil has soccer hooligans who willingly kill and die for their team. In Europe, Portuguese fans have viciously attacked the police and sent the officers fleeing from the field. Even the usually fair Israelis have spawned quite racist fans for their Beitar Jerusalem Club. Nazi flags and salutes have appeared at European games. Britain's Tottenham Club, with a large Jewish fan base, is often the victim of anti-semitic abuse from rival fans.
All of this is tolerated, even encouraged, as adding color to the game. Vulgar, insulting songs are sung by tens of thousands in the stands. Violents rioters are segregated into their own sections - where flares, and bottles become weapons.
In Latin America, the violent fans are often part owners of the teams; and their gangs are treated royally by the team administrations, which have to answer to the thugs.
We do not need this here in America. The occasional riots after our sports game are usually controlled; with no deaths. Our media say we are sports crazy, but the truth is that we Americans are quite tame compared to the rest of the planet, I suspect partly because our cops have guns, and the will to use them.
Somewhere along the line, most Americans have learned that rooting for the team is not worth one's life, and hence: the polite American soccer fans which have astounded the rest of the planet this time around. To the rest of the world I say, We Don't Need Your Stinking Soccer!
Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who is not Jewish, Latin, or Arab. He runs a website, http://latinarabia.com, where he discusses the subculture of Arabs in Latin America. He wishes his Spanish were better.