Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On Rivalries and Race

Photo provided by Jeremy Olson/digitalgopher.net (Full gallery here)

It was a tough day to be an American soccer fan. Saturday's 4-2 loss to regional rivals Mexico after holding an early, 2-0 is one of those games that will hurt for awhile. Processing what went right, what went wrong, and what to do about it all is a question for the players, the coach, Sunil Gulati, and the Big Soccer message boards.

A loss to Mexico is always hard to take. As teams and fans we measure ourselves to the performances of our neighbor to the south. Of late things looked pretty good. Chants of "dos a cero", a reminder of eerily similar results the U.S. has racked up against El Tri in some crucial contests, a favorite of supporters.

Now it's Mexico's turn. Consecutive winners of the CONCACAF Gold Cup they now will be booking tickets to the Confederation's Cup as our regional representatives; a tournament the Americans made so magical a short time ago in South Africa.

Our concern today, though, is not the results that took place on the field, but the worrying actions that occurred beyond the edges of the field at the Rose Bowl. By now you've probably read the shocking allegations of American fan treatment in Pasadena (if you haven't it's important for context). The actions of these Mexican fans are nothing short of embarrassing.

In a stadium filled to capacity (93,420) fans of the U.S. National Team were easily outnumbered 90-10 by their continental counterparts. For anyone who's ever been apart of one it's easy to see how "mob mentality" took over many Mexican fans and fueled their actions. From verbal and physical harassment of American fans, to the tossing of various objects (bottles and the like) in a crowd that size and overwhelming numerical superiority, those guilty of such inappropriate behavior mostly likely thought they would get away with their actions. And they did.

It's unfortunately that these actions by individuals who retreated back into the crowd after their acts of cowardice are left to rule the day and fuel the frustrations of American fans already upset by the game's results. For any fan, of any nation, to be treated as such is a disgrace and only inflames the difficult relations between these fan groups.

No one is disputing the fact that the rivalry between the United States and Mexico isn't going to be heated. And certainly American fans aren't without fault. There was our share of off-color stupidity on our side of the fence as well. But rivalries should never disintegrate into racism or worse, violence.

For some the knee-jerk reaction is to respond with the same tired remarks about Mexico and Mexicans and to make an indictment of an entire people. But for every cringing story of abuse from the Rose Bowl came a counter-story of incident-free interactions with the fans of El Tri.

Unfortunately this latest edition of US versus Mexico played out on so many levels. Beyond the soccer pitch is the elephant in the room with the issue of immigration. In recent months several states have enacted (with many more states considering them) several tough measures regarding stemming the flow of undocumented immigrants into the United States and political candidates on both sides of the issue have continued to use the issue as a political football (whichever football you prefer). Frustrations from Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and white Americans color the entire scene. As these tensions rise outside the lens of soccer it's not surprising that issues play out in the parking lots and stadiums of our two nations' matches.

What happened on Saturday shouldn't be forgotten, but it also shouldn't be used to justify retribution or continued racism. For those that suffered at the hands of some outrageous fan behavior they have every right to demand answers and changes before future match ups between these two teams.

Before the next edition of U.S. against Mexico whether it be in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, an international friendly, and/or World Cup qualifiers there needs to be a complete overhaul of how the venues of these matches are secured, policed, and rules enforced.

This time the blame for not adequately protecting the fans fell to CONCACAF and officials in charge of the Rose Bowl. Russel Jordan the author of the letter we linked to above wrote that he's already had conversations with the general manager of the stadium who admitted that they had the most security ever at the Rose Bowl it wasn't enough. National soccer columnist Steve Davis (Sports Illustrated) wrote on his own site that if the aging facility, while a huge money maker for CONCACAF, cannot be adequately policed then it shouldn't be used for matches.

U.S. Soccer, the Mexican Federation (FMF) Soccer United Marketing, which helps promote the Mexican National Team in the U.S. are now aware that if incidents like the ones making the rounds become more and more frequent it could put every future U.S.-Mexico fixture at risk. Even though Gold Cup Finals and World Cup qualifiers will remain on the docket, huge revenue streams like international friendlies between the two or further U.S. tours of by Mexico will be under the microscope. Most importantly the spirit of healthy competition between the region's two biggest teams will be lost.

