By | June 28, 2011

In October 2001, the national football teams of France and Algeria faced off in a long-awaited, and (at least in principle) “friendly” international game at the Stade de France in Paris. The event was trumpeted as an opportunity for reconciliation, a symbolic end to the conflict between the two countries, and an opportunity for a French nation increasingly shaped by it’s Algerian immigrant population to find peace within itself. But from the beginning, the match was something else: the stadium was packed with fans of the Algerian team, most of them French citizens of Algerian background. Many booed and whistled not just at the French national team (sparing only Zinedine Zidane), but also — loudly — at the French national anthem.

On the field, France dominated the game, and with the score at 4-1 in the second half, an Algeria fan named Sophia Benlemmane decided she couldn’t let her team lose. She stormed onto the field, holding an Algerian flag. Soon others followed, and within minutes the Stade de France was in the midst of a full-scale pitch invasion. French officials in the stands — including Prime Minister Lionel Jospin — were pelted with bottles, batteries, and coins. The teams were huddled off the field — the French player Lilian Thuram cursing at the fans who had stormed the field, declaring that they were acting stupidly and would confirm all the stereotypes people had of them. The game was stopped, and a football match was rapidly transformed into a national parable.

Soon afterwards, far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen held a press conference in front of the Stade de France. Pointing to it as a place where France’s national anthem had been booed, he declared that he was running for president, largely on a platform that promised to curtail immigration and respond to the threats posed to the country’s national identity by immigrants. For many conservatives, and indeed for many on different sides of the political spectrum, the France-Algeria game had crystallized a set of powerful fears: that Algerians and their children, and more broadly Muslims as a group, were taking over the country, showed no respect for national symbols, and were willing to behave as if they were in their own territory without regards to the laws of the Republic. Many Algerians lamented the behavior of the small group of young people who had taken to the field — who were amongst a much larger group of fans, they insisted, who were just interested in enjoying the game and rooting peacefully for their side. Commentators on the left, including Thuram, also criticized those who stormed the field, but sought to channel the discussion towards the broader social problems of inclusion and marginalization that had driven them to such an act.

I kept thinking about this incident — which I describe in more detail my book Soccer Empire — in the last days as I’ve followed the debates surrounding the Gold Cup final between the U.S. and Mexico that took place on Saturday night. To be sure, the circumstances are very different: Algerians in France have a very different history than Mexicans in the U.S., of course. And football in France is something entirely different than football in the U.S. At the same time, however, there are things about the lurking unease being expressed right now among U.S. fans — including Tim Howard’s criticism of the post-match ceremony taking place in Spanish, and a disturbing account I read this morning by one die-hard U.S. fan, Russell Jordan the head of the Davis, California chapter of the “American Outlaws” fan group, about harassment and disorganization at the Rose Bowl — that remind me a bit of the debates I’ve followed over the years in France.

Jordan’s account describes a situation in which an organized group of U.S. fans were, at times, pelted with bottles, and were surprised to find that rather than having a dedicated area of the stadium were mixed in with fans of the Mexico team. It also describes extremely limited security that seems to have left U.S. fans vulnerable. Hopefully this account will inspire others who were at the game to describe their own experiences, since it would be important to know how widespread such conflicts were. Soccer writer Allicia Ratterree, who was at the match, offers a very different account of the game, describing a little taunting going both directions between fans but a largely safe and congenial event. When I attended a Gold Cup match a few weeks ago in Charlotte, where fans of Mexico, Salvador, Costa Rica and Cuba mixed with those just there to watch a game of international football, I found the atmosphere exuberant and congenial, and friends who went to RFK later had a similar experience — though neither of those events involved a U.S. vs. Mexico match.

I live in Durham and teach at Duke, so I’m pretty familiar with intense and sometimes loathsome fan behavior. I went to the University of Michigan, and witnessed a number of basketball riots, and when was at MSU when a fan of a visiting team was brutally beaten in the streets of East Lansing. And I’ve attended matches in Europe, notably at Paris Saint-Germain, whose fans are notorious and find themselves heavily policed, with away fans penned into a sliver of space in the stadium surrounded by nets and a massive orange fence with spikes at the top of it, protected by lines of police. Which is to say that I’ve seen my share of unpleasant and at times violent fan behavior, and have no sympathy for it. I believe people should be able to go watch a sports match without being hit in the head by bottles, or spat upon.

