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.