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Holligans at the Gate

When the World Cup comes to Soldier Field next summer, will the world's most violent fans come too?

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Dust off the habeas corpus, Chicago--company's coming. Last June it was announced that Soldier Field had been selected as the site of the opening ceremonies and five of the matches in the 1994 World Cup finals. The World Cup is soccer's quadrennial showcase tournament and the most profitable sporting event on the globe. To local innkeepers such as the Hyatt's Jay Pritzker, who's also chairman of the local World Cup host committee, it's a chance to put a tourist in every room. To city officials, it's a chance for Chicago to join Bilbao and Cagliari on the list of famous World Cup venues.

To sociologists and bail bondsmen, a World Cup here offers a rare chance to practice their trades in a new and exciting setting. World Cups are to soccer hooligans what Woodstock was to hippies. World Cup '94 will give hooligans everywhere a chance to visit, at bargain charter rates, one of the modern West's historic centers of civic violence.

From Gothenburg to Monchengladbach, from Leeds to Amsterdam, indeed anywhere on the globe where the sound of breaking bottles is considered music, news of the apres-championship looting that broke out around the city after the Bulls won their second NBA title on June 14 must have been reassuring. It meant that the Chicago of Haymarket Square and the Pullman Strike and the King assassination riots and the 1968 Democratic Convention still knows how to have a really good time.

What follows is a primer on the fun. Hooliganism is a perversely fascinating phenomenon, so before you start boarding up the windows, take a few minutes to read and learn.

What is the World Cup? It's the world championship of the world's game and the most watched sporting event in the world. Played every four years, World Cups are held under the auspices of soccer's global ruling body, the Federation Internationale de Football Association or FIFA.

A World Cup soccer team is a national all-star squad, eligibility for which is determined solely by citizenship and skill. There is no distinction drawn between amateurs and professionals, as in the Olympics; the point is to put your best players on the field against everyone else's best players. Your dream team against their dream team.

A World Cup is not the only regular competition for these so-called national teams--mini World Cups are held in Europe, Africa, South America, North America, and the Caribbean--but it's obviously the largest and most prestigious.

The 1994 finals will be played in nine cities in the U.S. beginning on June 17 in Chicago and culminating with the championship game at the Rose Bowl on July 17. Twenty-four teams will contend, beginning with round-robin play involving six groups of four teams. Chicago will cohost one of those groups and will be the site of a single second-round game.

The U.S. is automatically a participant as host nation, as is the defending champion. The other 22 teams will be the winners of dozens of qualifying matches held over two years among teams representing 138 nations. Most of the finalists will hail from Europe and South America, with the other major regions of the world represented by one, two, or three national teams.

The actual World Cup, by the way, is not a cup but probably the ugliest sports trophy on the planet. Made of gold, it was stolen once and never recovered; authorities were unsure whether to assume it was melted down by thieves or art lovers.

What is hooliganism? It's violence at, near, on the way to, and before and after soccer matches by fans, acting usually in quasi-organized groups and directed at either other fans or police. Since the 1970s hooligans in Europe and South America have compiled a veritable encyclopedia of mayhem, assaulting opposing fans and police, wrecking stores and bars, busting up trains and ferryboats, tossing pub darts into crowds, and fighting in the streets with bottles, bricks, knives, and chains. Typical examples culled at random since the late 1980s from press accounts:

A game between Dutch teams Ajax Amsterdam and the Hague was halted at halftime when rioting fans ran the score up to 23 injured.

At a game in a West German regional league, it was the fans who threw the tear gas, not the police.

In Portugal fans tore up railroad tracks and blocked roads.

Fans threw firebombs onto a field in what was then East Germany, possibly because they couldn't afford beach balls, what with all the tractor factories shut down.

As recently as 1978, psychologists could describe the admittedly fascinating hooligan subculture and conclude that the community of "nutters" and "aggro leaders" was an almost positive presence for the youths involved, offering as it did hierarchies, rules, standards, roles, even careers and prestige richer than those of orderly working-class society.

But in recent years the phenomenon has grown more calculatedly violent, more distant from its roots in the stadium terraces, and tainted by racist politics. Police in England have had to adopt military-style countermeasures, including surveillance. Thugs have international reputations, and are tracked by police across the continents, as with any terrorist; Scotland Yard even has a "football collation unit" to pass on info about fan movements the way marauding troops might be tracked as they make their way toward the border.

On July 2 a Tribune editorial noted that Chicago needs to establish security "to avoid the violence that has marred some World Cup games." These "arduous preparations" dwarf any steps local law enforcement officials have had to take at local sporting events. When Stockholm hosted the 1992 European Nations Championship finals, two police officers were assigned to ride in every subway car on game days, for example, and opposing fans were trundled to and from transit centers through cordons of police while helicopters buzzed overhead. These precautions were derided as lax after street fighting and window smashing led to 100 arrests, mostly of English fans.

