Day 79 of 98 – The Soccer Part 2b: There’s plenty of exits for everyone

8 Dec

Continuing the previous post, this one will be about the behavior of soccer fans.

3. The fervor of some soccer fans at almost every match reaches an intensity that in North American we save mostly for the playoffs. Combined with point number one (dullness), this only increases our bewilderment.

On its own, sports fans acting crazy and doing stupid, violent things does not require any special explanation. It’s a simply combination of human males aged fifteen to twenty five, passion, excitement, high stakes, human nature (competitiveness, in-group/out-group mentality), and alcohol. Everyone knows this.

The problem is that to your average North American, most soccer games lack excitement and high stakes. The majority of regular season games are, well, regular (i.e. nothing special). So why all the craziness? And why are there real security concerns at regular season soccer games? The answer is a bit complex.

I’ve been hanging around Europeans for a while and I hope to be able to shed some light on this subject for my fellow Canadians and both my American readers. Maybe the Euros reading this might be able to learn something too while we’re at it.

First up: the violence. In Europe, local rivalries are real things, not made up like in North America. Canadians think there’s a rivalry between the US and Canada. There isn’t. If there are any scientists out there, here’s an experiment you can try. It involves alcohol, it’ll be fun!

Order a Budweiser at a bar in Toronto and see what happens. Then, drive to Buffalo and order a Molson beer. Next, fly to Dusseldorf, go to a pub and order a Kolsh. Be sure to note the reaction of the people around you. If you’re still able, try the same thing in a Cologne pub, but this time order an Alt Bier.

Note: Visa gold card travel insurance is only good for trips that are less than 15 days in duration.

You should notice a much higher level of hostility in Cologne/Dusseldorf than in Toronto/Buffalo. But this is just a simple thing, ordering a beer. What is going on?

See, in North America we have lots of space and we’re relatively young compared to Europe. We are roughly half the population but twice their size (I’m not including Mexico). For 500 years the Americans of European dissent did not face any serious eternal threats to their existence. The natives did not have any of the guns, germs, or steel which enabled the Europeans to take over the continent with relative ease. The only major war I can remember from my eighth grade history class was the war of 1812 and this only lasted a couple of years (the war, not grade eight).

If you’ve got lots of space, no worries about being invaded, and enough time (hundreds of years), you’re going to develop a culture that is more or less, how do I say, not so concerned with your neighbors. There’s less competition for resources because of all the free space and it just might be easier to just move somewhere else than to go to war over some patch of land.

I have no idea if any of this is true. But one thing I do know is that for much of the history of Europe, things were a lot different than in North America. For centuries in Europe you had (have?) many different countries and cultures that were always warring with each other, competing for resources, and worrying about being invaded.

At the soccer match the other day, Julia was telling me that the Bremen fans are really well behaved and that they don’t fight with the opposing team’s supports. What a strange statement. Why would anyone want to fight with anyone? Especially over soccer.

But then she added a qualifier “unless they’re playing Hamburg”. Re: qualifier – no pun intended.

Who are these Hamburgers you speak of, and what makes them so special?

Well it all comes back to geography. Bremen and Hamburg are two of the three German city-states – part of the Hanseatic League. They are located about one hundred kilometers apart and they probably have some huge rivalry that goes back hundreds of years. Luckily for everyone, all that remains of this once great conflict are twice-yearly soccer contests (one home, one away), that are “fought” by twenty-two men, none of whom are actually from either city.

Because of their close proximity the visiting team in Bremen vs. Hamburg matches usually has a significant number of supporters (maybe a few thousand?) that will make the journey into enemy territory. Compare this with the Stuttgarters from about six hundred kilometers south of Bremen. They had only about 500 fans crammed into the visitor’s cheering section way at the end of the stadium. The Bremeners didn’t really care about them.

And why would they? Their numbers are too small to be a physical threat and there’s no real rivalry between the two teams. They only play against each other twice per season and there’s no playoffs in Bundesliga soccer. I could imagine a rivalry developing between these two distant cities after a hard-fought playoff where one team was victorious after a questionable decision by the officiator (soccer anyone?). But with so few games being played between them it’s difficult for anyone to carry a grudge for longer than a week in today’s ADD-addled society.

Even if there was a crazy game at the end of the season where the losing team was relegated to the second division it would be at *least* a year and a half before these teams could play each other again.

My hypothesis is that because of the historical conflicts of the region, there is a higher likelihood of soccer violence if the teams that are playing share a close geographical proximity.

Maybe some teams (or countries) have fans that are crazy and they end up fighting all the time. Or maybe there are some teams that are universally reviled – Bayern Munich might fall into this category – more on them later. These are both possibilities but I think that there’s much truth to what I’m claiming.

Now in North America there is violence between the supports of rival teams but it seems to me that it’s not on the same level as in soccer. I’m not aware of any NFL, CFL, NHL, MLB, NBA, or WNBA teams that segregate the visiting team’s fans. The large police presence at the crucial post-season games is to prevent the fans from rioting but this sort of thing only happens late in the playoffs.

Back in Ottawa in 2005 there was this German student who was there on exchange. He was a huge sports fan. I found it fascinating to watch him throw all his support behind the Senators: face painted, jersey wearing, cheering loudly, an actual attempt to understand the rules. I was all like, “Relax guy, it’s just a pre-season game. These are even more worthless than the ones in the regular season.” (they play almost ninety in total). But he was all like, “I’m not your guy, buddy. I’m from Ottawa now, and this is my team”.

He didn’t read up on all the different teams or try to find a German-born players and cheer for those teams. It was a pretty straightforward process for him.

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