The bad behavior of certain fans — who are always a minority — can be interpreted in many different ways. The Duke-UNC rivalry has a politics to it, of course — Duke is a private school, most of it’s students from outside North Carolina, while UNC is a larger public university — but those politics are largely subsumed and channeled into various sets of stereotypes and chants. I’ve seen UNC fans who somehow infiltrated the Cameron Crazies bleachers, and I’ve seen a fully-clad Duke fan wandering through the intersection of Franklin and Columbia streets the night of a UNC victory over Duke, in the midst of bonfires, taunting the opposing fans. I’ve never seen any physical violence, though.

What prevents the verbally rude and nasty behavior of fans we tend to accept from skidding into something worse? A combination of security and internal social control. That is one reason why the wise management of football matches in Europe depends on giving organized fan groups a dedicated space of their own, concentrated in one part of the stadium. This has two advantages — it localizes the most intense fans, and it also provides an opportunity for those groups to police themselves. Since fan groups depend on local clubs to give them access to parts of the stadium, and local clubs can refuse them that access or ban certain fans from coming, there’s an external pressure to keep things within the bounds of the acceptable.

In Pasadena on Saturday, there clearly had been no provision for the grouping of fans in particular areas of the stadium, which is one of the things that Jordan complains about. There’s a big question to be asked about why that wasn’t the case — especially since the American Outlaws group seems to have believed they had purchased tickets in a an area reserved for U.S. fans. (At the 2009 final of the Gold Cup, I remember seeing a section of the stadium packed with U.S. fans, so I assume that at times the ticketing has worked differently). But there’s also questions about why there wasn’t more security in general, since in most U.S. sports events people would be ejected pretty fast if they started throwing things. We need to get a better picture of how the whole event was managed, and the organizers of future events need to think hard — and under scrutiny — about how to improve the experience next time around.

This would all be serious enough if it were just a question of bad experiences among fans at a game. But there’s a bigger issue here: all this is unavoidably and inherently political, because of the ways in which it can all be read as a parable. It’s easy for the behavior of some Mexican fans, and the experiences of some U.S. fans, starts to stand in for a much larger set of issues. As was the case in France in 2001, there is clearly a feeling among many who have responded to this situation that there is something unfair about the fact that U.S. fans, and the U.S. team, felt like they were playing an away game in Pasadena.These feelings are compounded by the rather humiliating defeat suffered on the field itself — unlike the Algerians in 2001, the Mexican team took care of business on the field, leaving U.S. fans really demoralized, and some of what has gone on since then is obviously driven by the hurt and disappointment of that experience.

But the event is obviously a perfect opportunity for conservative and nativist commentators, who can easily argue that it proves the immigrants are taking over our society, and show no respect for us or our traditions. That is what happened in France in 2001. It is unlikely to happen in the same way here, simply because most people in the U.S. don’t really know what the Gold Cup is or what happened last Saturday, so it’s symbolic power is attenuated. The Rose Bowl is a little bit sacred, of course — it’s where the U.S. Women’s team won the World Cup in 1999 — but not quite in the same was as the Stade de France. It’s hard to imagine a U.S. politician giving a press conference in front of the Rose Bowl about the need to curb immigration — though, then again, who knows?

Some of this is also about the odd loneliness of the U.S. fan. Even if U.S. fans had been given a dedicated area in the stadium, they would have experienced the game as an away game — it might not have been as bad as being PSG fans in Marseille, but it would have been something along those lines. The reason that is so frustrating, of course, is that it has as much to do with the lack of a U.S. fan base as with the involvement of Mexico fans. After all, there is no real reason why there couldn’t be more U.S. fans at a Gold Cup final, except that there aren’t enough people who made the decision to buy tickets and go.

Part of what’s also going on here is simply a clash of sports cultures. Football games in Mexico, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and well pretty much everywhere are incredibly intense affairs, and frequently small groups of fans who go too far. The techniques for managing this are, of course, not always successful. And that fact tempers attendance: many of my French friends looked at me in disbelief when I told them I went to a PSG match, something they would never consider doing out of fear of ending up in a riot. In the U.S., soccer fandom is something entirely different: MLS games are pretty pleasant overall — more so than many a college basketball of football game — and of course the demographics of the game are different too. Those different expectations and habits don’t run up against each other that often — but during the Gold Cup they definitely do.