The violence has presented a painful dilemma to club owners of several nations. Soccer clubs are nearly all bankrupt or nearly so, and thus have become financially dependent on this increasingly violent fringe, since the thugs have helped scare away regular fans. This dependence on ticket sales to hooligans is one reason why most clubs shrink from more drastic disciplinary steps against their more pathological supporters. So intractable is the dilemma in England that even some people who love the game--perhaps I should say especially those who love the game--have argued that the only way to stop the violence is to stop playing pro soccer.

Who are the hooligans? They're males, 14 to 34 years old, ill-educated and unmotivated, often from rough families, utterly bored, economically redundant, politically irrelevant--the usual lot. The hooligan is generally depicted as a drunken layabout, a corrupt son of socialism, unemployable, although a surprising number of hard-core hooligans have regular jobs.

But not all soccer fans are hooligans, just as not all Bears fans are boors. (In England it is estimated that only about 10 percent of the fans of club teams are violent.) Similarly--and perhaps more important to one's understanding of the phenomenon--not all hooligans are fans in the accepted sense.

Historically the hooligans' first targets were opposing fans, and they remain the principal target; "winning the match" means inflicting more damage and injuries than fans from rival clubs. Civilized Europeans do not shrink from calling them "animals," "drunken vandals posing as fans," "brutal scoundrels." Traveling fans constitute a sort of road-show version of A Clockwork Orange. There is indeed a kind of caged-animal craziness to the worst of these episodes that puts them outside the bounds of civil violence as it has been experienced in the U.S.

The frequent comparisons of hooligans to American sports fans are especially misleading. Pissed-off phone calls to all-sports radio or rude signs held in front of TV cameras will not suffice as a means of self-expression for soccer's rude boys. In 1990 fans of the Italian First Division club Fiorentina attacked the headquarters of the club itself when it was announced that officials had traded its star player; last fall fans of Naples's top club stormed a practice field and pummeled the players with sticks to express their disappointment at recent poor results; last October a tournament match between Greek and French teams was abandoned at the half when fans of the Greek side set fire to their seats and invaded the field in anger over their side's poor play.

Why is hooliganism called "the English disease"? Because English fans invented it, or at least perfected it in its modern form. They remain (the pretensions of the Dutch aside) the best in the world--the most brazen, the most bestial, the most lethal soccer punks in the world. The worst of these "Mad Harrys" include the Liverpool supporters who attacked Italian fans in Brussels's Heysel Stadium in 1985, leading to the deaths of 39. Fourteen Liverpool supporters were indicted for manslaughter after that fracas.

Hooliganism is that nation's sole innovation in the sport since the English invented the modern game in the mid-1800s. England's hooligans have won more matches off the field than its soccer players have won on it, mainly because the thugs have the more imaginative playmakers. When England reached the second round of Italia '90, the most recent World Cup, the team was scheduled to play in the Italian city of Bologna. That city laid on an extra 5,000 armed security police and set up special camps outside town where the troops of hooligans could be herded. But faced with Bologna's ban on the sale of alcohol, the English followers instead invaded a nearby resort town.

However, in hooliganism as in so many things, the English are losing their competitive edge. Both Italy and Germany have seen what veteran soccer correspondents call an alarming rise in fan violence since Italia '90.

FIFA years ago decided that sanitation is the cure for the English disease. When Spain hosted the Cup in 1982, FIFA arranged (unofficially) for England to play its first-round qualifying matches in the remote northern port city of Bilbao, where the fans were in effect quarantined in boats offshore. The remote Sardinian city of Cagliari had the honor of welcoming the English to Italia '90, in large part because its island location led Italian officials to believe fans could be better contained.

The English were not a factor on or off the field in the 1986 World Cup, held in Mexico. The distance from Europe no doubt was a factor, one that augurs well for Chicago, although the declining dollar and the availability of cheap charter flights may make a trip to North America more affordable than it was in 1986. Another factor that may have subdued the English was security measures that U.S. organizers would find distasteful in spite of their efficiency. Ask the few Americans who watched NBC's coverage of the 1986 World Cup about soccer formations and they will describe not the play but the tanks parked outside the stadia.

What causes it? Soccer violence is a complex phenomenon whose intensity varies from club to club, country to country, competition to competition. For example, World Cup competitions are relatively calm affairs. Because World Cup games are held under FIFA auspices they enjoy higher levels of security than pro clubs can usually afford. But more important is the fact that fans' fiercest loyalties are tribal rather than national. As a result, the bloodiest encounters tend to occur when local teams play in regular domestic league and cup competitions, or during international tournaments in which they compete.

