Violence, Hooliganism, and Racism: A Look at the Long History of the Dark Side of Football Fandom

15-03-2019 01:03

By Ian Laird

@UneducatedU on Twitter

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Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish was assaulted by a fan who had ran onto the pitch last week prompting an inquest into how something that had marred England’s rich soccer history was still occurring.

Multiple incidents this past weekend brought to light for many people around the globe the state that football fandom finds itself in throughout world.  The reality though is that there have been deep underlying issues for clubs and their respective fanbases for decades that have mostly gone unaddressed in many countries after perceived improvements in the behavior of the supporters.  Whether it is due to the pitch invasion and subsequent assault that Jack Grealish experienced at the hands of a fan during the Birmingham Derby this past weekend.  The less violent, but equally scary and brainless, pitch invasion by the Arsenal supporter during their recent match against Manchester United.  Or the less talked about moment of silence held for a founder of a neo-Nazi group by German fourth tier side Chemnitzer FC, football associations in every country are being confronted with the reality that something that they though was part of the past is very much a contemporary issue still.

Football has a long history of fan violence on the field going back several centuries as pitch invasions were a common occurrence early in football’s history though they were often in celebration of a big win for a club, as fans would rush onto the field to celebrate with the players.  There were still plenty incidences of violence though as fans, players, and referees often became involved in physical fights when fans would storm the field leading to numerous injuries and arrests.

As a whole though pitch invasions as a result of hooliganism (a term often used to refer to acts of violence by gangs of often young fans) first emerged as an issue in the late nineteenth century for football when a growth in popularity meant an increasing number of fans were attending games, with the more fanatical groups of supporters forming radical gangs and earning the title of hooligans.  Hooligans, due to their fanaticism, were more likely to turn to violence and actually began to set up organized fights with opposing sections of ultras (a term commonly used in reference to the more devoted groups of a club’s fanbase) outside of stadiums prior to or following games in some countries. The relatively unregulated and relaxed security also meant the swarms of fans could easily get on the field.  Once they gained access to the field they continued the trends from the previous centuries of celebrating with their players although there were slightly more instances where groups of fans would occasionally attack players, opposing fans, police, and the referees.  Those types of incidents ultimately subsided though to become much less common through the early twentieth century up to the end of the Second World War.

The issue reared its head once more in the 1950’s and 60’s though when violence became much more common in Latin American football and hooliganism began to gain more attention in Europe.  The first major instance of fan violence was in the Estadio Nacional Disaster of 1964.  During a qualification match for the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics Argentina had traveled to face Peru in Lima with Peru likely needing a win if they were to qualify for the tournament.  Argentina were leading 1-0 when a Peru goal was disallowed by the referee causing the home crowd to protest the call invade the pitch in anger.  Police responded by firing tear gas into the stands causing many of the 53,000 crowd members who remained in their seats to flee the stadium leading to a crush of bodies at the blocked exits that resulted in well over 300 deaths while hundreds more were injured as well.  While the incident and the deaths weren’t a direct result of the pitch invasion, but rather the poor response by the police and stadium staff, the disaster was the first instance in which the dangers of pitch invasions were fully realized.

The Estadio Nacional Disaster was still seen by many as the result of a large fanbase overreacting though and the dangers and violence that hooliganism brought to the game was still somewhat of an unknown factor at the time.  That would all change three years later when, during a match between Sivasspor and Kayserispor at the Kayseri Ataturk Stadium, the two teams’ supporters turned to violence at half time.  The fans were seated near each other so provocation was somewhat inevitable, but things quickly got out of hand when the hooligans started throwing rocks at each other and some, who had brought weapons into the stadium, charged the opposing sections with knives and bats.  In the ensuing melee and stampede it is estimated 43 people were killed with hundreds more being injured.  The violence would then spill into the city center resulting in even more casualties as the ultras from each team continued to clash throughout the city.

