, Newburyport, MA


March 14, 2012

Soccer's history of violence

An interesting two-page article in The New York Times recently, "Taking on soccer violence," caught my eye because I come from a family that played soccer in the "old country," Glasgow, Scotlland, before emigrating to the U.S. and because I played with a soccer ball before I ever heard of baseball.

The article chiefly concerned tensions in Scotland regarding legislation to tackle game-related violence: "The Scottish government recently passed a law making it illegal for fans to attack one another using religious, ethnic, regional or violent historical slurs in songs, chants, Internet postings or even stray remarks at a stadium or pub." The legislation called the Offensive Behaviour Football and Threatening Communications Act (OBFTCA) was introduced after a series of violent incidents in Glasgow between the Celtic (Irish Catholic) and Rangers (Scottish Protestants). I will subsequently address these issues with personal remarks.

My initial memory of "Pop" Campbell, my grandfather, was at a Scots-American vs. Irish-American semi-pro soccer match in Kearny, N.J., in 1932 when I was 3. When a fight erupted on the field, my grandfather and four of his sons, one my father, jumped up and out into the fray, leaving me crying and wondering if I would ever see them again. This activity was par for the course wherever descendants of the "English disease," as it came to be known, was played around the world. During the Depression, many ethnic teams with hyphenated names played in the New York-New Jersey area: Hispanic-, Portuguese-, German-, Italian-, but there was never the instances of mayhem as when the Scots-Irish played.

The first instance of soccer violence occurred reportedly in 1314 in England when Edward II banned the sport (really a free-for-all) because he believed the disorder surrounding matches might lead to social unrest. Another primal event occurred in Ireland in 1609, a sectarian conflict called the Battle of the Boyne, when Catholics fought Protestants over control of the island. That battle is fought to this day in the streets, stands and pubs whenever Rangers-Celtics meet. Of such things is the legacy of soccer played around the world. It wasn't until the end of WWII that ethnic, political, religious and economic situations cast a spotlight on the sport, as returning veterans wanted changes in their lives, but their governments were slow to respond. This is particularly true in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Balkans. Often poorer teams vented their feeling on the "pitch," seeking retribution for past slights. There continues to be deaths to this day and thousands of injuries every year as the following information details:

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