Wednesday, August 26, 2009

No place, no glory, no clue

The scenes from the West Ham v. Millwall Carling Cup match last night, with yobs running rampart, squaring off against riot police, confronting other so-called supporters (their peers, mind) with arms raised like some kind of jungle animal threat, stabbing and lord know what else are sad. It also makes me wonder ...

It makes me wonder if I'll continue to hear songs about burning Scousers and other assorted opposing teams from people who share in the same lucky community of a football pub where everyone is there for the same reason. It makes me wonder if I'll continue to see arms raised in direct and confrontational threat, like planting a flag in someone's face. It makes me wonder if I'll be told to "eff off" on a routine basis, or see divisive lines being drawn instead of a recognition of respect. It's got no place in the game and it's got no place in a community where people are all there for the same thing. Sure, it's tribal as all hell. But stripe the false machismo and respect those who celebrate it with you. There's fun, celebration, singing, community and yeah, there are tribes and pockets. But there's also a mighty big difference between that and this ...


Brew City 'Til I Die said...

Note: This comment is NOT meant to excuse soccer violence or any generally uncouth behaviour, and it is not meant to call out any individual. I just want to get my viewpoint out there because I know a little bit about this stuff.

Soccer hooliganism is a multi-faceted, controversial sociological phenomenon. In the English context I think that everyone will agree (even those that love, and want to bring back certain aspects of, terrace culture) that when violence spills over onto those not looking for it, it is over the line. I think that is what you are trying to get at.

The Millwall/West Ham scuffle of last week crossed the line in everyone's mind when the Millwall fans started tossing rocks and bricks at West Ham supporters not interested in any trouble.

The deleniation between soccer fan and hooligan/terrace culture enthusiast seems to me to be a little murkier in the US than it is in Europe (although this seems to be less true in cities with MLS teams, where obviously football culture is stronger). In Europe there are lots of subtle cues (most that go under the radar of the authorities, out of necessity) which show whether you embrace terrace culture or not...the kind of shoes you wear (often changing from season to season), the music you like, small things regarding apparel obvious only to insiders. I never have problems figuring out who is who in Europe, while I often do in the US.

Arsenal supporters have the added problem that in recent years non-hooligans have started to use the term Gooner pretty freely. It used to be that Gooner was a loaded term, like ICF, and for some people it still is. It is somewhat akin to yelling "c'mon, I'm up for it!" If I walked into a room full of Millwall supporters and started yelling "ICF", or singing "Oh, ah, up the 'Ra" in a room full of Democrat Unionists I would expect to have lots of people right up in my face as a result of my inflammatory words. Similarly, in most contexts I talk about my parents as my "folks"...but if I am around suspected gang members of the peoples nation I go way out of my way to make sure I never, ever utter the phrase "my folks".

I think Arsenal fans suffer from the commercialization of the term Gooner, and from the fact that there is so much disagreement of where the term came from...if you believe (as I do) that the term comes from the old top boy The Goon, and his clock end firm in the 70s-80s, then it shouldn't be a surprise that you get reactions if you use the term in songs, has a violent/aggressive history. Every time I hear the term "Gooner" used I know that I, as a long-time West Ham supporter, get a little knot in my stomach and my blood pressure goes up a little.

How Arsenal fans should choose to deal with this terminological confusion is not something I am prepared to give advice on. Possibilities include: they could get back in the face of aggressors, they could calmly have a discussion on the merits of their own particular view of the linguistic history of the term "Gooner", or those who aren't up for aggro could stop using the term.

As an added sociological observation of Milwaukee (our fair city) in the last few years, it seems that when people get into soccer newly they are really likely (note: broad generalizations follow...your mileage my vary) to follow Man U or Arsenal (followed by Liverpool and Chelsea). Furthermore, it seems that college types are more likely to go Arsenal (and Chelsea), and non-college types are more likely to go Man U (and Liverpool). I think there are, consequently, some socio-economic forces at work when the two teams' supporters meet.

keano in disguise said...

Well put. A few years back when I first started going to the pub it was without a doubt an Arsenal bar. The Arsenal boys never had a problem chastising those of us who showed up to support our teams. I never minded because I always felt it was good natured ribbing and its part of the sport. They had the numbers and the songs. Now that things are different and the numbers are more or less equal the arsenal boys suddenly have a problem with the way the United fans act. Lets not forget it wasnt too long ago when you boys were much the same way. In America we're afforded the luxury of watching matches with one another and then sharing a pint and discussing football. Yes we tend to get aggro during the matches because we're passionate about our team just as you boys were and are. Bottom line...You cant have it both ways.