Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Follow Up On Columbus

A number of sporting news outfits, including Fox Soccer Channel are reporting that the incident over the weekend between Columbus Crew fans and West Ham United fans, a brawl is what I called, wasn't so bad as initial reports made it out to be. However, looking a video of the incident, I will say that "hundreds" being involved may be overstating the issue, but dozens of people were brawling. Kartik Krishnayer has a thoughtful piece on the problem.

Kartik points to the falling attendence numbers for Columbus as one of the reasons why Columbus as an organization have turned a blind eye to the behavior. Here are some of the incidents that Columbus really hasn't addressed:
1- Columbus did not adequately police the tailgate area before the season opener with Toronto and thus many TFC fans were attacked and with a lack of port o lets for such a large tailgate area, inevitably tensions flared and not only did fans urinate on the ground but they began fighting with one another.

2- At the same match the police presence was so minimal several TFC fans were able to storm the pitch and head towards the goal Columbus was defending.

3- When I discussed the Toronto situation openly and honestly and tried to engage TFC fans on my CSRN show the complaints about me being “too soft on TFC” all seemed to come from Crew fans. Days later several Crew fans were shouting racial obscenities at New England players as caught on You Tube. The Columbus fans also were caught throwing glass bottles and coins on the pitch during the 2nd half of the match.

4- The organization and supporters group in complete contrast to the strong a decisive actions of Chivas USA and Houston in fighting hooliganism tried to cover up the situation and wouldn’t give up the individuals involved. The team would not take action so the league had to after several embarrassing columns were written in newspapers, some of which hardly cover the sport normally. Even more alarming was the attempt by some Columbus supporters to go after sponsors of the MLS Rumors site who had exposed the behavior at Crew Stadium. This is the way off a hooligan, to threaten and bully.

5- In defiance of a league wide ban Columbus fans began sprayed confetti and streamers on opposing players while attempting a corner. Now I cannot recall the specific match but it was done. Why the security did not confiscate the items at the gate is beyond anyone’s comprehension. The league wide ban was more or less enforced throughout the rest of the league. When pressed on the situation at Crew Stadium, Columbus GM, Mark McCullers blamed Toronto FC for the trouble league wide and avoided totally the issue of racist fans.

6- Sunday’s incident: West Ham has a reputation for having rowdy fans, but we’ve hosted English clubs before and never had trouble. The poster promoting the match was an implicit call for some sort of nationalistic pride from the fans, which often times in the past has evolved into violence when West Ham is involved. I’m as nationalistic as it comes when this game is involved whether it be the US National Team, Superliga, or even the Carribean club cup which USL side Puerto Rico participates in. But saying “we take on the Brits, you push us over the top,” is in fact way over the top to steal a line from Crew promotion department. How would Tigres supporters have taken a posted in Dnever prior to the Tecate Cup match two weeks ago that read ” Colorado fans put us over the top against the Mexicans?” The poster and its message strongly indicate to me the Crew management has no interest in stopping the continued incidents at Crew Stadium.
In contrast, other teams have really cracked down on improper behavior. I love passionate fans, it is what makes going to a match so much more special than watching it on television. However, I have young daughters who I want to enjoy the match as much as I do (I already have my oldest chanting the cleaner chants (D.C. United and Ole, Ole) and calling for the can of magic spray when an opposing player writhes on the ground in mock agony), but I cannot take them to a match when I feel it is unsafe.

Kartik notes that if you ask uninformed Americans to do a one word associtaion with soccer, you get "hooligan." I think the English FA and UEFA have done a fine job cracking down on such behavior and the police authorities have helped. It seems to me that the Columbus Crew front office and the Columbus police department need to do the same.

The American tradition of tailgating, not seen in England, should be encouraged, but must be better policed, by the authorities and by the club itself.

I have heard that Columbus will play its next home game to an empty stadium. I haven't seem confirmation of that from an official source, but it is tragic that if it is indeed the case.

Columbus Crew is a fine, quality side and I would hate to see both the club and the League damaged by this incident. It doesn't make for good soccer, and it doesn't make for good press for the beautiful game.

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