Growing up as a supporter of soccer in America was very difficult at times. When I was a kid, the sport was not very widely accepted in the United States. People would say things about it not being a real sport or they would scrutinize the players for faking injuries. I tried not to let any of that bother me because I know most of the world agreed with my opinion of the game. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that the view of soccer fans internationally is much different than it is in the United States. The more research I do, the more I learn just how much soccer means to people in different parts of the world, and how closely I can relate to them. Soccer is and always will be part of my identity. This essay looks into how this identity of mine is represented in popular culture. Due to a long history of intense rivalries, soccer fans from around the world are seen as overly passionate, violent drunks.
These fans, often referred to as hooligans, tend to pick fights with rival fans or start riots. Some fans will yell profanities at players and sometimes even attack them. A group of these fans is called a firm which started as a British term, but has spread worldwide since. Lexi Alexander’s Green Street Hooligans shows what it’s like to descend into the violent, gang-like culture of British firms. Elijah Wood plays a Harvard journalist student who moves to London and quickly becomes swept up into the fierce rivalry between Millwall Football Club and West Ham United. While West Ham is normally a decent team on the field, Millwall isn’t quite up to that standard and is really only known for their rambunctious fanbase. The film provides a fairly realistic look into football hooliganism, but also tends to focus on the Matt.
In a 2005 review of the movie, Roger Ebert mentions that he first thought the inclusion of Matt’s character wasn’t actually a necessity for the film. He later states that “the movie’s point is that someone like this nerdy Harvard boy might be transformed in a fairly short time into a bloodthirsty gang fighter. The message is that violence is hard-wired into men, if only the connection is made.” Although Ebert doesn’t say one way or another if he agrees with that, it does raise a good point. Stereotypically, men have been known to be the more violent and impulsive gender. When hooliganism was much more common in the 20th century, the firms were predominantly male. This, of course, does not mean that soccer fans have been violent because they are male. Most of the firms focus on their pure hate of people from a different region than them.
Instead of harmless trash talk and bragging rights, they take their rivalries to another level and express their disgust with each other through physical violence and vandalism. It’s almost as if they treat it as another game. If one firm’s team loses, they get a second chance to show who is boss. These fans are unlike any that American sports have ever seen. Though, there have been some reports recently of fights between rival fans in America. The Oregonian reported a local incident near Providence Park (then Jeld-Wen Field) on April 14th, 2013 in which a Portland Timbers fan, James Decker, was attacked in his car by two visiting San Jose Earthquakes fans.
Decker’s wife and children were also in the car. Since then, NBC Bay Area released an article saying that the two suspects from that day had been arrested. There was also an incident on the other side of the country between opposing fans.
Harrison, New Jersey is home to a Major League Soccer team called the New York Red Bulls. In 2015, the Red Bulls were introduced to a new team in MLS called New York City Football Club. These two teams quickly became regional rivals and, of course, the fans acted accordingly. Most fans focused on the rivalry that happened on the field, but that didn’t stop a few fans from making it a more personal matter. British tabloid Daily mail reported that, “Two gangs of rival supporters were seen brawling in the streets of New Jersey”. This could be a sign of a more passionate, violent culture than American sports has seen before. Daily Mail reporter Kieran Corcoran takes it one step further and starts comparing this one brawl to the historical hooligan culture of England. Tabloids are known to use buzzwords and repetition, and often times they try to make a story more interesting than it is. Writing about some drunken belligerents in front of a bar isn’t necessarily special or interesting, but when the media tries to make it seem like a trend, that’s when people tend to get intrigued. This type of the journalism fools people into thinking there is a trend that might not actually exist. It also reports on the worst aspect of anything without showing the other side. So when people who aren’t familiar with soccer read this, they might think of hooliganism as more of a disease that is spreading as soccer gains popularity in America. In reality, hooligan culture has been around for a very long time and is actually dissipating. American fans like me have pride for their city and their team. And while there is an immense hatred towards rival teams, most fans focus on the game and let their team’s form do most of the talking. Contrary to what the media reports, most soccer fans are not violent and animalistic. In fact, many fans are very involved in their community and try to help out around the city.
The supporters group for Portland’s soccer team is called the Timbers Army. They have a lot of ways for fans to get involved with things like helping clean up parks, planting trees, and other things similar to those. In 2013, the Timbers organization and the Make-A-Wish Foundation partnered up to make a cancer-stricken eight year-old’s dream come true. Atticus Lane-Dupre was diagnosed with cancer and ended up having to miss some of his soccer season to undergo cancer treatment. His wish was to play a game against the Timbers. It was amazing that the game happened at all, but even more amazing is that over 3,000 fans came out to the event and cheered for Atticus’s team. This shows that the Timbers Army is not only passionate about the game, but also about their fellow fans and the community surrounding them. After the game, most of the reaction articles that came out were local. There definitely wouldn’t be tabloids about it. This is just a local, close-to-home case of what a supporters group can do.
Soccer is more than just a game to me and other fans. Though there has been a long history marred by violence, soccer culture has vastly changed. This doesn’t stop media sources from trying to allude back to the times in which fans were crazy, drunken marauders. This piece of my identity is not accurately portrayed in popular culture.
Green Street Hooligans Movie Review | Roger Ebert (All Content) http://rogerebert.com/reviews/green-street-hooligans-2005
Hawley, Lindsay (2004) “Ethnics, Violence, and Truth: Soccer’s American Past,” Constructing the Past: Vol. 5: Iss. 1, Article 4.Available at: http://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/constructing/vol5/iss1/4
25 Fearsome Soccer Hooligan Gangs You Never Want To Meet In Person (List25) http://list25.com/25-fearsome-soccer-hooligan-gangs-you-never-want-to-meet-in-person/
Green Street Hooligans. Dir. Lexi Alexander. Distributed by Warner Home Video, 2006. Film.
Dailymail.com, Kieran Corcoran. “Has British-style Hooliganism Infiltrated American Soccer? Fans Brawl in the Streets Ahead of New York Derby Match.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 10 Aug. 2015. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.
Two visiting soccer fans arrested for April attack on Timbers fan (KATU.com) http://www.katu.com/news/local/Two-visiting-soccer-fans-arrested-for-April-attack-on-Timbers-fan-221562811.html