But nationalist fervor is a pale flame compared to regional rivalries that in some cases predate nationhood by centuries. Last year fans in Florence attacked cars carrying those Italian national team members who play professionally for a hated rival team--the equivalent of Phoenix's Charles Barkley being stoned by Bulls fans on the streets of Barcelona.

The World Cup thus dilutes fan passion to some extent by confusing it. They are, however, the same fans. Bill Buford's 1991 book Among the Thugs describes his time spent as a member of the Manchester United's notorious "Red Brigade." Buford explains that the same Manchester fans who engaged in street fights with London's Chelsea supporters joined hands with some of them when they both were decked out in England's colors in Sardinia.

The latent xenophobia of the fan emerges when national teams play each other, as they do in a World Cup or when a club team travels to play a club team in a different country. You wouldn't want to be in the neighborhood of London's Wembley Stadium when England plays Scotland, and the scores that were being settled by the black-capped Slovak commandos brought in to Bratislava to bludgeon visiting Budapest fans a few months ago had nothing to do with sport.

Patriotism, crudely experienced, does not excite such passions in the U.S. fan, which is one reason why so many American commentators have concluded that there must be something about the game itself that inspires its fans to insurrection. The connection is usually drawn by writers in this country who complain that they find soccer inspires them only to nap; their response suggests that the correlation between the violence of play on the field and violence among fans is pretty weak.

True, as English writer Anthony Burgess has speculated, the game probably had its origins as a means of expressing village aggression, using a severed head as a "ball." But many popular games are ritualized aggression. Soccer that is played even approximately within today's rules is not remotely as violent as games that are not plagued by fan violence; gridiron football, for example, does not have a major hooligan problem except among its ownership. The most violent soccer on the continent is played in Spain, where hooliganism off the field is a minor problem. Hooliganism began inside the stadia not because that is where the soccer was, but because inside the stadium is where boozed-up young males gathered in numbers.

Class is a surer index to fans' behavior than the games they watch. Soccer is a tea dance compared to rugby, but crowd trouble is virtually unknown at matches of the latter; rugby is the passion of the British college class, while soccer is the favorite of the working class.

Baseball offers unexpected proof that it is the fans, not the game, that determine fan behavior. Major league baseball is traditionally seen as a family diversion here, but today that remains true at many ballparks only if your family likes to booze. The fact that ball clubs have restricted sales of beer is proof that the sport has a drinking problem. Baseball crowds in Latin America are reportedly more like English soccer crowds, and in South Korea in 1988, a man was killed when disappointed fans hurled bottles and cans onto the field from the upper deck after a loss.

Of all the factors at work in sports violence, alcohol is probably the most crucial. Fans had been drinking in Brussels as many as 48 hours before the disaster at Heysel. In this country a celebrated (and never repeated) nickel-a-beer night in Cleveland ended up with 5,000 people on the field, fighting with chairs, chains, and broken bottles. When Scotland decided in 1981 to crack down on hooliganism, it clamped down on booze. Penalties for anyone caught drunk or drinking in a stadium, on a fan bus, or on chartered "football trains" were quite nasty--up to 60 days in the slammer. Result? Less trouble, and a big drop in arrests.

Hooliganism has its theorists, and they hold that hooliganism is not a sports problem or even a booze problem but a youth problem. University of Leicester sociologists have concluded that fighting is for young males the only available way to attain status, excitement, and meaning. Europe has produced a whole generation of working-class males who have no role, no sense that what they can do is worthwhile. They are people whose lives provide no outlet for the daring, the outrageous, the adventuresome. Sort of like the Democrats before November.

What has been done to stop it? Not very much. Both club and national teams have been banned from certain stadia or certain competitions as punishment for the depredations of their fans; visiting fans have been banned from some matches; fines have been levied. Stadium security has been beefed up--body searches are required for some games at some stadia--but usually with little effect on fan safety.

Some stadia have opted for hardware solutions, installing everything from closed-circuit TV systems to fencing that separates the field from the stands and visitors from home fans. Fortifying stadia is like keeping a loaded handgun in one's dresser drawer for protection in that it is seldom the criminals who end up getting hurt. It was against a security fence that 92 fans were crushed to death at Sheffield in a 1989 mob scene; and all agree that the toll at the Bradford, England, stadium fire that same year would have been even higher than the 53 deaths had there been a fence to keep people from fleeing the stands.

Arguably the real hooligans are not the people who stand in the stadia but the people who own and run them. Soccer stadia abroad are seldom up to U.S. standards in safety terms. Their ricketiness is made more dangerous by the practice of cramming fans into cheap, seatless terraces behind each goal. Packing so many people in such very small spaces, with only primitive means to direct their movements, is soccer's equivalent of the notorious "festival seating" that has been blamed for most of the recent rock-concert deaths in this country.

