Violence In Football, Tarnishing the Beautiful Game?

Ed. Note..This was an old post I did way back when and figuered I would bring it out of retirement onto CHI to see what people have to say about violence in football.

Remember the old adage, ‘Enough is enough?’ Well, I ask myself, especially with most of Europe’s top leagues winding down and the EPL champs already crowned, one question that needs to be addressed in this off-season.

When is football violence going to be controlled?

I ask this question because too many times since this past September I have watched on Spanish television countless numbers of fans being beaten by riot police most notably the Manchester United fans who are taking the beating in the above picture. I’ve also witnessed fans riot in Sicily resulting in one police officer being killed, (yes killed). And I continue to ask myself for what??? A football game?? Your ‘allegiance’ to your team?? Come on now, this needs to stop.

For those of you in the American sphere and are not aware of what’s going on, or how crazy football can be. I can make an easy comparison. I went to Ohio State and watched as many a Buckeye lay waste to couches, chairs, bookstores, anything flammable in the immediate area. I was also a part of many Ohio State vs. Michigan games. However, there was a difference. When a Michigan fan walked by and some people yelled ‘Michigan (fill in your expletive here)’ that was the end. Some people did a bit more, sure there was a fight or two, but those are few and far between.

Now, taking it back to Spain. In Sevilla there are two ‘La Liga’ teams, Betis and Sevilla. Now, I’m a Sevillana (aka I root for Sevilla) and I was a part of a ‘derbi’ which is when both teams play each other. Hearing horror stories, I wasn’t expecting much as I have seen the OSU-UM games enough to know what a rivalry is. However, I watched in awe and complete shock as a Betis fan walked in front of a group of Sevilla fans and was beaten so bad that the police arrested all of the fans and the Betis fan was rushed to the hospital with ‘life-threatening’ injuries. And why you ask? No reason, it was because he was wearing a Betis jersey.

There is all sorts of violence that exists in football. This year’s Barcelona-Espanyol game featured Molotov Cocktails and riot police escorting Barcelona fans into Espanyol’s stadium before kickoff for fear of large scale fighting. Sevilla and Betis fans clash everytime a game is played, and even this year a fan threw a bottle down from the stands which knocked Sevilla coach Juande Ramos unconscious and forced the game to be stopped and replayed behind closed doors. Manchester United fans took a savage beating from Italian Riot Police and 11 were taken to hospital. But this came after Man U fans were seen tossing ‘missiles’ (which is a fancy name for ’stuff’) at opposing Roma fans. Newcastle fans were beaten by Spanish ‘Guardia Civil’ in the opening legn in the UEFA Cup in Sevilla’s Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium for chanting and singing. It’s a football match, that’s going to happen.

Now, don’t forget I’m just mentioning Europe, want to see how big ‘hooliganism’ is around the world? Check out this Wiki article with tons of references to incidents all over the world. And this is just from Italy, this year.

In January 2007, the president of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) threatened to halt all league football in the country after a weekend of violence. An official of amateur club Sammartinese died when he was caught up in a fight between players and fans in Luzzi at a match between Sammartinese and Cancellese. In Florence, a Livorno fan needed 20 stitches in his head after being attacked by Fiorentina fans. About 100 Atalanta fans who tried to attack coaches carrying Catania fans, fought with plice. And a Serie D game between Genzano and Normanna was suspended early in the second half after a linesman was hit by a drum thrown from the stands.[78]

In February 2007 the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) suspended all football matches indefinitely following the killing of a policeman at the Serie A Sicilian derby match between Catania and Palermo. The match had to be suspended after an hour when tear gas that had been used by police to break up fighting outside the ground drifted onto the pitch. The fighting was alleged to have started when Palermo fans could not get into the ground until the second half. After the match fans fought with the police outside the ground, with about 100 people treated for injuries. The policeman, Officer Filippo Raciti, died when he was struck in the face by a small explosive as the police were trying to deal with the fighting outside the ground.[79]

On 4 April, 2007 AS Roma and Manchester United fans were involved in clashes during UEFA Champions League match. Roma and Manchester United fans were separated in one area of the ground by a plastic barrier, with riot police positioned only on the English fans side. After each goal both sets of fans surged toward the barrier, with at one stage the riot police repeatedly striking Manchester United fans with batons and shields. No Roma fans were similarly struck by the riot police as they had no presence on the Roma fans side of the barrier. One Manchester United fan was stabbed on his way to the match, and eleven fans taken to hospital. Two Roma fans also received hospital treatment. Despite UEFA promising to investigate the incident, and the British Home Office Minister, Vernon Coaker, calling for answers to whether the Italian police were justified, the head of Rome police, Achille Serra, claimed that the police action was justified and that there would be no inquiry, unless he was shown evidence of alleged police brutality. And this, despite live TV pictures during the match, showing riot police apparently indiscriminately hitting and beating Manchester United fans whilst taking no action against Roma fans.

As I read the article what do I see? Police officer killed, 20 fans killed, father and son killed. But the worst disaster was the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989 in which 96 Liverpool fans were killed and 766 fans injured after fans were crushed into fences designed to stop violence. Officially didn’t even know what was going on until fans started to carry the dead onto the field. What a sight.

What are the solutions? Well for starters start persecuting the police who beat fans senseless. Throwing someone out of a game is one thing. And if the fan fights back, sure you have to defend yourself, I realize this. But, going in with batons out just beating back everything that moves? Not a good idea. Start holding the police accountable for their actions and that includes police chiefs, or anyone who is involved. Too many times, local governments turn their heads saying it was the ‘right thing to do.’ Since when has beating innocent fans been the right thing to do?

I think the overall answer might just be ‘accountability’. Who’s fault is this? If fans are roudy, bar them from entering games. If teams start having a bad reputation, leagues should fine the teams. UEFA can even step into the ring and start barring teams from competitions if they are causing problems. Italy took this step and suspended all football matches until stadiums were checked and regulations upheld in wake of the death of the Italian Police Officer, but then found their heads up their asses when they Rome police beat Man United fans senseless. In the 1990’s English teams were held accountable for their acts of ‘hooliganism’ and were banned from cup play, why not do this again? Clubs get one warning, then boom, fines and bans, that will stop rowdy fans, and maybe even curb the problems that Sevilla faces every ‘derbi’.

All that I know is that if the football violence doesn’t stop soon, it is only going to get worse. And that is just unacceptable. What’s it going to take for some action? A little kid watching his favorite team getting killed by a fanatical supporter? Or by a riot policeman ‘doing his job.’ Something has to be done about this now before it’s too late.

Or maybe it already is…


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