Another concern for U.S. Soccer has to be how many fans or potential fans were lost on that sunny Saturday attending a match they were unprepared to experience. American soccer can ill-afford to alienate its small fan base with experiences and stories of dangerous game conditions and security problems.

Moving beyond Saturday's events common sense will have to be CONCACAF, U.S. Soccer, and the FMF, and any venue hosting these matches' guiding light. It was very clear that they will have to put profits behind protection of fans on either side. Dedicating a separate and/or secure section for U.S. fans (while bizarre as that may be fore a game INSIDE the U.S.) at the expensive of fulling filling it should be on the table. Just like some Major League Soccer teams are struggling in dealing with how to "handle" (for better or worse) soccer crowds security at these types of matches need to be in sufficient numbers and properly trained. Be in front of the problem not behind it.

And while not a solution one of the reasons the stadium was SO disproportionately one-sided was because one team's fans bought Finals tickets in good faith while the other team's fans' dilly-dallied. Support your National Team and have faith!

Lastly, despite these terrible incident alleged we, as American soccer fans, must remain above the fray. The American Outlaws have posted their "Act Above" Code of Conduct that asks its member to avoid similar behaviors that they might experience and we can all take a page from that. It might feel good initially to lash out with some choice words about our southern neighbors or to take matters in our own hands next time, but in the long term none of that pays out.

If there's any silver lining to this past weekend's difficulties it is that American soccer is growing and growing stronger. While outnumbered and out-cheered USMNT supporters were not alone in their struggles. Rather than fans roaming isolated into the crowds of red, white, and green many were together in the AO section or in decent sized groups. Each new fan we make is another stalwart against being singled out at matches and someone to march with us in solidarity again the terrible actions of an angry few bent on ruining our American soccer experience.

It can't and won't be that easy to deter our fandom. Soccer in America and American soccer rises as surely as the sun does and there are no terrible words or actions that can stop that.

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13 comments:

  1. Since Saturday, I've been struggling with my own personal feelings around the atmosphere in Pasadena. My experience at the Rose Bowl was sort of middle-of-the-road: I was taunted as I walked to the stadium, but never felt unsafe; I had beer and other liquids (hopefully not urine) thrown on me (in the AO section) during the course of the match, but no physical debris other than harmless plastic cups. Overall, 99.9% of Mexico's fans were respectful when I interacted with them on a personal level; it was only the ones I couldn't see, rows above me, who treated me disrespectfully. And I was fully expecting that.

    I agree that responsibility for these incidents lies not so much with the Mexican supporter base in general, but with CONCACAF and the USSF. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, these organizations should have provided better security around USA fans, at least inside the stadium, perhaps with a fenced-in enclosure and increased security presence around it. It's no secret that this rivalry is huge, so I don't see why they didn't take action.

    Thanks for the article!

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  2. Put the game in the north east and it would still sell out and be a much higher percentage USA fans

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  3. detroit, kc, minneapolis, seattle, boston...columbus!

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  4. The most troubling thing about all of this is that it appeared no one planned for it even though we all know it was possible. The Estadio Azteca crew seemed to do a better job in the 2009 WC Qualifier (not saying it was without incident).

    There are many rivalries around the world and in our own backyard that elevate to stupidity, so there's no excuse on the USSF, FMF, and CONCACAF's part here. Look at Celtic/Rangers, United/City, Boca/River Plate, et. al. and plan accordingly.

    The next step if this ugliness (on both sides) cannot be quelled is to play US-Mexico matches behind closed doors and there goes the all-mighty dollar that each federation is concerned with.

    -Nick from MN (Stupid comment form doesn't like me for some reason)

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  5. Best take I've seen on this yet. I do question if this was the most security they have ever had at the Rose Bowl. I have friends who have attended the Rose Bowl and they said security was always very tight. None of them were there for the gold cup, so they can't directly compare what security was like.

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  6. Great article, and echos many of my own beliefs. However, I need to comment on one of the previous posts about holding the game in the North East as an alternative. I'm sure that I am not the only one here who went to the USA v. Spain and USA v. Argentina games, both held in the North East (Mass. and NJ respectively) and was largely disappointed at the lack of US support there as well.

    While both games were not nearly as 1 sided (fan wise) as the USA v. Mexico game, its very frustrating as a fan to have a home game where the home team doesn't get the support it deserves.