At that point hooligan groups were beginning to be established in most supporter bases across Europe and Football Associations quickly implemented fairly primitive measures in attempts to limit violence.  One of the more common measures that was taken up was the use of physical barriers, often chain link or wire fencing, to separate fans of each team to prevent clashes between the opposing groups.  One particularly drastic move by former Chelsea chairman Ken Bates involved the erection of a twelve foot electric barbed wire fence around Stamford Bridge following a pitch invasion earlier in the season in 1885.  The plan was to turn on the electric fence prior to the start of the match, but the plan was discovered and the Bates was threatened with potential lawsuits.  To avoid having charges filed against him Bates eventually conceded to keep the electricity off.  These structural implementations were far from perfect though as multiple mass fatality incidents would reveal just how poor these fences were at at ensuring fan safety.

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The Heysel Stadium Disaster served as one of the low points in the history of European sports as the violent behavior of a few dozen fans resulted in the numerous deaths and hundreds of injuries of innocent fans.

In the Heysel Disaster, just about a month after Chelsea’s addition of the electric fence, Liverpool and Juventus were facing off in a European Cup final in Belgium.  The fans of both teams were separated by a chain link fence and a small squad of police officers.  Prior to the match the fans engaged in the common behavior of trading insults with each other, but it quickly devolved into both sides throwing stones over the fence at each other.  Several groups of Liverpool fans then broke through the shoddy barrier and charged at the Juventus fans who, in an attempt to escape, crushed the people ahead of them against the wall of the stands resulting in 39 deaths, mostly of Juventus fans.  In the aftermath most of the blame was placed on the Liverpool fans with fourteen being convicted of manslaughter along with several Belgian officials and police officers who were meant to oversee the match.  The incident also led UEFA to ban all English teams from European competition indefinitely with the ban being lifted five years later although Liverpool received an additional year on their ban.  The incident served as a dark mark for not only England, but Europe as a whole as, on the biggest stage, their policing efforts had been evidently inadequate and the simply unacceptable behavior of their fans had gone unchecked leading to one of the deadliest instances of fan violence in world history.

Even with the evidence pointing towards better safety regulations for stadiums very little changes were made to the regulations in regards to fan safety which likely caused an even more deadly event.  Ahead of a 1989 FA Cup semi final match between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool thousands of Liverpool fans were attempting to enter one end of the stadium just minutes prior to kickoff.  The prevalence of hooliganism at the time meant many police officers went into the match with the mindset of preventing fan violence rather than keeping fans safe.  As a result the fans were all trying to get through a very narrow area so as to keep them away from the Nottingham fans and the police were unwilling to open any other turnstiles to admit the Liverpool fans.  As a last ditch effort to deal with the growing crowd of bodies outside the stadium the police opened up three exit gates to allow fans inside the stadium without any regard for the safety of the fans already inside.  The standing area only pens the fans were trying to gain access to were already full, and when police made the decision to open the exit gates to allow the fans in much quicker, a stampede and crush of bodies was formed pressing the people already in the pens up against the fencing between pens and the pitch-side fence.  Sections of the pitch-side fence gave way spilling bodies onto the field while several other sections remained intact causing fans to be crushed against it.  The result was 96 deaths in total with nearly 800 others injured sparking more outrage about the way police and security handled crowds at matches and the safety regulations at the stadiums.

The first major reform following the Hillsborough tragedy was the implementation of seating only venues as opposed to previous stadiums where two thirds of the stadium were often standing only sections.  Additionally, lateral fencing between sections was eliminated in most arenas to allow better flow of traffic sideways in stadiums and allow for more access points to a particular section rather than limiting it to a single turnstile or gate.  Policing of games was also widely revamped with the requirement of tickets being expanded to nearly all games, and an actual electronic running count of the remaining capacity in seating sections was implemented by many stadiums rather than relying upon the visual discretion of security officers as to whether or not a section was full which frequently resulted in overcrowding at matches.  These measures somewhat helped reduce instances of mass fan death, but it really didn’t do anything to address issues of hooliganism other than decreasing the chances of incidental fan deaths as a result of hooligan behavior.