As this debate continues, it’s vital to allow things to remain complicated and avoid an easy story. (This is something Maxi Rodriguez has also emphasized in an  recent piece, along with this this post at the FBM blog.) It is the responsibility of any organization that oversees large sporting events to guarantee security to those who attend. Fans who throw things and hurt other people should, in any game anywhere, be expelled from the stadium and possibly arrested. And the long experience of fan conflict in Europe suggests some relatively effective techniques: making sure that fan organizations have access to dedicated areas of the stadium, enter separately, and that zones of contact between fan groups have enough security to prevent incidents.

We’ll be better off, however, if this doesn’t become an easy parable. There is nothing wrong with fans of Mexico — whether they are U.S. citizens, Mexican citizens, or just big fans of Chicharito — going to root for their team. There is nothing wrong with fans of the U.S. rooting for theirs. In the end, if there are more Mexico fans at the Gold Cup final than U.S. fans, that’s nobody’s fault — except for the U.S. fans who weren’t there.

Category: CONCACAF Gold Cup Mexico United States

About Laurent Dubois

I am Professor of Romance Studies and History and the Director of the Forum for Scholars & Publics at Duke University. I founded the Soccer Politics blog in 2009 as part of a course on "World Cup and World Politics" taught at Duke University. I'm currently teaching the course under the title "Soccer Politics" here at Duke. My books include Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France (University of California Press, 2010) and The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer (Basic Books, 2018)

35 thoughts on “Parables

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  4. Erik

    @Ed from VA

    – In response to your question as to why Mexican-Americans cheer for Mexico instead of USA….

    I am 26 y/o, born and raised in the USA and am of Mexican descent. I grew up on the far south side of Chicago during the 1990s. None of the kids I grew up with played, watched, or maybe even knew what the hell soccer was. The neighborhood I grew up in didn’t have a soccer league and I grew up playing baseball, basketball, and football instead. There was no professional soccer league in this country (MLS opened play in 1996) and the USMNT games (except for the 1994 WC) were never shown on television.

    The only exposure I had to the great game of soccer was when I would visit family during the weekends and everyone was watching the Mexican league or national team games. The passion that fans had for these games reminded me of Chicago Bulls’ supporters during the same era.

    I believe that future generations of Mexican-American soccer fans will have more USMNT fans than older generations because the team is better now and has more exposure to these kids. I see it in my own family, younger cousins support the USA while older relatives support Mexico. But in my case and in the case of my generation as a whole, the USMNT was pretty much non-existent during my youth while the Mexican national team was thriving in this country. I support Mexico’s national team because they introduced me to the wonderful game.

    On a side note, I NEVER hear about Brazilian-American fans that support Brazil get any crap about not supporting the USMNT even though they live here. Same for Italian-American fans supporting Italy and German-American fans supporting Germany’s national team. Mexican-Americans are held to a different standard and it has more to do with how we are perceived in this country than with USA supporters wanting us to join their tailgate.

  5. Laurent Dubois Post author

    Thanks for all these intriguing comments! It’s especially interesting to see how so many people present at the game had such different experiences, which certainly highlights the need to be careful about generalizing about any group of fans. It’s also good to hear that so many had good experiences of the game.

  6. domlazz

    I was at that match with my brother and his wife. All of us wearing garish stars and stripes hats, cheering wildly in a sea of green. Never did we feel intimidated. We even mocked their chants when we went up 2-0 (in Spanish no less). At the final whistle, we shook hands with everyone in our row. It doesn’t surprise me to hear that some bad things were happening and fan areas are always a good idea to keep the most rabid supporters in check, but to characterize the situation as out of control is nonsense. I was at Galaxy games in the Rose Bowl that were far worse. In fact, the people that run the UCLA games there could learn a thing or two about controlling access to the tunnels the way they did it at this final.

    I was honestly surprised by this article based on what I experienced that day.

    I will say it’s a shame that US fans were so outnumbered, but that is our shame, not Mexico’s. Maybe next time more of Sam’s Army will show up with chants and songs to push the US on to victory.