    I applaud the AO for all of their great work, I am a new member and attended functions of theirs at both games and have friends who traveled w/ AO to the World Cup.

    We can't change the way our own country views the sport, but maybe a big shakeup is needed. It's time to have a little more pride.

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  7. This is a difficult story for me to read. I take my 10 year old daughter to a lot of soccer matches and we always support the U.S. or the Philadelphia Union. As a Nicaraguan-American, I understand the pride that the Mexican fan base has for their home country. The problem lies with their mentality towards American soccer. Many immigrants from a soccer heavy country feel that Americans shouldn't be allowed to join in on the fun. They don't just love their team, they want to hate the US team. If Mexico were playing Honduras, you would have seen much more respect because Honduras is known as a soccer country. This is not only a Mexican behavior by the way. South American and European fans feel the same about the sport here in the US. Several things have to happen. We need 100% better security at these events. We need to hold the finals of the Gold Cup in a city not so Mexican heavy so we can have a better opportunity of having more U.S. fans (like Seattle). And finally, the U.S. has to start beating the Mexicans. They continue to kick our ass and the Mexican fans love rubbing that in!

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  8. I think we should take the free beer movement to our opponents. No xenophobia or racism, no hatred or being reactionary. Lets invite them to party and shame them through our good example.

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  9. See? There we go! Using our thinking caps...

    FBM = Free Beer (to) Mexicans!

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  10. Sadly this is nothing new to the USSF as this rivalry has been heated for some time. The federation needs to take a more proactive approach, and look out for it's fan base. Like the article above states, the USSF can not afford to alienate it's loyal fan base.
    In 2005 I purchased tickets through the USMNT to the final qualifier for the 2006 WC in Columbus. This game was going to determine who qualified 1st out of concacaf. Excited to see such a great rivalry, I purchased my tickets the day they went on sale and ended up with front row seats. Unfortunately those front row seats were in the Mexican fan block. How a federation can have such blatant disregard for the safety of its own fans is beyond me. Needless to say my family and I were forced to move to the back of the stadium and stand after objects were repeatedly thrown at us. After the game my car, with a tiny USA soccer sticker in the window was subjected to over $2,500 in damages.
    Things could have turned out much worse that evening, having only had piss/beer bottles thrown and monetary damage to personal property. I have not let that deter me from future USA vs Mexico clashes, but it has made me more aware and protective in such situations. I understand that our great country is an incredible mixing pot for people of all backgrounds, this is part of what makes us great, and as long as that is the case you can not stop certain sections of fans from purchasing tickets and cheering for their favorite team. It is time USSF wakes up and helps create an environment that suitable to all. After all soccer tends to be markete to families in the USA. It is time the fed steps up to create a family atmosphere. Spend the extra dollars as a federation to ensure that all fans are able to enjoy the (hopefully) beautiful game safely.

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  11. Another good take on things: http://futbolintellect.com/2011/06/a-gripe.html

    -Nick from MN

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  12. I'm glad you wrote this. It's a breath of fresh air compared to some of the short-sided POV's of some American fans quick to pigeonhole Mexican fans as a dirty, violent, and abrasive. I was there on Saturday. And had a FUCKING blast. I mingled with Mexicans, I gave them Budweiser, they gave me tacos - a microcism of the give and take between both countries, if you ask me ;) Kidding aside, OUTSIDE of the 90 minutes, I couldn't have felt more respected by Mexico fans. INSIDE the stadium certainly was a bit crazy. But it was to be expected. But when I'm guarding women and children from incoming ice cubes and glass bottles, it brings a bit of authenticity to the football rivalry. Sure that sounds a bit barbaric, but soccer rivalries that heated are unheard of in this country. And being an American consistently on the 'majority' side of things, it was humbling to be in the shoes of the minority for an afternoon. The cries of those who had bad experiences echo further than those who fully enjoyed themselves. Yes, CONCACAF needs to be more prepared for this in the future, but get over it people. Soccer in this country isn't red, white and blue yet, until it is, be ready to take a few glass bottles to the domepiece.

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  13. PK, no, Im not prepared to take bottle to the head, not even close.

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"Anyone who tells me soccer is boring, I'm going to punch them in the face."
- Former Dallas Burn (aka FC Dallas) coach Dave Dir

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