Soccer has never been considered a major sport in the United States. The soccer scene in Europe, however, is a cultural phenomenon, one where people go out to bars and pubs and socialize with friends, family or coworkers, all while watching the game. European soccer fans sing, dance and stand for the entire match, expending energy at an incredible rate. Meanwhile, American soccer fans prefer to be spectators while relaxing in a “sedentary” state.
The joy experienced from being part of a heaving mass of humanity at a soccer match cannot compare with the peace gained sitting for hours on end. My friends and I visited Paris during the 2010 World Cup. Little did we know that we would have a strong cultural experience by ending up in the middle of a soccer riot. After Portugal tied Brazil in the final round of the group play stage, it was determined that Portugal’s next match in the round of 16 would be against the eventual World Cup champion, Spain.
On our first night, my friends and I took a walk towards the Arc de Triomphe, a monument to Napoleon and his victories. We walked past the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and eventually found ourselves on Avenue des Champs-Élysées, walking towards the giant monument in front of us. After a few minutes of walking, some Portugal fans ran past us, carrying the Portuguese flag around their back. They were running towards a massive mob of other Portuguese fans, all celebrating that their team advanced out of group play.
The pictures that I took this night show how crazy these soccer fans can be when national pride is on the line.
Next thing we knew, we were caught right in the middle of these crazy soccer fans dancing around, singing and yelling words that I had no clue what they were or what they meant. On the other side of the street, the Spain fans were doing the same thing: jumping, dancing and celebrating the fact that their team had advanced. After a few minutes, the celebration turned ugly. First, fans ran up to cars driving on the street and wave their respective flag in the cars window, until someone got offended when the other country’s fans went up to the same car as them. Meanwhile, some buses packed with tourists were driving by. At first, it started innocent, with the fans waving their flags at the buses and pounding on the sides. However, with traffic picking up, and the fans getting more rowdy, they attempted to tip over the buses onto the other side’s fans. Luckily, the buses were able to drive away in time to avoid being tipped over.
After getting in the way of cars, tipping buses, burning each others flags and a couple of brawls, the riot police came to keep the fans separated. My friends and I, since we’re all journalism majors, had been taking pictures this entire time, and continued to do so when the riot police came, so we could show proof to our friends and family back home that we really did get caught up in a soccer riot while in Europe. One of the police officers caught my friend taking a picture of him, and came over to make my friend delete the picture. After the police got there, the fans started to settle down, but it was an experience that truly showed how crazy some European soccer fans can be.
Just a side note: Spain defeated Portugal 1-0.
Riots from crazy sports fans have happened before, with fans lighting stuff on fire, destroying houses and cars, but experiencing a riot first hand is far more frightening than just watching videos.
Some Americans also enjoyed the game in Europe, but not as much as the Europeans. Fifa set up a Fan Fest, and aired the World Cup games in six cities in the world, including Paris and Rome. In the United States, fans took motivation from the fan fest and their peers across the Atlantic and followed the team as the tournament progressed, but still not to the same degree as in Europe.