After spending the summer in Rosario, I was especially excited for the first Clásico Rosarino between Newell’s Old Boys and Rosario Central on Saturday. The match at the Estadio Gigante de Arroyito was spirited enough, with Central prevailing in their home stadium 2-0. But it was after the final whistle when the volatility of a local derby became especially pronounced.
Back in July, the city pulled together to celebrate its World Cup stars as they advanced to the final. Everywhere one could find the albiceleste of the national team, and after the semifinal victory on July 9 more than 50,000 people congregated around the National Flag Monument to bask in the glory of the nation’s first World Cup final since 1990.
Three months later, the factionalism of fanaticism prevailed over the unifying nature of international competition. In the aftermath of the Rosarino showdown, two fans ended up dead and six others hospitalized when the celebrations turned violent. One of the dead, a 39-year-old, succumbed to a gunshot wound; the other fatality, that of a 22-year-old supporter, was inflicted by the stab of a knife. The joy of summertime had devolved into hatred based on identification with one club over another.
The nature of athletic competition is such that people invest their joys and sorrows into the local team. In cities where two strong squads regularly square off against one another, the polarization of supporters can have detrimental results like the one we saw this weekend in Argentina. But South America is hardly alone in dealing with this phenomenon, and it is not confined to supporters of local teams who otherwise work and live alongside one another for the rest of the year.
Just in the past few days since the incident in Rosario, we have seen fans become fatally violent in Indonesia during a domestic match in the country. In France yesterday, Everton fans traveling from England for the Europa League match against Lille were attacked outside a bar by French hooligans. We have not reached levels of violence that marked the height of hooliganism in the 1980s, but the fact remains that soccer as a spectator sport creates syllogistic connections by which patterns of militant masculinity are allowed to ferment.
What can be done to rectify these issues? Ultimately there is no simple solution. The elimination of terraces and creation of all-seat stadiums has had some impact on the prevalence of violent actions within stadiums. But as these recent incidents show, clashes between rival supporters rarely take place within the confines of the stadium.
Derbies and rivalries are bound to inflame passions, and there is little that can be done to temper those passions. Entire cities become potential battlegrounds. And sometimes, as we saw in the case of the Everton supporters, even a holiday against an opponent with which the visiting club has no real history of enmity cannot be perceived as completely safe.
For some fanatics the focus will never be completely about the action on the pitch. In this context soccer merely provides the backdrop for ritualistic patterns of violent masculine identity. The action is about supporting the colors and the crest more than the players that represent those symbols. Only with a change of mentality that reinforces the importance of the athletic competition and diminishes the importance of totemic acts of violence can reduce the influence of these vitriolic elements.
We fans of the sport, those for whom the action between the white lines is paramount, must not let our voices be drowned out in the battle for identity. When violence erupts, a minority becomes vocal and tries to speak for a wider fan base. The majority must rise up in condemnation when these events occur, lest they be perceived as representative of an entire club.
Catching Up Around the Globe
The UEFA Champions League has reached its halfway point of group-stage play, and I’ve broken down the state of each group after the completion of the third round of matches. At this stage of the competition, the breakdown of teams by points is as follows:
- 9 points: Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich
- 7 points: Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, FC Porto
- 6 points: Olympiakos, Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Arsenal, Barcelona
- 5 points: AS Monaco, Schalke 04, Shakhtar Donetsk
- 4 points: Zenit St. Petersburg, AS Roma
- 3 points: Juventus, Malmo FF, Ludogorets Razgrad, Liverpool, FC Basel, BATE Borisov
- 2 points: Manchester City, Ajax Amsterdam, NK Maribor
- 1 point: Benfica, Anderlecht, Galatasaray, CSKA Moscow, APOEL Nicosia, Sporting Lisbon, Athletic Bilbao
The three teams sitting on nine points each have all appeared in the Champions League final in the past two seasons. What is really interesting is the group just below that trio. PSG and Chelsea are the idyllic representatives of soccer’s nouveau riche, while Porto is a two-time European champion (in 1987 and 2004) that consistently punches above its weight in continental competition.
The recent history of the competition suggests that the field is wider than these six teams, spanning down probably as far as those squads that currently sit on five points or better. But since Inter Milan and Bayern Munich squared off in the 2010 Champions League final after reaching the knockout stage as the second teams in their respective groups, every finalist has won its group. This year will likely hold to that trend rather than bucking it.
It seems as though every passing week yields a crazy new scheme to alleviate concerns about holding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. This week’s exercise in absurdity now has the tournament continuing to take place during the summer months, a time when the Arabian Peninsula is sweltering. The new scheme would have matches taking place in the middle of the night, using the sunset to mitigate the effects of the Qatari summer.
We’ve come a long way from a bid that yielded the promise of revolutionary new air-conditioning technology, systems that were supposed to be self-generating in a country where solar energy is undeniably available. It might seem outlandish to consider playing all the matches at night… but the reality is that this could significantly benefit television viewership in the most soccer-mad regions of the globe.
Playing at 7 pm, 10 pm, and 1 am would put the two early matches on during prime time all throughout Europe. The schedule would be similar to that enjoyed by American fans this summer, with the times correlating to noon, 3 pm, and 6 pm kickoffs across the Eastern time zone. The same benefits would extend to soccer-mad locales like Brazil and Argentina where the time is an hour ahead of New York.
Matches of the Week (all times Eastern)
- THURSDAY/23 October 2014
- Boca Juniors at Deportivo Capaita (Copa Sudamericana, 8:15 pm)
- Sporting Kansas City at Saprissa (CONCACAF Champions League, 10:00 pm)
- FRIDAY/24 October 2014
- Guimaraes at Vitoria Setubal (Portuguese Liga, 3:30 pm)
- America at Queretaro (Mexican Liga MX, 8:30 pm)
- SATURDAY/25 October 2014
- Manchester City at West Ham United (English Premier League, 7:45 am)
- Bordeaux at Paris Saint-Germain (French Ligue 1, 11:00 am)
- Barcelona at Real Madrid (Spanish Primera Liga, 12:00 pm)
- Los Angeles Galaxy at Seattle Sounders (MLS, 2:00 pm)
- AS Roma at Sampdoria (Italian Serie A, 2:45 pm)
- SUNDAY/26 October 2014
- Chelsea at Manchester United (English Premier League, 12:00 pm)
- Bayern Munich at Borussia Monchengladbach (German Bundesliga, 12:30 pm)
- Hellas Verona at Napoli (Italian Serie A, 1:00 pm)
- Panathinaikos at Olympiakos (Greek Super League, 1:30 pm)
- Lyon at Marseille (French Ligue 1, 4:00 pm)
- MONDAY/27 October 2014
- FK Rubin Kazan at Dinamo Moscow (Russian Premier League, 1:30 pm)
- IFK at Helsingborg (Swedish Allsvenskanliga, 2:05 pm)
- TUESDAY/28 October 2014
- Swansea City at Liverpool (English Capital One Cup, 4:00 pm)
- Bordeaux at Toulouse (French Coupe de la Ligue, 4:00 pm)
- WEDNESDAY/29 October 2014
- Newcastle United at Manchester City (English Capital One Cup, 3:45 pm)
- Sampdoria at Inter Milan (Italian Serie A, 3:45 pm)
- Santos at Cruzeiro (Copa Do Brazil, 8:00 pm)