The orderly arrangement of rows and sections in a U.S.-style stadium is a suggestive constraint on behavior. FIFA rules require that international matches be held in so-called all-seater stadia--an innovation that is widely hated because it denies the fan much of the peculiar intimacy central to the experience of watching a game. In England fans forced into seats-only sections have in some cases simply destroyed the seats, tossing the pieces contemptuously onto the field.

Are there soccer hooligans in the U.S.? Not in the strict sense of the term. The U.S. has no national outdoor professional soccer league to speak of; a few thugs used to show up at U.S. soccer matches, but they wore the national team uniform back when our players were so lacking in skill that they had to resort to hockey tactics to stop their opponents.

It is perhaps more accurate to say, "Yes, we have our hooligans, but they don't go to soccer games." In 1990 a college basketball game between North Carolina Central and North Carolina A&T featured a players' brawl that escalated into a full-blown riot involving hundreds of fans. After a brawl between Cornell and Syracuse in 1988, the Cornell basketball coach told the New York Times, "You read horror stories about what happens at soccer matches. But after Syracuse you can see how it happens."

Fan violence is hardly alien to the U.S., although it may seem so because it tends to be underreported. One sociologist reportedly counted more than 300 riots at sporting events between 1960 and 1972. Incidents have marred baseball, football, and basketball games, both scholastic and professional. At a Jets-Bills NFL game in 1988, there were 41 incidents including bottle throwing and fistfights, resulting in 15 arrests--only 4 more than usual at Jets games. Hockey not only has its goons on the ice, but refs report that fans increasingly get involved in the games, from fighting with players to throwing golf balls, even cue balls onto the ice from stands.

U.S. baseball stadia are more carefully managed than soccer grounds in general, so that violence there is sporadic. It does happen, however; asked about the prospect of interleague play, Cubs reliever and former Brewer Dan Plesac endorsed placing the White Sox and Brewers in the same division, telling the Tribune, "Those games caused the most fights in the stands in mild-mannered County Stadium."

Much of the violence inherent in both playing and watching the game has become ritualized. Sometimes, however, the metaphors of a game cannot contain the resentments of the fans, and phrases such as "Kill the umpire" become chillingly literal. For example, in 1988 in Cincinnati the locals, incited by Pete Rose shoving an umpire twice during a beef about a first-base call, pelted the field with garbage, coins, lighters, even radios with such vigor that the men in blue left the field for their own safety.

Sport fandom in the U.S. has the same ingredients as the rest of the world--youth, testosterone, beer, resentment, the temporary rush of winning felt by people who usually don't. Nevertheless sports violence doesn't happen in the U.S., at least not as often as it does abroad. Cubs and Cards fans mingle at Wrigley Field with an amity that must astonish European soccer fans. At Madison Square Garden the blue-collar hockey fans abuse the yups in the front rows with chants of "Wall Street sucks!" But this is politeness itself compared to the way Brazilian and English soccer fans express their class resentment; they urinate from the upper decks onto the swells who, for once, are below them.

Pundits have long puzzled whether it is differences among the fans, the games, or the cultures that explain why our young studs are such pale imitations of everyone else's. As usual, it is a little of all three. For example:

Being not very good at playing what is here a minor sport, the U.S. soccer team has never had a large following. Its backers tend to be suburban, educated, blase; the troublemakers among them are fraternity bad boys at worst. The U.S. has no historic rivalries that might heat up a match, no explicit ethnic antagonisms that might add dangerous zest to a soccer contest. There is for instance nothing like the religious factionalism that separates Glasgow Rangers from Glasgow Celtic, or the ethnic differences that separate North London's Arsenal and Tottenham, or the class differences that separate Brazil's Flamenco and Vasco de Gama.

Because our popular sports have less of an international dimension than most other nations', we have fewer opportunities to show off our nationalist bigotries. The absurd flap over a Canadian team winning the World Series is a recent example. So was the incident last March when Don Nelson, coach of the Golden State Warriors, complained to the NBA about blatant bias against Warrior guard Sarunass Marciulionis after a ref in Dallas told the coach, "Tell that Russian"--Marciulionis is of course Lithuanian--"you can't take two steps in this league."

Americans, being stupidly convinced already of their superiority to other peoples, have seldom been desperate to show well on this kind of international stage. That may be changing, as we feel the need to win back on the athletic field the prestige that we've lost on the factory floor, the peace conference table, and the battlefield. One need only recall how the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles turned into a carnival of U.S. chauvinism, or the childish delight that so many people took when our Olympic "Dream Team" bullied manifestly lesser basketball foes.

The United States Soccer Federation, which is soccer's ruling body in this country, no doubt will try to drum up a crowd by beating the patriotic drum, as was done in LA. Whether the prospect of our boys being humiliated as the world watches by nations whose players are usually smaller, darker, and poorer than ours will excite Reagan-Bush-era nostalgists to retributive violence remains to be seen.