It would take until the mid and late nineties before serious steps would be taken to start excluding hooligans and particularly rowdy fans from games.  The actions of English neo-Nazi group Combat 18 at a match against Ireland in 1995 showed that England had a serious problem with fan violence, and further incidents in Marseille during the 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euros emphasized the scale of this problem.  In response England enacted two policies, the first of which, the Football (Offences and Disorder) Act of 1999, was the groundwork for the current rules surrounding the banning of fans from attending games in the U.K. or traveling abroad to games if they are convicted of hooligan behavior at any football match.  The riots at the 2000 Euros though showed that the policy clearly wasn’t strict enough or enforced in the way it had been intended to, and new Football Banning Orders were implemented and so far have been fairly effective in England.

Those banning orders were limited to England though, and most other countries don’t have banning orders that are quite as extensive.  The Netherlands have had violent clashes for decades with the Battle of Beverwijk being the most serious incident.  During the Beverwijk incident the ultra groups of Feyenoord and Ajax clashing ahead of a match resulting in one death and dozens of injuries.  France has had its own issues with PSG being the most frequent offenders as their supporters clashed with Galatasaray supporters in 2001 with one riot leading to 50 injuries, and a separate incident which involved six other supporters who were arrested after they entered the stadium armed with the sole intent of attacking Turkish fans.  Later instances of hooligan violence in 2006 included in the fatal shooting of a fan during fighting between police and PSG supporters, and two young Arab fans were beaten outside of the stadium by white fans ahead of another match.  Most recently though SC Bastia fans invaded the pitch during a 2017 match against Lyon with several fans attempting to attack the Lyon players leading to the match being suspended.  Germany’s issues with hooliganism is even more complicated due to its history with the Nazi party and antisemitism, but direct acts of violence have been less common in Germany than in most other European countries due to the stricter rules they have in place.

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Real Madrid’s ultras, known as Ultras Sur, have occasionally been linked with fascist factions in Spain due to the connection the club and its supporters have with the Francisco Franco regime.

The political divisions in Spain are clearly evident in many of their hooligan groups as many of the supporters have often taken on political ideologies as their primary focus making football fandom an aside to their actions.  This viewpoint has also become increasingly prevalent in Eastern Europe where political unrest is more common making the presence of opposing hooligan groups even more inflammatory at matches.  In Spain there are three main groups or political entities that influence hooliganism.  Supporters of both Madrid clubs (Atletico and Real), Espanyol, Real Betis, and Valencia are often connected to franquista groups or supporters of the fascist regime ruled by Francisco Franco for much of the mid 20th century.  Supporters of Deportivo La Coruna, Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla, Celta Vigo, and Rayo Vallecano on the other hand are often linked with communist parties.  While ultras of clubs in regions like Catalonia, Basque, and Galicia have often been involved in independence movements with Barcelona’s fans being the most notable group within those regions.  These political divides have led to de facto alliances between the separate affiliations with some hooligans making it their mission to seek out and attack those that are affiliated with rival factions.  Their actions have resulted in multiple deaths over the past few decades with political disagreements often being a major factor in the deaths.  Since then Spain has attempted to curtail many of these violent acts by banning the sale of alcohol at all sporting events in the country and increasing the fine for hooligan behavior to €600,000 while also tacking on a two year stadium ban that is enforced country-wide.  Individual clubs have taken their own steps with Barcelona ruling that members of its ultras group, Boixos Nois, aren’t allowed inside of the Camp Nou.

