Monday, January 10, 2005

Power Line has a piece on European soccer. The Italian soccer star Paolo di Cinio of the Roman team Lazio gave a fascist salute to a cheering crowd last weekend after scoring a goal. Di Cinio is well-known as a Fascist; he openly says he is one. This is apparently not that unusual in Italy, where Mussolini's granddaughter is in Parliament; I am sure that giving the Fascist salute is not illegal, but is almost certainly against the rules of the Italian league. I would hit the guy with a long suspension and a major fine if I were the league president.

Power Line, I think, understimates the racist and radical elements that are part of European soccer. Virtually every team in Spain has a band--a street gang, basically--of extremist supporters; Barcelona has the Boixos Nois, Espanyol the Brigadas Blanquiazules, Real Madrid the Ultras Sur, and Atlético Madrid the Frente Atlético, just for example. The last bits of extreme violence I remember were at (I think) a Celta-Compostela second division game where somebody got stabbed and badly hurt, and before that, a couple of years ago, some Frente Atlético guys killed a Real Sociedad fan outside Atlético's stadium.

These bands of extremists are normally made up of skinheads and fascists, though among the Sevilla crowd they're radical leftists--I believe Sevilla's crowd is the only active hooligan squad on the left, not counting the Athletic Bilbao thugs, who are pro-ETA. The Sevilla crowd beat the living shit of a stadium security guard a couple of years ago; it was all filmed and shown later on TV. Barça's crowd, contrary to popular belief, is just as fascist and racist as any other gang of hooligans. The shameful thing is that these crowds of extremist supporters are normally allowed into the stadium free and even recieve subsidies from the clubs, since they're the loudest and most fanatical fans. Several years ago one of the Boixos Nois leaders died of a drug overdose--this guy had a police record as long as my, uh, arm--and they held a minute of silence for him in the stadium. Supposedly the Joan Laporta regime at Barcelona is doing something about this, but whatever's being done isn't nearly enough.

Every soccer crowd in Spain has racist elements, largely but not exclusively the work of the skinhead hooligans. What they do is make "uuh-uuh-uuh" monkey noises whenever a black player on the other team gets the ball, and they scream "macaco" and "mono" (Spanish for monkey). Occasionally the odd banana is thrown on the field. Barcelona's crowd is notorious for baiting Real Madrid's Brazilian player, Roberto Carlos; several years ago somebody hit him in the head with a cigarette lighter thrown from the stands in the Camp Nou, and he dropped like he was shot. Madrid's crowd is, in turn, known for baiting Barcelona's Brazilian star, Ronaldinho. Back a few years ago Barça had a black player named Giovanni; they treated him so mercilessly in the Santiago Bernabeu that when he scored he flipped off the crowd in triumph and bought himself a suspension. He still probably thinks it was worth it. I certainly do.

The most recent European scandal was a couple of months ago, when at a Spain-England international allegedly friendly match at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid the crowd pulled this racist crap before international cameras and made Spain's football fans look like a gang of fascist thugs, since the non-hooligan part of the crowd got into it big-time, too. This was right after Spain's national coach, Luis Aragonés, referred to Thierry Henry as "un negro de mierda", which was generally translated as "a black shit" and what I would translate, slightly more idiomatically, as "a fuckin' nigger".

Clearly Spain has a long way to go. The very first thing they have to do is ban all those thugs from the stadiums. They should be able to sell those seats (the gangs usually occupy one particular part of the stadium) to the general public with some decent marketing; if you can't get the fans out to see great players like Ronaldinho and Deco, you've got problems. Banning the hooligans would clean up the atmosphere no end. It's worked in England. And in the US we have nothing similar; the Oakland Raiders' fans are a bunch of fat drunk guys in makeup pretending they're tough, and that's about as extreme as it gets for organized sports thuggery.

As far as the sports side of soccer news goes, Real Madrid stomped Atlético last night 3-0 and Villarreal cleaned up the pitch with Barça by the same score. Barça had probably its worst game of the season; let's just hope their mediocre play was the result of their having the last couple of weeks off and not the result of these guys all running their legs off. Riquelme and Forlan had great games for the "yellow submarine", as Villarreal is called because of its yellow shirts. Barcelona is down to 14 first-team players. Supposedly they want to sign a forward and a midfielder, but they don't like what's on the market right now. Besitkas wants five million for Carew and I might actually give them that, since Carew's pretty good and still young. He's no superstar, but he can fill in adequately at center-forward, spelling Etoo or allowing him to move to one of the wings, until Larsson gets back, and he can then compete with the aging Larsson for the spot as Etoo's backup, most likely successfully. Not that I don't like Larsson, but Carew's a guy who still has an upside to his career and might stick around for a while, while Larsson is like 33 and is out for the rest of the season with a busted ligament. Barcelona is still in first place with a seven-point lead over Real Madrid.

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