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:
(First is the date, followed by the number of deaths, then teams/countries and finally background)
1924-2010 — 250 — Argentina — Conservative number of deaths over 88 years
1964 — 300 — Lima vs. Argentina (Peru) — During a qualifying match for the Olympics
1985 — 39 — Liverpool vs. Juventus (Belgium) — Crushed to death during the European Cup
1991 — 40 — Rival clubs (South Africa) — Killed trying to force a closed exit
1996 — 8 — Al Ahi vs. Al Ittihad (Libya) — Troops opened fire to control crowd
1999 — 7 — Scouts Club vs. Fire Brigade (Mauritius) — Petrol bomb thrown into crowd
2000 — 12 — Zimbabwe vs. S. Africa (Zimbabwe) — Killed in stampede at Olympic trials
2001 — 14 — Mazembe vs. St. Eloi Lupopo (Democratic Republic of Congo) — Killed from tear gas
2001 — 125 — Accra Hearts vs. Asante (Ghana) — Police fired into crowd who stampeded
2004 — 25 — Rival Clubs (Syria) — Killed near Damascus after fight on field
2012 — 79 — El Masry vs. El Ahly (Egypt) — Taunting opponents led to melee in stands
(Wikipedia was the source for information concerning injuries and deaths for 50 of the leading nation's teams that all had at least one death to report.)
As mentioned, much of the hooliganism revolves around ethnicity. In 1937, my mother took me to Glasgow to meet my Grandmother Macrae. One Sunday to celebrate my birthday, two of my uncles took me to see the Rangers vs. Celtics. I was a proud "Yank" decked out with a red sweater and on it a large "K" from my hometown of Kearny, N.J. Just before kick-off, one of my uncles told me to go down the steps and ask the gentleman with the collar which team was the Celtics The priest looked me in the eye and said, "Laddie, who asked you to come see me?" I replied, "My uncles up there!" The priest shook his fist at them while they doubled up in laughter. My mother and grandmother were shocked because they understood that it could have ended very sadly for me if a fight had erupted. That story enlivened many a family gathering over the years that followed.
It's a fantastic revelation when you consider that in our United States, violence, like that around the world in soccer, is virtually non-existent where football, baseball and basketball are played. The history of ethnic disturbance is a no-show because of the freedoms we enjoy, but too often take for granted.
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Robert D. Campbell, essayist of Newburyport, played a fullback position for Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, Pa., when they were voted The Outstanding College Soccer Team in the United States in 1952 by the National Soccer Coaches Association. The following year the award was sanctioned by the NCAA.