While hooligan behavior hasn’t been eradicated in Western Europe it has for the most part been reduced in scope and severity in recent decades, but in Southern and Eastern Europe the same can’t be said.  In Italy, where the term “ultras” gained its origin incidents are still frequent and matches are often played behind closed doors or at less than capacity due to partial or full stadium closures as punishment for earlier instances of hooliganism.  Much of the hooligan culture in Italy is running on the vestiges of hatred born out of the Years of Lead, a period from the 1960’s to the 1980’s when far right wing and far left wing groups consistently orchestrated political terror attacks.  There is still simmering political division with some clubs’ supporters aligning on one side of the spectrum and others on the opposite side.  In recent years there have been attempts to distance ultras from hooligans in Italy, with the former being referred to as fanatical fans while the latter are often seen as people seeking violence rather than some level of fandom, but they remain the same in most people’s eyes.  Ultras in Italy have become integral to business for clubs to the point where they often are involved in the transfer of players due to the financial weight they carry as ticket buyers for the club.  One of the most compelling instances of their power was when they forced the cancellation of a Lazio-Roma derby after they rioted against the police due to false rumors that the police had killed a boy outside the stadium.  Roma captain Francesco Totti walked over to the Roma ultras who convinced him to leave the field and end the match.  Totti returned to his manager and said “If we play on, they’re going to kill us” and the team then left the field leading to the match being suspended.  Violent clashes between ultras were often smaller in scale in Italy than in other countries as each team would have several groups of ultras, each with their own leaders, rules, and values.  The smaller sizes and fragmentation of values meant that often only a small fraction of ultras, who were already a fraction of a team’s fan base, would be involved in fighting.  This didn’t make the violence any less deadly as dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries can be directly linked to the violence of hooligans.

Elsewhere in Southern Europe political unrest similar to the Years of Lead in Italy have led to similar results, as fan groups have often adopted the radical views of the political groups that were active at the time and maintained the same vendettas against opposition groups.  The hooligan groups also often revolve around ethnic violence with Serb, Croat, and Bosniak divisions being the primary dividing factors.  Due to these ethnic fissures many ultra groups have often aligned with nationalist groups exacting violence on any foreign ethnicities.  Croatia is more aligned towards fascist and Nazi values rather than a diverse spectrum of radical groups.  They still show the same level of violence and hatred towards each other though, along with the animosity towards ethnic minorities and police which has become commonplace.  Croatian hooligans have also become synonymous with illegal pyrotechnic displays involving the throwing of flares, fireworks, and smoke bombs at opposing fans, players, and onto the field often halting and occasionally suspending matches.  Nearby Montenegro had a similar issue with flares that culminated in a match against Russia when a flare hit Russian keeper Igor Akinfeev in the head area leading to Akinfeev being removed from the game on a stretcher.  In Bosnia and Herzegovina an ultra supporter of FK Sarajevo was shot and killed following riots against fellow ultras for the opposing side NK Siroki Brijeg.  Greece also frequently experiences issues with hooligans as riots and clashes between opposing groups of fans and with police have resulted in multiple deaths in recent years.

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Hooliganism in Russia came to international attention ahead of the 2018 World Cup as there were fears that there would be plenty of scenes like those in Marseille in 2016 when Russian and English fans clashed.

