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Jun. 10 2010 - 12:48 pm | 3,104 views | 0 recommendations | 31 comments

The Boring Game: Why Soccer Crowds Are So Violent

German Hooligans

Image by Vironevaeh via Flickr

With frightening regularity, the World Cup morphs into the War Of The Worlds Cup. The global soccer tournament, which begins tomorrow in South Africa, has a history of violence more prodigious than that of Joran Van Der Sloot.  A 2005 New York Times article did a nice job of summarizing the long and sordid history of crowd violence during the World Cup, but it only scratched the surface. Indeed, crowd violence is simply a fact of the World Cup, like silly scarves. Already this year, in a hilariously misnamed World Cup “friendly,” a stampede broke out that left nine in the hospital. Bear in mind that the real tournament has not even begun yet.

It’s tempting to attribute all of this violence to the kind of dumb nationalism that flourishes during global competitions. I was in South Korea during the last World Cup, a country famous for its jingoistic outbursts, and was genuinely taken aback by the proud racism and xenophobia expressed during the tournament. But there is also something inherent to the game of soccer that leads to such astounding levels of violence. There is a reason that the Olympics, the World Baseball Classic, and the Rugby World Cup do not lead to the kind of violence that is typical of soccer competitions.

It has to do with how utterly boring soccer is. The Beautiful Game is the Boring Game. The majority of stultifying soccer games are comprised of men running back and forth across a huge field, and failing to score a good, oh, 95% of the time. This goes on for ninety minutes. Russel Shaw of the Huffington Post may have put it best when he argued that it’s hard to be “enthusiastic about a sport where almost every initiative- advancing the ball down the field, attempting a shot on goal – leads to failure. Almost constant failure.” In comparison to baseball, another low-scoring game, “a 1-0 game is likely to have some artistry involved- the pitcher constantly out-thinking the batter by varying the speed and repertoire.” To watch a soccer game, however, is to watch athletes consistently fail.

Because the sport itself is so boring, so devoid of action, of physical contact, of life, it falls upon the hyped-up (and in many cases, liquored up) crowd to enact the action that it failed to witness on the field. The patriotic crowd shows up looking for blood, and ends up with a zero-zero tie. Simply put, it is because the sport is so lifeless, that the crowds are so prone to violence.

Consider, as a counterpoint, the lack of violence among crowds watching more physical sports. Hockey, for example, is a famously violent contact sport. Yet yesterday, during the ferociously intense Stanley Cup finals, there was no reported fan violence. The blood stayed on the ice, where it belonged. NBA Basketball is another action-packed, highly physical game. I was at an NBA playoff game late last month, and there was no violence to be seen. (Though there was plenty of mean-spirited rhetoric hurled at the players on the floor. They didn’t mean what they were shouting at you, Dwight!) The crowd was actually engaged by the sport itself. There was no need for the spectators to channel their aggression at their fellow fans. Soccer fans, on the other hand, are left to enact what they failed to see on the field: action and aggression.

The famed Welsh soccer player Phil Woosnam once remarked, “the rules of soccer are very simple, basically it is this: if it moves, kick it. If it doesn’t move, kick it until it does.” Many in the crowd seem to think that those are the rules for spectators, as well.


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  1. collapse expand

    Soccer is the sport where something almost happens, but it doesn’t have to be. Bring the pitch in. Allow checking. Basically, turn it into hockey on grass.

    • collapse expand

      The logic behind this article is mind-numbingly ignorant and incredibly self absorbed. If you don’t like the game, fine. But don’t let your lack of understanding and appreciation for the sport blind your observations on how millions of others view the game. Give me simple data, trends, research, anything at all that might correlate low scoring soccer games with increased violence, hooliganism, riots, etc. You won’t find any, because none exist…

      And your example of the recent friendly. The riots were due to a non-FIFA match where they were giving away free tickets and essentially oversold the event. Check your facts. Or at least use relevant examples.

      Passion is why things get heated in the stands. It’s as simple as that.

      Your rhetoric regarding soccer’s lack of action and aggression suggests that you’ve never actually played a soccer game past the age of 10. And frankly, that’s ok, but I invite you to spend 45 minutes on Saturday watching England – US. Watch that game and tell me there’s no aggression or action.

