Soccer Fan Violence. Why The MLS Isn’t Suffering From Hooliganism Like Other Soccer Organizations.
Soccer fan violence otherwise known as “hooliganism” is a common topic in the world of international soccer.
From the Brazilian Soccer team needing police intervention to English and Russian fans brawling in the Marseille before the match, soccer has been at the center of plenty of acts of aggression and violence overseas.
Yet oddly enough, the Major League Soccer Association (MLS) which includes the top tier teams of the United States and Canada have very few reports of fan violence. This lack of violence is surprising considering the fan violence that results from sports like American Football and Basketball.
Nowadays, it feels like just the wrong headline will start a riot in the America but still soccer seems relatively untouched even with its growing popularity.
I believe there are a few main reasons for the pacificity of North American soccer fans:
--The first is how the United States media represents hooliganism at European soccer games and the control media has over advertising.
--The second reason lies in the Union of European Football (Uefa) consisting of separate countries instead of states like the MLS.
--The third, and in my opinion the greatest reason, lies in the MLS fans and the difference in the lifestyles surrounding soccer.
The US media has a habit of taking things to the extreme with their hyperbolic manner of speaking. This goes doubly for how they discuss acts of hooliganism in European soccer. .
There are even articles discussing the “fear” of hooliganism infecting the MLS after a fight broke out at the Yankee Stadium last May between fans of the New York Red Bulls and New York City Fan Club.
Though even the newsworthy “brawls” of MLS fans can’t compare to European fan antics.
The Huffington Post even went so far as to call the hooligans “wannabes” in the article they published on the pre-match fighting, which consisted mainly of shouting while throwing objects such as bottles and signs.
What’s worse, with how reactive fear-based media has become, any talk of hooliganism developing in the MLS could significantly deter advertisers from supporting the organization. The MLS has been steadily growing in popularity in the United States and the club organizers and fans know that they need funding from advertisers to continue growing. While the average fan may not be able to fully understand the detriment of negative press, they still defend the sport and at times even police themselves.
Now you may think to yourself that American soccer couldn’t have that different of a fan base than in foreign soccer clubs, but you might be surprised....
In Europe, soccer is a source of patriotic pride. The Uefa doesn’t have players competing against their fellow countrymen like the MLS. The Uefa’s greatest difference is the pitting of country against country for regular games of the season. While you may argue that Canada is considered our rival country, the US and Canada have almost no history comparable to the endless wars fought across European history. Europe has made peace with itself for the most part, but it is still human nature to compete for superiority even without war. So what happens when countries agree to forego war with one another and seek peace? They look to other aspects of their countries for their patriotic pride and superiority.
Who can blame Europeans for looking upon their country’s soccer team with pride?
Who among us hasn’t felt prideful when their favorite team wins the league?
Who hasn’t seethed with anger or yelled angrily at the TV when the refs make a bad call?
When you choose to put your pride in a sports team, you want your team to win.
Your thirst for victory isn’t as simple as liking your team. Your favorite team represents you. Their faults become your faults. If your team wins the World Cup, your team, and in Europe, your country won the world cup.
And if your team is slighted by anyone, including referees, you feel personally offended.
How dare they disgrace your team??!!
and more often than not if your team represents your city or state, it feels as if they disrespected everything you know.
But what if there was only one main United States team and every game felt like the pride of your entire country was on the line? The stakes would be a lot higher because at the end of a MLS match, the opposing team is still your fellow American or Canadian.
At the end of a Uefa match however, the opposing team may still belong to the European Union, but they are not your fellow countrymen.
Mix that nationalistic pride in with alcohol and a crowd full of equally passionate people, and you invite the chaos of mob mentality into your life.
The greatest deterrent to soccer fan violence in the United States is MLS’s target audience. The MLS currently targets millennials, the most profitable age group to advertisers since soccer has such limited advertising time.
Luckily, soccer is already popular among that age group, and for kids from 12- to 17-year-olds, MLS is now more popular than MLB.
In fact, among that age group, only basketball is more popular.
These age groups which dominate soccer in North America don’t show very many signs of hooliganism because they’re both young and, unlike in Europe and South America, North American children didn’t grow up in a time where soccer was known for fan debauchery.
In the US, hooliganism is usually reserved for championship NBA games and politics so those who practice and follow MLS soccer aren’t usually exposed to or taught that hooliganism is an acceptable or desirable aspect of the sport.
In fact, hooliganism in Europe has its own culture with clubs made specifically to organize pre-game fights with the other team’s fans.
This planning wasn’t always the case and may actually play into why the news of fan hooliganism in Europe has declined. The underground groups actually planning these brawls with discretion and host them in secret locations to leave the police unaware.
One could even argue that Hooliganism in European soccer is merely leftover from the previous generation where fan violence and brawls became a pastime for the bored. Andy Nicholls, a 30 year English hooligan, said he fell into the hooligan lifestyle for the buzz. In an interview he did with BleacherReport last year, he was quoted saying “In my day, there was nothing else to do that came close to it. No Xbox, internet, theme parks or fancy hobbies. Football was one of the only hobbies available to young, working-class kids, and at the football, you were either a hunter or the hunted."
Nowadays there are movies made about the life of underground football fighting called Green Street Hooligans which romanticizes the life of soccer hooliganism in England.
This culture of hooliganism isn’t something American children know like Europeans and without the exposure or guidance of older generations that Europe has, hooliganism will not become a staple of soccer in the US anytime soon.