In Eastern Europe hooligan behavior is relatively new with Russia only seeing a real rise in the early 1990’s while Ukraine didn’t see a real uptick until the late 1990’s.  In Russia the violence between club ultras often occurs away from the stadiums, with massive fights between supporters being organized, with very little rules regulating what isn’t allowed in the fight.  Generally murder is frowned upon, but fighters are encouraged to push the boundaries up to that point during the fights.  The hooligan culture in Russia gained increased attention ahead of the 2018 World Cup as there were fears that the violence would spill into the public eye staining Russia’s already shaky reputation on the world stage.  On a national level Russian fans often single out Russia’s political foes as targets of their violence with the destruction at the 2016 Euros during a match against England being a prime example.  Ukraine’s culture of hooliganism is less organized than Russia’s which often leads to more chaotic fights and attacks against people who aren’t involved in hooligan culture.  The most egregious example of this was Dinamo Kiev hooligans storming a Jewish quarter of Kiev and vandalizing shops and rioting in the streets.  The violence on the Crimean Peninsula hasn’t helped matters either as political tensions have come to a head in Ukraine adding more fuel to fires that were already blazing.  Turkey has arguably one of the most organized and established hooligan bases in the world as, much like in Russia, fights between hooligan groups are organized events with rules surrounding the way fighting is supposed to be carried out such as no stabbing above the waist, and the intent must be to injure not to kill.  Their ultras have discouraged each other from attacking traveling fans in continental and international matches, but the close proximity of many teams domestically in Turkey makes clashes between supporters of Super Lig sides inevitable.  Fenerbahce, Galatasaray, and Besiktas are the three most notable teams with radical support groups and all three clubs are based in Istanbul making their relations even more contentious.

For the most part instances mass violence by hooligan groups on the scale of the Heysel or Ataturk disasters has been eliminated in most countries in recent years, though there have been some exceptions.  The Port Said Stadium Riot in 2012 is the most recent example of mass murder by radical football fans.  In the riot, Al-Ahly was taking on home team Al-Masry in Port Said, and throughout the match Masry fans had frequently stormed the pitch.  Then when the final whistle was blown they once again charged onto the field, though this time they charged with weapons while other fans rushed at the Ahly fans with weapons as well.  Ahly players and their coach were attacked forcing them to be ushered to the locker room and then escorted hours later by the military to safety.  In the stands the Ahly fans were clubbed, stabbed, beaten, and thrown from the stands resulting in dozens of deaths.  Police and security also refused to open the away gates leading to a crush of bodies and death by asphyxiation bringing the death toll to 74 in total.  There were numerous factors to make it seem as if the attack was planned and staged by security forces and Masry ultras as the Masry hooligans had hung a banner facing the Ahly fans saying “We are going to kill you all” in English, security forces did very little to prevent the previous pitch invasions and didn’t attempt to stop the Masry fans once they attacked the Ahly fans, floodlights were shut off during the attack, some of the away gates were not only locked but also welded shut, security searches prior to the game weren’t conducted and tickets weren’t asked for upon entry, and lastly there were also reports that armed thugs arrived from outside of the stadium towards the end of the match to start and partake in the violence.  The riots also came one year after counter-revolutionary forces, who contained and were supported by police and security forces, had attacked protesters in Tahrir Square who were calling for the end of the Hosni Mubarak regime.  Ahly supporters were known to be involved in the protests against Mubarak making them direct political opponents for the security forces in charge of overseeing the game.  The riot resulted in the Egyptian domestic league being suspended for two years while ten perpetrators were sentenced to death and another 37 receiving prison sentences of varying lengths.

The Port Said disaster was a reminder of the dangers of football hooliganism making the reemergence of issues with crowds in England, the birthplace of hooliganism, all the more worrying.  The scale of English violence by hooligans never has and likely never will reach the violence that was seen in Port Said, but the Jack Grealish incident showed all it takes is one fan to possibly create a disaster.  The question then becomes what can be done as evidently the previous measures against hooliganism and pitch invasions that were in place haven’t been effective enough to eliminate it from the game.

