12.07.05

SWellls : Enough With The Hooligan Jokes

Posted in Sports Journalism at 10:59 pm by

Former NME scribe Steven Wells continues to celebrate his exile in Philadelphia with another in a series of articles for the Guardian about American sport. On Wednesday, the author of “Teenage Tits Out Terror Totty” came out swinging against the tired characterization of soccer matches as riots waiting to happen, while the thuggish excesses of Eagles and Flyers fans carry no similar stigma.

There’s not much soul-searching about sports hooliganism within the US – and what little there is tends to focus on the behaviour of African-American basketball players rather than predominantly white football fans. For no matter how many college games end in drunken mob violence (as many do), no matter how many American city centres see running battles between sports fans and riot police, the US sports media continues to present hooliganism as something utterly un-American. (This blinkered provincialism has parallels with the 1996 decision by the US State Department to “red flag” parts of south London as no-go areas for American tourists, claiming that Millwall was as dangerous as Guatemala – which, at the time, was overrun by right-wing death squads.)

When it comes to hooliganism, the US media really is the pot calling the kettle black. Riots at US sports events occur far more frequently than they do in the UK. And yet, in American popular culture, the “hooligan” is almost without exception portrayed as a soccer fan (and nearly always as English).

Which might explain the success in the US of the movie Green Street. This, as I’m sure you know, is the story of how American Frodo Baggins is taught how to beat up idiots by a Brad Pitt lookalike West Ham hoolie with the worst cockney accent since Sir John Gielgud played Arthur Mullard in the Young Vic’s disastrous 1991 stage adaptation of Yus My Dear. The US reviews of Green Street read like anthropological essays – discussions of a curious and disturbing phenomenon so utterly alien to the American way of life that it can only be understood as a quirky custom pursued by distant barbarians.there’s no national debate about hooliganism in the US press. There’s no discussion about the wisdom of selling alcohol inside stadiums or of letting home and away fans sit together. Nobody in US sports seems to even realise that they’ve got a long-term, deeply rooted and entirely homegrown hooligan problem.

Whenever American football fans riot or ice hockey fans beat the hell out of one another, whenever the supporters of basketball or baseball teams go on a cop-taunting, car-torching, window-smashing victory spree, the violence is invariably treated as a local disturbance or an historical anomaly. And whenever college football fans engage in riotous behaviour that would be considered a national scandal if it happened in Britain (as they frequently do), no one seems terribly inclined to call it hooliganism.

Meanwhile lazy US satirists compare rioting French Islamic youth to soccer hooligans, Bucky the monkey-hating cat in the nationally syndicated Get Fuzzy strip raises a chuckle by dressing up as a Hartlepool FC “English hooligan”, and the Simpsons scriptwriters seem unable to mention soccer without inserting a gag about how the sport turns its supporters into mindless thugs.

The truth is that both Bill Buford and Frodo Baggins could have stayed at home to get their slumming hoolie kicks.

Meantime, I think it’s time for the pot to shut the fuck up.

I can only presume that Wells, writing for an audience disinclined to fact check most of his assertions, is largely unfamiliar with the writing of the New York Post’s Phil Mushnick, a longstanding opponent of uncouth behaviour at this nation’s arenas and stadiums. Likewise, when Wells cites Stephen Colbert dissing soccer fans, the former couldn’t possibly be so dense as to take offense at the latter’s over the top meditation on Bill O’Reilly.

5 Responses to “SWellls : Enough With The Hooligan Jokes”

  1. Chuck Meehan says:

    For starters, Seething Wells could have at least got his story straight about Governor Ed Rendell plunking Jimmy Johnson with a snowball (Then-Philly DA Rendell offered $20 to a fan if he could reach the field with a thrown snowball). Are all these books written about the British hoolie culture fiction? If not, Veterans Stadium buffoonery was pale in comparison. When was the last time dozens of Americans were trampled or crushed to death at an American sporting event?

  2. CSTB says:

    Chuck,

    some of those goofy football hooligan paperbacks _are_ fiction. Others still are cynical cash ins (or to quote Alan Partridge, why would anyone want to read a book by Dan The Daggerman from Dagenham?) And without excusing Swells propensity to play fast and loose with the facts, football in England, at least at the Premiership level, has successfully priced itself out of the stratosphere for most of the knuckleheads hoping to cause serious trouble (which might account for the recent drop in attendence). It’s been a long time since anyone was trampled or crushed to death. one of the most infamous, tragic instances of such casualties — the ’89 FA Cup Semi-Final — had more to do with a bottleneck of fans entering the stadium, as opposed to rioting. Who fans in Cincy might know what I’m talking about.

    Having attended way too many sporting events in both the US and UK at the major and not-so major league levels, I can claim with confidence this whole discussion is oughta be far more complex than simply saying one is as bad or worse than the other. There’s fan violence in _both_ places, but usually for different reasons and very different notions of what is socially acceptable behavior. The common denominator is individuals acting like jerks in a mob setting.

    Wells takes umbrage at the way his homeland’s sporting culture is routinely laughed at by Americans. And if he’d been in Philly during the days of ECW, I can only imagine what sort of impression Guardian readers would have of the USA.

  3. Chuck Meehan says:

    Hey, I take umbrage myself at how my (former) homecities sporting culture is routinely laughed at by Americans…err okay, not really…

  4. deadguy says:

    This would be the movie that did $350K worth of business in the US, as opposed to roughly three times that in the UK (all figures from IMDB.com)? I need to move to this guy’s home town. Apparently they’ve got a much more achievable definition of “success” than I’m used to.

  5. CSTB says:

    I suppose it was succesful in that it was financed, made and released with nary a US commentator saying “hey, this is totally unconvincing”.

    On the taking license scale of things, I’m less bothered by Wells being obsessed with Green Street and more baffled that he’s got it in for those universally recognized credible commentators Stephen Colbert and Homer Simpson.

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