Distance is another factor explaining differences in crowd behavior between the U.S. and the world's soccer-playing countries. The small size of England, for example, makes it possible for fans to routinely visit away games in large numbers. Think of how much more exciting the TV news footage would have been in Chicago last June if five or six thousand Trail Blazers fans had been at large along Division Street. Chicago World Cup organizers explain that European fans are accustomed to a functioning passenger rail system; anyone relying on Amtrak to get to a riot on time will quickly learn why criminals in the U.S. drive cars.

The way our sports are organized is also very different from Europe and the rest of the world. Professional baseball offers huge potential for the kind of intracity rivalries that make pro soccer in a place like Manchester so lively. The rivalry between City and United suggests what a hundred years of Cubs versus Sox games might lead to. However, our pro teams enjoy league monopolies within our larger cities, which means that intercity rivals meet only rarely, in World Series.

Economics matters too. Pro soccer clubs are run as not-for-profit enterprises. Ticket prices are astonishingly low by U.S. standards. U.S. working-class kids may develop the same kind of fanatical relationship to their favorite teams, but that relationship is not expressed en masse at the stadium because the major leagues, the NBA, and the NFL are not games for the masses. U.S. gangs adopt starter jackets and other team paraphernalia as gang attire. But the identification often is symbolic. The most popular teams are not necessarily local. Walk down the street on the west side and you will see Georgetown, University of Miami, or Oakland Raider gear as frequently as Bulls or Sox. That young people identify with the former teams is obvious--most are perceived as mainly black and urban in style--but this identification is necessarily acted out vicariously via TV rather than in person every Saturday at the stadium, and thus is fairly weak.

Ticket prices do not keep working-class kids away from the stadia in the case of high school sports, with the unhappy result that fan violence a la soccer is common at that level (albeit on a much smaller scale). To prevent violence, officials in about two-thirds of New York City's public high schools restrict fan access to varsity basketball games, usually by limiting attendance to home fans only, and in rare cases banning fans altogether.

Beyond the differences of geography, economics, and organization is a cultural difference that is easier to describe than to explain. Americans may yearn to belong to a group, but the Europeans and South Americans seem to crave being in a group--not being in a group, but being in a group. The game, the booze, even the cops are but a means to an end, which is experiencing the transcendence of self. Where the American kid seeks to lose his self in the mob, the European seems to find it.

Can it really happen here? Vandalism and looting broke out in several spots on the north and west sides on the night of June 14, after the Bulls clinched their second NBA championship against Portland. The resulting frolic through Chicago's streets was seen by some as a foretaste of what the city might face when hooligans show up for the World Cup in 1994. Lee Stern, who was president of the Chicago Sting, of the defunct North American Soccer League, is a powerful force in the local World Cup organizing committee. Stern alluded to the post-Bulls "celebrations" in remarks made at the ceremony announcing Chicago's selection as a World Cup host city when he pointed out that Chicago has its "crazies" too.

This was good public relations but dubious sociology. The obvious parallel between the Bulls rioting and soccer hooliganism--that both are sports-related--is misleading. The rioting's apparent connection to a sporting event befuddled Chicago's commentators, many of whom echoed soccer fans of the 70s with their bewildered and scornful put-downs of "so-called fans."

A number of other motives were proffered by local opinion-mongerers. Mayor Daley advanced the Decline of American Values thesis with his widely repeated "what you do in America" remark. As noted, Stern dismissed the Bulls looters as "crazies"--dangerous slander coming from a man who spent a fortune trying to make pro soccer work in the midwest. Many prosperous whites no doubt saw the outbreaks on the poor west side as another manifestation of violent and bizarre underclass culture; to many activists it was a manifestation of social injustice and economic despair--what we might call the Untended Agenda explanation; neighborhood leaders like Alderman Ed Smith branded them "a bunch of criminals," and Alderman William Beavers blamed the trouble in his Seventh Ward on the "criminal element."

The events of June 14 were complex in their causes, but what happened was largely characteristic of soccer hooliganism abroad. In both, aimless youth, booze, ethnic and class antagonism, and poor police preparation left tourism promoters nursing migraines.

As was also true of the rioting in Los Angeles after the acquittal in the first King-beating trial, the west-side violence had a distinctly xenophobic cast. Black rioters in LA vented special violence against Korean shopkeepers. Both Arab and Korean merchant associations in Chicago denied that race was a factor in the Bulls looting, and the simple fact that Koreans and Arabs are the only people who have retail stores in some of the affected neighborhoods explains why they were hit especially hard. But comments later made to the press by participants suggested that Asian and Arab stores had been targeted.