As a start hiring security personnel who are actually fit enough to keep up with and contain fans would be a nice start.  Too often it seems like security at games is comprised of people who aren’t physically fit enough to actually stop a pitch invader or people who are old enough to be the grandparents of the players on the field.  Security forces need to be capable of stopping fans at points of entry onto the field and chasing them down if or when they are able to get past the first line of security.  Additionally, the punishments in terms of fines, jail time, and stadium bans have to be ratcheted up so that when fans do break rules endangering the safety of players and other fans they are punished in a way so that other fans are discouraged from repeating their actions.  Playing games behind closed doors and docking clubs points could also be a measure that is used with discretion as a way to push teams to improve their security, but there are reasons to be wary of that in some countries.  As mentioned previously, in much of Eastern and Southern Europe and for some clubs in Western Europe fandom of a club has become secondary to political and social values for some ultras and groups of hooligans.  Thus, some have taken up the practice of acting out on purpose to harm the club as a way of achieving changes to club and local policies to better fit their ideals or punish their club for what they perceive as bad business or poor results.  Point deductions and empty stadiums are seen as powerful bargaining chips for those groups and are often held over clubs’ heads as threats to enact reform that isn’t necessarily in the best interest of the club.  Making point deductions and closed stadiums a mandatory policy would therefore place even more power in the hands of ultras than they already have.  The conundrum then ultimately comes down to whether clubs and governing bodies are willing to severely punish individual bad actors to make an example of them for other people and discourage that behavior.  The answer in my opinion should be yes as there have simply been to many instances of fans, players, referees, and security forces being murdered or seriously injured by hooligans who previously faced little punishment for lesser infractions.  Any other punishments enacted against a club should come when there is proof that they or their security were unprepared or mismanaged the situation.

Additionally, the atmosphere surrounding many football matches adds to the rowdiness of hooligans, and can at times encourage them.  When pitch invaders are being cheered and celebrated by home fans for their antics it breeds an environment where copycats are buoyed by the attention they receive.  There is nothing football associations or clubs can really do to keep fans from cheering, and the honus is really on the fans to not applaud and praise pitch invaders in the moment.  It sets a dangerous precedent if a trespasser attacks a player and continues to get cheers, as some fans see that as permission to repeat those actions or take them even farther.  Knife attacks are also a real threat in England, and Europe as a whole for that matter, and the ease with which they can be concealed makes the possibility of a pitch invader stabbing a player a genuine fear for players and anyone else who is involved in the game.  Increased security measures outside of the stadium would be an easy way to trim down this risk by doing searches for weapons prior to entry and should be adopted by all clubs at this point.

One theme that might be evidently present in many of the instances of hooliganism that were mentioned above is that most involved some sort of racial or ethnic tension as well.  In many Western European countries racial anger and violence is targeted towards immigrants from Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, while in Easter Europe there are similar levels of hatred towards people of color, but the sheer number of countries and diverse number of ethnicities in the Balkans and the former states of the Soviet Union make other smaller ethnicities similar targets of abuse.

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The racist abuse Raheem Sterling received earlier this season during an away match against Chelsea restarted the conversation around racism in football which has been a reoccurring issue in the sport.

Overall racism against players of African descent is still the most common with innumerable cases of players having bananas thrown at them, monkey sounds being chanted at them, and other degrading and racist words and stereotypes hurled their way.  Players of all talent levels have received that level of abuse with stars frequently getting the most attention for the racist remarks that they receive, but lower league and even amateur players are also frequent targets of fans.  In recent years the most high profile cases have involved Raheem Sterling earlier this year by not only fans, but also the media, who portrayed him as if he could do nothing right with tabloidy headlines about things like buying his mom a house, or going to a dollar store, or eating fast food that find some way to criticize him for what he did and picking him apart.  The less overt racism of the papers and magazines is arguably worse than the racist abuse of the fans as the media has some level of power and their treatment of Sterling serves to only excuse the behavior of the fans towards him.  It is also harder to punish them for what they do as they are toeing the line of what is and isn’t acceptable.  Before Sterling, Mario Balotelli was the player under the microscope receiving abuse during his time both in Italy and England earlier in his career, and to a lesser extent in France.  Going back even farther, there was Samuel Eto’o who, during his time with Barcelona, threatened on multiple occasions to leave the field due to the racist treatment he got from home and away fans in Spain.

