Football hooliganism, the unsporting sport


Football hooliganism, the unsporting sport

Hooliganism in the world's biggest sport is so established that some languages have invented words to describe it. In England, there are pubs that bar anyone in a soccer jersey, and teams in Argentina have official gangs of troublemakers. LOUIS DE VILLERS tells the story.


WHEN 58-year-old Chris Knoll went to support his beloved football club West Ham in the Netherlands in the semi-finals of the Europa League on May 18, he did not foresee that it would make him a national hero, earn him the nickname The Angel Of Alkmaar, and lead to the creation of a WWE-like action figure of him, complete with bruises, that sold for R146,000 on eBay.

Knoll stopped a horde of AZ Alkmaar schoolboys in their tracks when they stormed part of the stadium where West Ham supporters were sitting. (You can read the bizarre story here). 

Although football hooligans have become much less common in England since the 1980s, many bars still turn away people wearing football jerseys.

And just as the English introduced the sport to the world, they also served as inspiration for the type of testosterone-fuelled fans who attend matches to fight. 

The question of why football has to endure so many riots is easy to answer: it is by far the most popular sport worldwide.

Badminton unrest

On holiday in Kuala Lumpur at the end of 1993, we were stunned when badminton unrest broke out in the Malaysian capital after a popular local player took on an Indonesian. It sounds unbelievable, but the Malaysians love their badminton.

It's quite understandable if it produces play of this quality: the world record for the longest badminton point was broken last Thursday in Kuala Lumpur when two Malaysian women finally sealed the point after 211 shots.

It's breathtaking to watch:

It took 211 shots to win!

The oldest recorded sporting riots were the Nika Riots (532 AD), in which spectators at a chariot race got so the moer in with Emperor Justinian that it took a week to quell the unrest. By that time, around 30,000 people were  dead and half of Constantinople was in ruins.

The riots werew sparked by a conflict between two chariot-racing teams, the Blue and the Greens. Justinian sorted out the mess by bribing the Blues (he was a supporter) to give way, then imperial troops massacred the Greens. One wishes daily for more action by, for example, Cyril Ramaphosa, but this offers food for thought ...

Yes, the game was different in the old days.

Even in sophisticated cities 

Wise asses have claimed that a bigger net and more goals will mean the end of soccer hooliganism, but in ice hockey there are more goals and civilised, fairly social democratic Canada still regularly boils over after a big game:

Click on the YouTube link and watch how the Stanley Cup riot started.

And it's not just in the ghettos — it's sophisticated cities like Vancouver and Montreal that are going through it. If they were into soccer, it would be an equally good excuse to break and vandalise.

If you're in the mood for some truly great sports reporting, here's the great Canadian novelist Mordecai Richler on violence in hockey and his beloved Montreal Canadiens.

His article about the Canadiens made me think as a young person that life as a sports writer might be the way to go. But don't hold it against him!

You don't get better than this.  

Spreading to Northern Europe

As the Alkmaar incident shows, football hooliganism is becoming an ever-increasing problem in northern Europe.

And in Eastern Europe — gosh, people use any reason to lash out at each other anyway; football works just as well. In May 1990, riots broke out in Zagreb when Red Star Belgrade played Dinamo Zagreb. Arkan, the notorious Serbian war criminal, was the leader of Red Star's thugs. They later formed the core of his dreaded Wolves.

The Serbs and Croatians then became thoroughly gatvol of each other; the Yugoslav police jumped in with water cannons. The Dynamo captain, Zvonimir Boban, kicked a policeman who assaulted a Zagreb supporter. Zagreb's hooligans rushed to Boban's aid. 

The skirmish then degenerated into an all-out war, and when the dust finally settled Croatia was independent from the former Yugoslavia and almost the entire Balkan peninsula was a hellhole.

The okolofutbola

Eastern Europe's best-known bully these days, Vladimir Putin, has been heavily involved with Russia's okolofutbola (which literally translates as “things connected to football", or pure soccer hooliganism).

During the 2016 European Championship tournament, one or two hundred Russian football hooligans descended upon a group of pink-faced beer-bellied Englishmen in Marseille, wearing balaclavas and all. They sang pub songs about World War 2 and set off fireworks in the town square.

It was one of few occasions on which anyone could feel sympathy for a mass of drunken English football fans, but the Russians donnered them like wolves would donner a herd of cattle.

Putin expressed his appreciation for this and one Feduk, a popular rapper among the most violent kind of Russian crewcut men, had a hell of a hit in the Motherland with Tour de France, an ode to the thugs of Marseille.

His rapping is quite bad — he's one of those who  screams the same thing repeatedly — and all I could understand was “Fuck the UK!" But it's interesting to realise yet again how one man's fascist hooligan can be another man's national hero:

Feduk's 'Tour de France'.

It's these kind of boneheads that make good cannon fodder: I wonder how many soccer hooligans today sit and look for each other somewhere in the Donbas through binoculars.

The ultratifosi

In countries where blood boils hotter, such as Italy, the ultratifosi are almost officially part of the formal structure.

Argentinians often say they are actually Italians, speak Spanish and imagine they are English. As far as football goes they are definitely Italians.

One evening 30 years ago, to thank a particularly gracious host in Buenos Aires, I pledged my loyalty to River Plate. They are the somewhat snobbish club of Buenos Aires. River call themselves “The Millionaires" and the other BA clubs refer to them as “The Chickens".

Boca Juniors are their arch-rivals as well as by far the most popular club in Argentina.

River's fans like to sing to them: “You are the 51%/You are from Bolivia and Paraguay/Boca, go wash your assholes with paraffin."

The Drunkards

River's official hooligans, Los Borrachos del Tablon (The Drunkards of the Stands), are perhaps indicative of that old, old story.

Just like their Italian mentors, they have ingrained themselves so thoroughly in the club that it arranges work for them, allows them to sell tickets and direct parking, and even organises buses for away matches so  they can go and beat up other clubs' hooligans.

The latter is merely practical, otherwise they will definitely start to donner the club's management.

The Drunkards were forged by the formidable Andalusian-born woman Haydee Martinez, better known as La Gorda (Fat) Matosa.

Here's a tune in honour of soccer hooliganism by the great Argentinian rock band Divididos: 

Musiek vir boefwees.

By the time La Gorda Matosa died in 1996, Los Borrachos was already a staunch criminal organisation. But without her personality, her followers immediately started fighting over who gets how many tickets, parking spaces or scalps.

Nowadays, Los Borrachos often donner each other with more gusto than they donner their Boca equivalents, La Doce (the 12th man). Here are the two groups chanting at each other. Football in Argentina isn't crazy, it's insane:

Hier sit die manne ...

And here's one as a reminder that everything is only funny until someone gets hurt. Why the bra had to wear jodhpurs for the video is not clear, but you do you, Barry:

Barry McGuire - Eve Of Destruction (1965)


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