There is often a similar tinge of class or ethnic antagonism in soccer violence. The extreme right has found the fan sections of the stadia to be fertile recruiting ground. Fans at some English matches respond to the playing of "God Save the Queen" with a Nazi salute. In 1990, when then-West Germany beat Argentina to take the World Cup final in Rome, hooligans, some marching under neo-Nazi banners, rampaged back home in Berlin, Hamburg, and Bielefeld. "Non-Germans" such as Vietnamese and gays were singled out for attack. Water cannons had to be used to quell the trouble, which led to 120 arrests and injuries to 60 police.

Meanwhile on the north side crowds were largely white, well-to-do, and drunk. When crowds of celebrants poured out onto Division Street and wrecked cars and then went on a window-smashing and looting spree up and down Michigan Avenue, it was like a flashback to classic 70s-style soccer hooliganism. Some fans still play the old favorites; when Dutch club Feyenoord played Borussia Monchengladbach last year, the visiting fans after the match went, in the words of one press account, "plundering and looting" through the city as a kind of perverted tourist shopping jaunt.

On Chicago's north side the perpetrators were largely middle-class--the arrest lists showed a preponderance of suburbanites--and that made them different from European soccer fans, who tend to be working-class. What unites them is not income but disaffectedness. The suburban rowdy who camps in the bleachers at Wrigley is hardly impoverished materially, but psychologically he has much in common with Buford's mad lads.

Hooliganism combines the drunken rowdiness seen on the north side with the sense of social grievance and relative poverty of the west side, the spontaneous, drunken vandalism of Division Street and the rather more calculating exploitation of the moment that was seen on the west and south sides. Worst of both worlds, you might say.

Are hooligans gangbangers in scarves? The sports connection blinds us to the obvious fact that the real spiritual kin of the hooligans in this country are our street gangs. A University of Leicester sociologist in 1985 described hooligan violence as a New York or Chicago gang fight transposed to a soccer stadium, which it is in every respect except ordnance, since hooligans do not use guns; a Londoner once explained to me that he dared not wear the colors of his favorite team on game days, lest he be set upon by rivals.

Youths are youths and gangs are gangs, but hooligans and street gangs function in very different social contexts. Soccer gangs do not deal drugs; they fight over territory or reputation rather than markets. As noted, hooligans do not use guns. (Neither do most European riot police.) Superior European gun laws are a factor here, but so is the code of the hooligans; courage is the test, and it takes only recklessness, not courage, to use a gun. Soccer violence does seem to be getting more intense, but the weapon chosen for its expression is the knife. Perhaps that's because (as one lad explained to Buford) police respond so much quicker these days that a man doesn't have time to do a proper punch-up, and knives are good for inflicting a lot of pain in a hurry.

All of these differences, considered by a Chicagoan, tend to make the hooligans seem a modest enough threat to the public peace. But while our gangs are more lethal in every way, they pose scant threat to most of the city's middle class, having the good manners to confine their mayhem largely to their own neighborhoods. Hooligans in contrast infest the larger city on game days, from trains and stations to bars, and so are a much more threatening presence to the part of the population that does not enjoy having lager for breakfast.

One problem at soccer matches is that fans who cannot drink in stadia do it outside, with sometimes devastating impact on pubs near or en route to the stadia. At Bologna, where several games in the 1990 World Cup were staged, authorities banned the sale of wine in restaurants--an astonishing step considering the Italians' love of dining, and one that underscores how serious the problem was regarded by local authorities. In Sweden last year organizers set up beer tents that sold low-priced beer to visitors to the European Nations championships; the tactic concentrated the potential troublemakers and spared local pub owners having to file millions of krona worth of insurance claims.

Chicago lakefront hotels and parks are the likely venue of any disturbances next year. Institutions such as the Art Institute have some experience with drunken crowds--they basically fence off the museum during Taste of Chicago, for example--but whereas your Taster will urinate on a museum because he has no place else to go, a hooligan will seek it out as the piss pot of choice. A friend of mine came back from Rome aghast, having encountered Liverpool fans in town for a match pissing in Saint Peter's.

U.S. crowd-control experts know that things get hot wherever the friction of proximity ignites antagonistic groups. The tactic of choice is preventive: keep rival fans segregated. But that tactic doesn't always work with hooligans, who go looking for rivals, in some cases miles from a stadium. Keeping the factions apart in Europe often requires constant surveillance or some elaborate system by which potentially troublesome fans are in effect quarantined in specific parts of the city, even specific hotels, from which they are escorted to and from matches.

Hooligans don't only go looking for trouble. They also attract it. When the more renowned bands pile off the trains it's like a new gunslinger showing up to challenge the local hotshot. When English fans invaded that resort outside Bologna during Italia '90 they found it defended by local toughs; 20 were hurt in the resulting skirmishes.

Readers who are parents will have noted by now that hooligans set a very bad example for local youth. In Mexico City in 1986 a general celebration of Mexico's victory over Belgium led to an outbreak of gang violence in which 187 were hurt, 45 of them badly enough to require hospitalization. The violence was only tangentially related to the soccer game but was instead a bit of opportunism as local gangs exploited a momentary slackening of normal police control.

