West Hammered: MLS Learns from the Pros
While English cynicism used to be a cherished import in the all-too-earnest hinterland of soccer-loving North America, the bile has lost its caché in the past few years. No more, Guardian. Cease and desist, ‘When Saturday Comes’. Your glib asides on the American game, which may have seemed like cutting journalistic insight post 1994, now sounds like the wet-gummed wheezings of an irate undergraduate student moaning about the mainstream music playing in a once indie-oriented pub.
The fact of the matter is thirty drunken Hammers (mostly Americans according to some reports) came flailing toward the supposedly ‘hard-core’ Columbus Crew supporters’ section last week; there were some scuffles, but no reports of major injuries. Even so, North Americans are not in need of protection from police at MLS games; to say as Barney Ronay did recently in the Guardian, that by returning punches to the surging West Ham fans, Crew supporters were somehow emulating a ‘halcyon’ period of English violence is absurd. A noxious social ill is not a hipster trend no matter how many alliterative sentences you manage to spin on the topic.
Mr. Ronay goes on to write of the MLS/Premiership friendlies, “these kind of games are usually genteel, goodwill-infused affairs.” He may have missed the news last year when a group of Aston Villa fans were ejected for light fisticuffs at a Toronto FC ‘friendly’. Shock horror — it seems even normally polite and unassuming Canadians will react when provoked at their home grounds, although we tend to be more known for hockey violence – the Montreal Canadiens’ first round victory in this year’s Stanley Cup resulted in a few blocks’ worth of burned out cars.
Yet Ronay is actually on the money about the MLS’ normally good-natured international friendlies. Hell, we’re even able to control ourselves during contentious Cup finals: this week’s draw between Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact at BMO Field — hardly your typical soccer mom MLS crowd — resulted in little more than some halfhearted anti-Quebecois jabs lobbed at the band of away supporters who sat unprotected in the East stand. Toronto FC had lost the chance to play in the CONCACAF Champions League to a lower division team from Quebec, English Canada’s arch political and cultural rivals, and yet 20000 rapid TFC supporters simply picked up and went home.
It cannot be denied there is a minority of idiots in the MLS who know little of football outside of watching reruns of Football Factories. Some fans will attempt to raise a pathetic parking lot skirmish to the level of an early eighties West Ham/Millwall encounter.
Yet if Ronay and others like him put away their grab bag of wittily penned clichés about American ‘sah-ker’ and instead focus on what is already obvious to most continental Europeans — that drunken fans of English football with cheap tickets at a low-security stadium will sometimes ‘act out’ — they would realize that it’s not MLS fans who are suffering from hooligan nostalgia.
Richard Whittall lives in Toronto and is the author of A More Splendid Life.