      Or not. Maybe you can just sit behind the ol laptop and bang out another misinformed opinion about why someone is doing something.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    JODY DIPERNA: “Basically, turn it into hockey on grass.” Given time and availability and assuming that there isn’t a REAL football game on, I’d rather watch field hockey, lacrosse, rugby, Australian rules football, or even Canadian football or Arena football. Mind, I’m not at all opposed to soccer as sport and exercise, just to the ridiculous notion that it’s SPECTATOR sport. (Although any game involving Brazilians qualifies as performance art, even improvisational theater.) The cult of soccer doesn’t just become an excuse for hooliganism, racism, xenophobia, and irredentist nationalism; such are its very raison d’etre.

  3. collapse expand

    Reading you call soccer boring is just horrible. Plenty of people call my favorite sport baseball boring and that just tells me that they don’t know much about it. I assume the same is true for you and soccer. To connect violence to your implied boredom is also dishonest. This is THE MOST POPULAR sport in the world. That’s why people go nuts and act out, out of passion not boredom. I love True/Slant and generally like your blog but you could not be more wrong about this one.
    We Americans are steriotyped as being clueless about the beautiful game, way to prove the steriotype is still appropriate.

  4. collapse expand

    This article is retarded… don’t you have anything better to do?

  5. collapse expand

    For once, I have to agree with you on something. I too find soccer mind-bogglingly boring. I played it for two miserable years as a child. I got to switch to softball and was much happier. No better as a player mind you, but I was enjoying myself. My wife, who is Greek, loves soccer and my comments about the game tend to echo what Ethan said. We rarely discuss soccer at home. But I live in Toronto which is very multicultural which means soccer insanity by various factions. The next couple of weeks are not going to be pleasant.

    Oh, and tsean is probably correct. Everything that Ethan said is horrible (North) American stereotyping about something the rest of the world adores. But still, bang-on.

  6. collapse expand

    Oh please, the obligatory “soccer is boring” article that gets trotted out every four years by American writers who know jack shit about the sport right before the start of the World Cup.

    In the 70s, yes, soccer was boring. But it has been completely revolutionized in the last 40 years by advancements in medicine, fitness, training, management, and talent scouted and brought in from all over the world. It is played at a tremendous, relentless pace, has moments of tremendous artistry and even beauty, but I wouldn’t expect that to be recognized by someone who clearly mailed in a post of boring soccer-baiting with pathetic, tired arguments that have been written by oh, only about 6000 other American sports writers in the last 30 years. Yawn.

  7. collapse expand

    Brilliant! Boring sports=increased fan violence. This explains the thuggish behavior we’re plagued with at polo matches, clay court tennis tournaments, and dog shows.

  8. collapse expand

    Incredible, almost profound ignorance of what’s happening on the field.

    As an American serviceman currently stationed in Stuttgart, Germany, I can say that your EXACT argument against soccer has been used in favor of soccer and against baseball by Germans who have never actually set foot on a baseball diamond and pass judgement on the sport from what they see on TV.


    As for the fan violence. I have to say, I think it’s cultural more than anything.

    I’ve had the great fortune to travel across Germany with VfB Stuttgart season ticket holding friends.

    We “invade” other stadia with our Stuttgart colors on our backs, singing our songs and sure we get derisive hoots and hollers from opposing fans, but I’ve never once felt that I was in danger.

    Hell, when opposing fans find out I’m an American soccer fan, I often get invited to chit chat with the “enemy” just because American fans are such a rarity here in Germany.

  9. collapse expand

    Nice article. Intriguing thoughts too. And very well written. The theory won´t stand for long though. If boring sports would lead to aggressive spectators, we most surely would see a lot of blood during a chess match. Which I never noticed.

  10. collapse expand

    Couldn’t DISagree more. I think a lot of other sports are boring, because way too many points are scored. Also describing soccerplayers as failing athletes is pretty far from the truth. I’d like to see the author go against any topplayer.

  11. collapse expand

    “Because the sport itself is so boring, so devoid of action, of physical contact, of life,”

    Yes, Zidane’s career ending headbutt didn’t involve physical contact. Eduardo’s bone magically cut through his leg.

    Clearly you know less about physical contact than you think you know about soccer.

  12. collapse expand

    Bart, Jody: Great points, particularly since I said the same thing earlier in the thread!

    Great minds, etc.