The calculation that goes into hooligan attacks will be strange to most U.S. cops. Outbursts of collective violence connected to U.S. sport are almost always spontaneous. Something like that seems to have happened in Dallas in February. A Super Bowl victory celebration for the Cowboys attracted an estimated 400,000 people; bands of marauding teens on the fringes of the crowd started fights that led to two dozen injuries--several from stabbings--and fourteen arrests.

Gang violence too is largely spontaneous, intramural (except where bystanders are hurt by their inaccurate gunplay), and geographically limited. The more experienced soccer hooligans in contrast use tactics that have evolved in step with those of police. Hooligans mount assaults that often have been planned and executed with precision and panache. Their combat skills would flatter an army commando, which many of these guys would be if their governments could still afford to have wars on a regular basis.

Indeed, one result of the cops' success in separating rival fans is that the fans are left with only the police to attack. U.S. cops are accustomed to being met with violence that is incidental to other crimes. According to a west-side district commander, the 90-some cops who were hurt on June 14 by bricks and bottles were injured mainly because they stood between looters and stores. But deliberate mob violence aimed at police has not been seen here in a quarter-century.

In parts of Europe, among discontented youth, it will always be 1968. During a March 1985 rampage by Millwall's notorious visiting fans at a tournament match in Luton, police officers were attacked, with 31 hurt. The response to such assaults has been defensive; hooligans, as barbarians have always done, exploit the softness of the civilized. Where police have been prepared to mix with the thugs, the latter's menacing reputation has been besmirched. During the European national championships held in West Germany in 1988, the dispatches to the New York Times were headed, "West German police 250, England 0, Holland 2." The clashes between crack units of English and Dutch hooliganism at Italia '90 saw the English getting their heads beat in by Italian cops who did not share the northerners' soft views on criminal rights. More than 300 English fans arrested for fighting were summarily deported via a plane chartered by the Italian government.

Will the blood flow in Chicago? Security at a World Cup is the responsibility of the host nation, and in recent years it has responded with so conspicuous a military presence that a visitor would have thought a coup was under way, except that street hawkers usually don't sell programs to coups. As noted, fans arriving for games in Mexico in 1986 walked past tanks just outside the gates; Italy in 1990 was a little more subtle, but the national police, armed with automatic weapons, were out in force; some 5,000 special police were mustered for duty in Sardinia to cope with an estimated 900 English and Dutch villains, which is about the recommended ratio of regular troops needed to stop a determined guerrilla force.

World Cup USA 1994, the U.S. organizing body, acknowledges that its biggest single expense will be for security. World Cup USA 1994 is responsible for coping with trouble outside the stadia (in cooperation with local, state, and federal law enforcement of course) and early announcements suggested that officials will take a softer line than was taken in Mexico or Italy. Friends of the Parks will breathe a sigh of relief; even Taste of Chicago can't do the damage to Grant Park greenery that Army tanks would.

FIFA has already said that it does not wish to install fencing in the stands at sites like Soldier Field; fans from other nations are used to it, but so much steel would send the wrong signals to the neophyte U.S. fan. This country was chosen to host the cup not just because FIFA needed a big place to hold a tournament but because it wants to convert the U.S. to the game.

Much of the security effort for 1994 apparently will consist of preventing known troublemakers entry into the U.S. One of the advantages of the U.S. as a site is that it is accessible from Europe only by plane or boat--a continental-size Sardinia--which makes identifying and tracking villains easier. Fortress America all over again.

But the World Cup is like any party; whether it gets out of control depends on who you invite. The good news is that England has a mediocre team, and the peaceful Swiss and Norwegians are surprise likely finalists at this point. The bad news is that Greece looks certain to qualify. Certain factions of Greek sports fans are organized and volatile--I wouldn't take my mother to a Greek basketball game, for example, and Mom likes a good punch-up now and then.

The only team whose presence in Chicago for the opening round of play in 1994 is definite at this date is that of Germany, which as defending World Cup champion will play in the opening match of the tournament. Ten, maybe fifteen thousand fans are expected to make the trip from Germany for the occasion. Most of these will be as law-abiding as Rotarians at convention, but German hooligans exist, and indeed are among the more accomplished in Europe, standing behind only the English and the Dutch in the unofficial rankings of mayhem makers. In any event it doesn't take many determined troublemakers to disrupt a city. Chicago's City Council has only 50 members but the aldermen have terrorized the city for years.

Local organizers naturally are downplaying the possibilities of violence marring their moment in the international sports spotlight. The clear implication of Stern's remarks, for example, was that whatever happened, Chicago had seen it before and could handle it. Mayor Daley also dismissed security as an issue at the announcement ceremony, echoing USSF officials who pointed to the bang-up job the U.S. of A. did in policing the summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984.

