Culture of Soccer Week 3 (The Soccerati, Fan Violence and Stadium Disasters)

For week 3 of the class, our assignments included watching a video on the Hillsborough tragedy and reading Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch.  Here is my full post for the class blog:

Even before I became I soccer fan, I knew about Hillsborough.  The impact of that event was felt thousands of miles away, and watching the assigned videos and reading the passages from Fever Pitch, the tragedy seemed inevitable.  As the lecture mentioned, hooligans were aggressive in performing their rituals of violence and these actions were done in stadiums at least 50 years old (Hornby 218).  Combine those with a lack of proper policing and a perceived nonchalant attitude of the authorities, a catastrophe was only a matter of time.  The trade off from a supposed great atmosphere filled with violence, disorganization and unsafe conditions to a more sterile environment of changing demographics, higher ticket prices and corporate influence was necessary.

The disaster at Hillsborough recounted in the LFC video was terrifying and the unfortunate culmination of a supporter culture that saw the individual subsume his identity to the mob (Hornby 54) in an attempt to support the club and become part of a community. Fever Pitch foreshadowed the events of 1989 throughout the book.  Hornby describes as early as 1980 the crush of the crowd and the unconcern of the authorities (Hornby 128-129).  The tragedy at Heysel in the spring of 1985 was seen as a cultural misunderstanding (Hornby 154-157) rather than yet another red flag.  As violence escalated on the terraces (Hornby 141), containment became the strategy rather than the safety of everyone involved (Hornby 218).

Yet the results of that unfortunate day “wrote the future of football” as Rogan stated in the video. While the inquiry may not have gone as far as it should have in terms of appropriating blame, it led to significant improvements in fan safety.  This in conjunction with the increase of closed circuit television, the TV explosion and higher ticket pricing mentioned in the video lecture created a much different environment in which to consume the beautiful game.

I started following futbol after the Taylor report, so all I have known is all seaters and the expansion of corporate boxes and rising ticket prices.  As an American sports fan, I don’t have a frame of reference for the English hooligan culture of the 70’s and 80’s.  My soccer fan experience in the States has been one of soccer moms, T-shirt cannons and constant corporate advertising.  My only entry into this aspect of support is through videos and books like Among the Thugs and commentary about past events.

I have searched out European style supporter culture, visiting the Emerald City Supporters in Seattle and the Timbers Army in Portland, and interacting with the Motor City Supporters and the Northern Guard for Michigan Bucks and Detroit City Football Club matches.  These were organized, passionate and humorous moments which spoke to the camaraderie of fan support without the threat of violence on the periphery.

The events of April 1989 started the end of an era—hooligan culture—and created the beginning of a new era—corporate culture.  The day signaled that things had to change, that there could be no more days like that or like Ibrox or Heysel or Bradford.  Into the vacuum came massive TV contracts which affected kickoff times; corporate sponsors which impacted the look of the game; and increased ticket prices which altered the demographics of match day attendances.

My original thought was that the categories of noise (Hornby 75) heard at matches seem to be a thing of the past, that fans could no longer create walls of sound.  But upon reflection, examples came to mind of fan support that reached thunderous levels.  Celtic produced nights of peaceful but deafening support in their 2012/13 Champions League campaign.  The German fan base is attempting to find a balance in the modern era, allowing small standing areas to supplement a highly engaged and creative supporter culture.  Martin Lipton and Andy Mitten on the United We Stand podcast (minutes  24:25—28:00) reflected on a magic night at Old Trafford against Barcelona in 2008 and wonderful crowds at White Hart Lane.  The Borussia Dortmund fans exemplified this as they filed into Wembley long before the 2013 Champions League Final kicked off to celebrate the day. Long may it continue.

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