A few short readings in advance of our final class. Not compulsory, of course!
First, George Vecsey of The New York Times was covering international soccer long before it became cool in this country. He’s sort of a columnist emeritus now, and he recently wrote a nice reminiscence of attending his first World Cup in 1982, which was won by Italy but is best remembered for the brilliant Brazil squad led by a midfielder called Sócrates.
The World Cup should be a blast this summer, but as you’ve no doubt heard, they are behind schedule on stadium construction, and there have been many public protests. Even Péle is getting angry.
A third column, also from the Times, prompts me to put down some thoughts about stadium safety and how it relates to the changing demographics of soccer fan base. This is a guest column by a Italian journalist named Beppe Severgnini, in which the Corriere della Sera columnist describes and condemns the hooliganism that plagues Italian football matches today. Hooliganism is unquestionably a problem there, and I’m in agreement with Severgnini’s prescription to rid stadiums of riot police and barbed wire.
However, I’m struck by several things about his argument. First of all, there’s his sniffy description of “Genny the Swine,” the leader of the Napoli ultras, complete with an unsubstantiated allegation of mob ties (I mean, come on… you can say that about almost anyone in public life in Naples).
Second, notice this passage:
It’s madness, and it’s been going on for 30 years. In 1985, just before the beginning of the European Cup final between Italy’s Juventus and Britain’s Liverpool at the Heysel stadium in Belgium, 39 fans were crushed to death during a stampede. In 1989, 93 fans were killed at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, England. The British government decided it was time to step in with seating-only stadiums and zero tolerance for hooligans. It worked, and the Premier League is now a major money-spinning machine watched all over the world.
The author’s linkage of these two stadium disasters is blithely misleading. The first disaster, at Heysel, was first and foremost an atrocity of fan misbehavior, as well as of operational incompetence. Liverpool’s supporters shouldered most of the blame, and as a result, English clubs were banned from European competition for five years (and Liverpool was banned for six). Here’s video. Continue reading