  13. collapse expand

    thank you for the post

    which is worse?

    the overseas soccer hooligan crowd, or the domestic SWPL/hipster soccer crowd?

    believe it or not, i think the domestic crowd makes me more sick to my stomach

    and im not 100% sold on the crowd violence point. security at american sporting is taken pretty seriously. just look at what happens when an idiot runs onto the field in an otherwise docile baseball game. and consider the crowds at an MMA event… there isnt a lot of raw tribalism there, but there are more than a few ‘likes to fight’ guys in attendance.

  14. collapse expand

    Although I find soccer boring on television, I think it may lay more on the coverage than the game itself.

    I too, find people who say baseball is boring, as being ignorant of the sport. But when on television, baseball gets very dry. I need to be at the game so I can view the whole field and make my own observations.

    I think the same would happen for me at a big match in soccer. I was able to see Giorgio Chinaglia play while I was in college and I thought this was a much better game than the one I witnessed as a child between the USA vs. Canada match way back in, ahem, 1967.

    Being young may have hampered my attention span, but I also could not follow the strategy.

    As for World Cup, I can only guess that is is like playoff hockey for us fans of the NHL.

    I will try to watch, but really, if it is on the television, will it do justice to the game?

  15. collapse expand

    “Because the sport itself is so boring, so devoid of action, of physical contact…”

    Have you ever watched girls soccer? Probably not. Guy’s soccer is more about finesse and a bit self centered but girl’s soccer is much more violent, in my opinion. It’s not, “I’m going to go out there and make myself look good.” It’s, “I’m going to kick some ass.”

  16. collapse expand

    You know that your theory is simply foolish, ridiculous and has nothing to do with reality, don’t you? I’m European living in US, you know that the whole world laughs at you Americans loving baseball, probably the most boring and idiotic game in the entire universe. You simply don’t know anything about soccer; you don’t understand the beauty of the game. Unfortunately Americans simply are too dumb to understand the concept of soccer as contemporary battle of nations which – undoubtedly – the whole civilized world adores. Just another stupid, ignorant American, who doesn’t know anything about world, who can’t speak any foreign language, who doesn’t understand anything un-American. How typical.

  17. collapse expand

    I think the fact that you said: “I was in South Korea during the last World Cup” just goes to show how dumb you really are.

  18. collapse expand

    You don’t even have to read this idiotic „article”. Just take a look at his dorky face. It says it all. What a moron.

  19. collapse expand

    @bsg76- Thanks for saying what every red-blooded American feels in their genetic code. I can almost hear the American Bald Eagle scream defiantly,”These colors don’t run!!” Which is why in our great panoply of American team sports, running is done so judiciously and just in short bursts.

    And, God, the hipsters… Why can’t they get their heads right? Look around, brother. Common sense can guide you to a happy sports destination. Ballcaps, body armor, long stretch pants: these are the signs of a superior sports environment.

    Scoring- don’t get me started… There should be plenty of positive reinforcement for even the most average player. We don’t want there to be self esteem issues! Any sport needs to allow a half dozen scores per side – minimum. Any less and there’s nothing to do but watch tee shirt slingshots, keep an eye on the miniature blimps overhead and send the kids back to the snack stand with more money.

  20. collapse expand

    It’s not only a “boring” game but one that is for the adle brained. When you consider the fact that innocent babies in Texas are being murdered during this f’ktard game, then maybe it is time to make soccer illegal (f*ck the vuvuzula fatwa, just ban the entire game and maybe humanity will become civilized for a change).


  21. collapse expand

    The Picture you titled with ‘German Hooligans’ just shows your incompetence and ignorance towards soccer and its fans. On this picture i only see some friendly german fans celebrating their country in a peaceful way and a really beautiful woman on the left side of the picture. Does she really look like a ‘violent hooligan’ to you? Stop writing shit about something you don’t like when you know NOTHING about it, Epstein!

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    About Me

    I'm a writer based in Portland, Oregon. My work has appeared in the Weekly Standard, the American Spectator, the New York Press, The Big Money, sp!Ked online, the Epoch Times, the Daily NK, and others. From 2005 to 2007, I wrote a column on culture and politics for the (alas, now defunct) Seattle-based Internationalist Magazine. In so doing, I filed dispatches from Berlin, Seoul, Paris, New York, and, yes, Reno - among other places. In 2009, I reported on business from Shanghai. I attended Reed College, in Portland, Oregon.

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