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Soup of This Day #73: People Gettin’ Loose Y’all Gettin’ Down On The Roof

September 22, 2011

Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 17
The Moon. Free of crowd violence but sadly also free of women and baseball. For now. For space junkies that’s Harrison Schmitt of Apollo 17. Oh, the fly balls he could have hit up there – Photo: Eugene Cernan, NASA, 1972. NASA is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Crowd violence in sport is a problem. It’s bad enough when it’s the angry we-was-robbed riot. I’m looking at you again Vancouver and no, you weren’t robbed. You just got beat. Chicago topped this in 2005 when some of it’s citizens rioted after the White Sox won the World Series. They do have some other form for this kind of thing. In fact Chicago’s entrant in the Major Indoor Soccer League (Yeah, I’m not taking that seriously) for 2010/11 was named the Chicago Riot, deriving it’s name from a rich Windy City history of civil unrest.

As exemplified by the Chicago Race Riots of the Red Summer of 1919 and the 1968 Chicago Riots triggered by the assasination of Martin Luther King. To be fair to Chicagoans in both instances there were substantial riots throughout the US as well.

In football the riots are a whole lot more malevolent. Race (Typically around African immigrants to European countries), religion (Catholicism vs Protestantism, with Celtic vs Rangers in Scotland a historical flashpoint) and nationalism (Scots vs English, English vs French, English vs Italians, etc) are potent forces and when harnessed by the collective mob packed into a stadium they can be explosive. There are more than a few extremist groups, particularly but not exclusively in Eastern Europe, who are happy to drop a match or 20 into the powderkeg. In Europe such groups tend to form around hardcore supporters, aka Ultras. They bring general community tensions, such as those surrounding North African immigrants in Italy and then manifest opposition to them via flares, racist chants and banners, and when it boils over, riots.

In general it’s down to the sport’s governing bodies and local law enforecment to quell and respond to such activities. How they do so is varied: With an appalling record of hooliganism English and other Western European authorities set up programs in the 1980’s and 90’s that focussed on stamping out the extremist minority driving the unrest. Spurs for this included 1 of Liverpool FC’s most shameful hours: At the European Cup Final of 1985 at the Heysel Stadium in Belgium, Liverpool fans rioted and charged Juventus fans. In the ensuing mellee a wall came down and 39 Juve fans lost their lives. All English clubs were subsequently banned indefinitely from European competition. The ban was lifted in 1990 although for Liverpool FC the ban was in place for a further year.

Nowadays, because of the action taken in response to such disasters, crowd violence is mostly centred in Eastern Europe, from Italy through the Balkans, up to Russia and down to Turkey. Mostly the response has been to force offending clubs to forfeit games or to play ‘closed’ matches. That is, they have to play some games in a stadium with no fans. It’s punitive, in that the clubs are denied valuable income and crowd support and the fans are denied the right to see their beloved team play.

The Turkish Football Federation has come up with a novel variation of this measure. Possibly fed up with the crowd trouble at Fenerbahce (They have a supporters group called Kill For You, whose motto of ‘Someone’s nightmare, someone’s dream’ eerily underlines their aim of unconditional support), they have instituted a policy of ‘partial closed matches’. For Fenerbahce’s match against Manisaspor on Tuesday they only allowed women and children under 12 to attend, reasoning that the main troublemakers were men. Some 41,000 turned up at the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium for free entry to the game, with queues stretching around the block. There was no jeering, just polite applause and 1 player, Manisaspor’s Omer Aysan described it as ‘such a fun and pleasant atmosphere.’

Which is what you want in sport. Fun.

Red Sox left fielder Conor Jackson thinks so. In fact that’s his suggestion for ending the Red Sox slump that is threatening to derail their 2011 post-season. He thinks, ‘We need to have fun. We’ve been stressing out. We just need to go out and play baseball like when we were 12 years old and have fun.’ Since he said this after hitting a grand slam I think the man may have something worth noting there. Stuff alone knows that as a Red Sox fan I’m not having fun right now. Fun would be nice.

This morning’s Red Sox vs Orioles series closer saw Josh Beckett on the mound for a desperately un-fun Boston. There was some mitigation to the fear as the Rays had already lost Game 1 of a doubleheader with the Yankees so the worst the Sox could do was to maintain the status quo.

They started well in the final Fenway game of the regular (and maybe complete) season. Beckett gave up the 1st run of the game in the 2nd but the Sox responded with 8 hits and 4 runs across the 1st 5 innings to lead 4-1 at that stage. Carl Crawford got a 2 run RBI double in the midst of a Varitek groundout and a Big Papi RBI single. That though was as fun as it got. Beckett gave up 5 over the 6th to the 8th as Bosoton stretched him out to save a taxed bullpen. In response the Boston bats had 1 hit and no runs across the final 4, only getting out of the infield once. They lost 6-4 and if the word ‘un-fun’ was a real 1 the above stats would be it’s definition.

The Yankees did beat the Rays in the 2nd game of their doubleheader, meaning that the Sox maintain a 2.5 game advantage but just in case anyone was pinning hopes of a 2011 Fenway return on the Rays losing, the Angels have drawn level with Tampa Bay in the race for the wildcard. And the Angels are winning September games.

I’m going to leave you with the 1979 Chicago White Sox Disco Demolition Night Riot. And no that’s not a metaphor – It was what it says it was.

On the 12 July 1979 the White Sox ran a promotion at Comiskey Park whereby if you brought along some disco vinyl you got in to a doubleheader against the Tigers for only 98c. Between the games the records would then be destroyed in an onfield ceremony. Around 90,000 turned up to a park that holds 52,000 so a fair mob of them couldn’t even get in. Those that could were described by White Sox announcer Harry Caray as ‘a lot of funny-looking people’ and before the 1st game had even finished they were frisbeeing disco records onto the field.

That was just the warmup.

Between the games the crowd, thought to be largely drunk and/or high, stormed the field, chanting ‘Disco sucks’. They ripped up turf, set fires and flipped the batting cage.

The Tigers got to take a disco inspired forfeit win back to Motown. There’s some irony in there somewhere.

People Gettin’ Loose Y’all Gettin’ Down On The Roof

One Comment
  1. It’s fine. We’re going to be fine. Fine, fine, fine. I’m not even worried. Nope. Not a bit. Because we’re fine, see. FINE.

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