The Dark Side of American Soccer Culture

Jay Caspian Kang, New York Times, July 12, 2016

For the stunted American male, frust­rated with the changing demographics of the country and gripped by the belief that his days on top are coming to an end, there may be no form of porno­graphy more satisfying than watching a bunch of hard-drinking, pub-singing soccer fans with thick brogues beat the hell out of one another. The scene is almost always the same: Singing men in red advance upon singing men in blue. When they meet in the center of the frame, red shoves blue, fingers are pointed and then, inevitably, a green beer bottle flies across the screen and explodes on red’s head. The lines of singing men collapse into a squirming, punching mass and by the time the police trot up, usually dressed to the hilt in riot gear, both red and blue have gone scurrying away, leaving a few behind sitting on the ground in a bloody stupor.

The host city–and usually the city’s blacks and Muslims–pay the price for the ensuing rampage. In June, Russian and English hooligans fought in Marseille, France, before an opening-round match of the Euro 2016 championships. A group of English fans confronted some of the city’s Muslim citizens, chanting, “ISIS, where are you?” In February of last year, when the Champions League match between Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain was held in Paris, Chelsea supporters shoved a black man off the Metro and chanted: “We’re racist! We’re racist! And that’s the way we like it!” There is nothing subtle or nuanced or even interesting about these displays of bigotry–this is the context that animates the endlessly popular fighting-soccer-hooligan videos on YouTube; this is what’s muttered in the stands between the rousing songs.

This summer, I attended a Seattle Sounders game with a soccer-fanatic friend of mine. Seattle has become one of the main breeding grounds for Europhilic American soccer culture, boasting the highest attendance numbers in Major League Soccer and the Emerald City Supporters (E.C.S.), one of the largest, rowdiest supporter organizations in the country. {snip}

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Then, about a half-hour before kickoff, E.C.S. arrived to the beating of drums. They marched a few hundred deep up the alleyway, holding banners and scarves above their heads. Some wore bandannas over their faces; some held up flares of green smoke; the vast majority were white. In throaty unison, they sang: “Take ’em all, Take ’em all, put ’em up against a wall and shoot ’em! Short and tall, watch ’em fall. Come on boys, take ’em all!” Each phrase was sung with a disorienting British lilt.

This fan culture has developed during each of American soccer’s ephemeral spikes in popularity, which start during a World Cup summer and fizzle out by the time quarterbacks report to training camp. But all those attempts to bring the world’s game to the States have left a residue. Fans meet in the stands, decide to get organized (or “organised”) and then go about studying the rituals of their European counterparts, whether on trips abroad or, increasingly, through YouTube voyeurism. The E.C.S. march is taken from European traditions. {snip}

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There is another sort of elision happening, one that’s more disturbing than middle-class Americans’ cosplaying working-class traditions from the Continent. The spread of Europhilic American soccer culture excludes much of the population of American soccer fans, a healthy portion of whom are Latin American immigrants. {snip}

There are now two separate American soccer cultures: one white, the other Latino. {snip}

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