The more egregious cases have had traumatic results on the careers of multiple players as Caleb Francis nearly retired following the abuse he was forced to withstand during his debut in the Norwegian League.  Everton Luiz left the field in tears after being racially abused by FK Ra fans and players while playing for Partizan Belgrade which partially led to his departure to Italy.  That’s the other thing, as fans are not the only ones involved in racism towards players.  A players’ teammates, opponents, coaching staff, and referees are often directly involved in or complicit with the racist behavior of fans.  Spanish national team coach Luis Aragones was heard by journalists referring to Thierry Henry as a “negro de mierda” meaning black s*** in Spanish.  Aragones received little more than a slap on the wrist as the Spanish Football Federation defended his actions refusing to fire him and UEFA only fined the Federation $87,000.  The comment caused major uproar in the English media and in the buildup to a game between Spain and England shortly after Aragones tried to defend his behavior by criticizing England’s history of colonialism as if that somehow justified his comment.  The subsequent match was marred by racist chants toward non-white English chants leading to UEFA stepping in once again.  Ahead of the Russian World Cup, Colombian midfielder Edwin Cardona was caught making a slant eyed gesture towards South Korea’s Kim Jin-su and while he received a five game ban he was still eligible to play in the World Cup prompting uproar from fans around the World who called for him to be banned through the World Cup.  Emre Belozoglu, a Turkish midfielder, has also frequently been accused as a racist by many of his opponents throughout his career with varying punishments being handed down each time.

Antisemitism is the other major source of ethnic violence in soccer especially in countries that have a history of fascism and ultra-nationalism.  Spanish clubs have had issues in the past due to the Franquista ties many ultra groups have.  Real Madrid fans are the most prominent ones to have made fascist gestures and chants in games, though lesser clubs have done so as well.  Croatia also made waves recently as ahead of a Euro 2016 qualifier against Italy a swastika was imprinted onto the field in the patterning of the grass resulting in a one point deduction, two matches having to be played behind closed doors, and about $110,000 in fines for the Croatian Federation.  The two top countries though in terms of antisemitism and neo-Nazi sentiment are Poland and Germany due obviously to their history from World War II and the years of violence that preceded and followed the war.  Poland has a long history of antisemitic behavior by its fans with Jew frequently being used as a derogatory term towards opposing players and fans, some fans proudly referring to themselves as Aryans, and swastikas and Nazi salutes being fairly commonplace. After one match between rivals LKS Lodz and Widzew Lodz, an LKS player Arkadiusz Mysona took a shirt from a fan and wore it for several minutes before eventually taking it off.  The shirt had “death to Widzew-Jewish whore” written on it, and Mysona, who was one of the most popular players in the Polish league at the time came under intense scrutiny though he claimed he hadn’t read what was on the shirt prior to putting it on.  Many German clubs, especially in the lower leagues have a history of antisemitism with some hooligans and ultras creating banners with swastikas and the number 88 on them on multiple occasions.  The number 88 has come to signify Heil Hitler as H is the eighth letter in the alphabet so 88 often correlates to HH.  Chemnitzer who came to the forefront recently with the moment of silence they held for a neo-Nazi leader have been repeat offenders in terms of antisemitism with a large portion of their supporter base being affiliated with far right and ultra-nationalist groups.  Germany also has a large population of Turkish immigrants including former national team member Mesut Ozil.  Ozil came under intense criticism following his decision to post a picture with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and shortly after he retired from the national team while also opening up about the abuse he has received because of his Turkish ethnicity.

While the game in its current state is somewhat removed from those past incidents, and steps have been taken to pull football out of the dark ages when deaths and violence were all too common, these most recent incidents are all too reminiscent of that dark history.  The mass fatalities at Heysel, Hillsborough, Estadio Nacional, and Port Said were black mark’s on football’s lengthy and storied past while the fight against racism continues to be a battle that FIFA and federations across the world are facing.  The incidents last weekend also pale in comparison to the scale and nature of those mass tragedies from the past, but they are reminders that clubs need to always be aware and alert to possible dangers.



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