The atmosphere at Soldier Field is likely to be more decorous than that of a Bears game; Mayor Daley should feel free to invite Jim and Brenda without a qualm. A lot of the fans will be recent emigres to the U.S., many of whom will be rooting for their native land's sides; Chicago's biggest soccer-watching communities--Mexicans, Irish, Poles--do not have traditions of fan violence to match those of the English, Scots, or Dutch.

Recent international soccer games held at Soldier Field had gone off with violence no more serious than traffic jams. True enough, although the international soccer matches played in Chicago (such as the encounter on June 6, 1992, at Soldier Field between the U.S. and Italy) were either so-called "friendlies" (exhibition matches) or games played as part of a dubious cup competition invented by U.S. authorities as part of the World Cup '94 promotional campaign. In other words, they were not games that counted for either players or fans.

But stepped-up stadium security tends to force the trouble onto the streets of the town, where it becomes the responsibility of the local police. Talking to the Sun-Times last June, the president of the local Fraternal Order of Police said in effect, if we can police Grateful Dead concerts we can handle soccer games.

"He has no idea," says Paul Wertheimer, a Chicago-based crowd-control consultant. "A soccer game is not like a concert. He doesn't understand the dynamics." The fact is that the city didn't handle the June 14 outbreaks especially well, and the city knows it. Whatever the public pose of Chicago World Cup organizers, the possibility of violence has already shaped the city's plans for the event. Terry Levin of the Mayor's Office of Special Events explains that the prospect of violence was one of the reasons that Chicago chose not to bid to become the site of the final game of the tournament. "As competition heats up and gets close to the finish, passions rise," he notes, adding that the opening group should be calmer. He is correct, although he may misunderstand the dynamic at work; in a tournament that lasts for four weeks, escalating violence may be owed as much to boredom and booze as to sporting passion.

Policing hooligans at international soccer matches is not like policing pickpockets at a convention, and Chicago cops will get a lot of advice about how to do it in the next year. Local forces are being advised by security experts on the staff of World Cup USA 1994, which sent a 20-person observation team to Italia '90 to see and learn; the former FBI man who handled the chore at the 1984 Summer Games has already checked out Chicago twice.

Leslie Fox of the local World Cup organizing committee says, "Security is our number-one priority." Several meetings have already been held with every law enforcement agency in the state, organized into committees under the direction of the CPD. Members of the department and the Chicago Park District have even traveled to the FBI's facility in Quantico, Virginia, for special training.

Wertheimer says that while violence can't be prevented if people are determined to cause it, it can be minimized. For example, he thinks that drinking must be controlled in Chicago during the World Cup. This is not a new idea; Chicago Police superintendent Matt Rodriguez in July proposed that the city should consider shutting down all bars and taverns and liquor stores the next time a city pro team plays for a championship. He also called for studies about the relationship between liquor sales and rioting.

The problem is that there will be five matches in Chicago, spread out over 15 days (June 17, 21, 26, and 27 and July 2). Invoking, much less enforcing, such restrictions at the height of the tourist season may not be easy. The city bid for Cup games in the first place because it believed that it meant money for local hotels, restaurants, and bars. Civic profit was one of the prizes too; the prospect of scenes of tanks in the streets of Chicago being beamed around the globe will not bring smiles to the faces of the local organizing committee, who are especially eager to dispel the aura of Capone that still hangs over the city's reputation abroad.

Wertheimer thinks that prudent preparations will require resources "beyond the city." Other nations have not been shy to bring in the army, which the U.S. has, or the national police, which the U.S. doesn't have. The state of Illinois can assign its state police or National Guard units to the task but this would be expensive and potentially controversial, and 1994 is a gubernatorial election year.

Says Fox, "All options are open right now." She adds that decisions about the specific shape of security plans will await the draw for the finals. With luck, the German skinheads may choose to stay home where they can beat up people in wheelchairs without the hassle of going through customs, and England either won't win through to the second round or will be drawn to play somewhere else.

Just as encouraging is the fact that while violence has been spreading to new countries and sports where it hasn't been seen before, it may have reached a peak of intensity in the major soccer nations in the late 1980s. (Arrests in 1990 at English league games dropped from 6,185 to 5,495, for instance.) It is possible that by 1994 even English fans will comport themselves like University of Chicago alums at a seminar.

Says Fox, "Overall, our feeling is that we're not concerned, because we know we can handle this." Perhaps. The Chicago Police Department may be a little out of fighting trim. Some might think that a quarter century of reform has vitiated the CPD as a fighting force, but Chicago's finest has a proud tradition of head-busting to protect. The last time they faced deliberate provocation from a determined and hostile crowd of mangy-looking out-of-towners--in August 1968--the result was a police riot.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/John Figler.

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