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  8. Rich C

    Quick note: I was at the game, I worked in in the futbol fiesta area prior to kickoff and after my job was done I put on my USMNT hoodie and went in to watch the game. I have to state that I am a Latino (of Mexican and Salvadorian parents) American male (disclaimer ha ha). I have been to many US Soccer games in my young life and not once have I been in the majority, unless it was a half full HDC match against Sweden or other friendlies where we could watch second tier national teamers. I felt as safe as usual at this game. In fact, I don’t think I have ever felt that I was in danger while cheering for the USA (in Arizona, Utah, California or San Salvador.)
    I am writing to express my opinions on a few thoughts brought up in this article and the comments that have followed it.
    Before that I want mention that we are all on the same team, as Americans who love soccer, regardless of who we root for, we all want the same thing, the growth of this game in our country.

    1. I wouldn’t be so quick to blame the fans that didn’t show up, those fans likely don’t exist in droves (in L.A.) obiviously because of the population but in large part thanks to the U.S.S.F. as well. The southern California area has come a long way in support of the U.S. Soccer team, the fact that there was pockets of fans supporting our national team in the building was encouraging, I can’t even count how many different teams have hosted the USA in Pasadena. This is going to continually happen because the U.S.S.F. often ignores any southern California venue as a host of important matches, I don’t really blame them, but if you neglect an area the obvious result will be that the population will not respond when you actually do show up .

    2. As referenced in some of the previous posts, I am a disappointment to my Mexican mother for not cheering for El Tri, for not being a guerrero and choosing to be a dark “gringo” instead. My reasoning is that I love this game, I always have and always will and my main concern has always been sharing this love for soccer with those close to me. I personally know Mexican soccer fans who fit the stereotype of drunk, out of control and ignorant at a soccer matches, but guess what those people go to other sporting events and act the same way. I have also been pelted with debris, beer and (guess what that’s not beer) other liquids, as a pre teen at that, for cheering for my country in my country. I don’t mention that to boast, I mention it because events like this make the success of soccer in the USA taste greater, my passion deeper. Saturday was a disappointment in many ways, our team didn’t perform as well as we hoped, they reoccupied the 2nd fiddle role in CONCACAF (probably for a lot longer than we hope), and lovers of American soccer were turned off by it, we lost fans at the game, that stings. But I would be careful when condemning Mexican American soccer fans, after all they have not always been treated the best by our country, heck they were the only ones in the stadium a decade and a half ago. In our own country we are walking into their territory and from their perspective (I will leave this for truly smart people to discuss) we (the USA) have already taken too much from them (Latin America). Don’t be surprised when they don’t let go of their beloved sport. Maybe Saturday was a wake up call, we have a long way to go to become the giants of CONCACAF that we thought we were, and as fans, we can only continue to encourage others to support our team especially in areas like Los Angeles where it’s easier to support other countries.

    Hope your next U.S. Soccer trip to southern California is a better one.

  9. Joe

    The number of mexican to usa fans was at least 10 to 1 in the rose bowl last week, id say at least 90% of those mexicans were extremely obnoxious and absolutely disrespectful, they booed the usa team and national anthem, when a player of ours went down, they called him trash. When one of their’s went down they immediately screamed for a card. Fans of El Tri should be ashamed of how their fellow fans acted during the game, and honestly had ICE been there with a few buses, I guarantee half the crowd would have ran faster than they’ve ever run before.
    I understand that this is a huge rivalry, I love being a part of it, but when your fans are pelted by bottles filled with piss, and your country blatantly disrepected by at least 80000 people, you’d be pissed too.
    (And to the guy that said they say burro, I was there and will confidently say that they said puto, for those of you who don’t know spanish, that means bitch, not manwhore) Had I said anything about chicharito or dos santos I would have been jumped and beaten severely after the game. The officials at the rose bowl did a crappy job, and the USA fans really let down our team and country, in that 93420 people at the game id say at least 88000 were mexico fans, that’s a pathetic showing on our part! Let’s go fans, show you’re fans and get to games!

  10. Joe

    Let’s see, it’s “nativist” or “conservative” for Americans to be upset with a home game where their own team is booed by a chorus of 90K for 90 minutes (by some accounts, even during the Ntl Anthem), the awards ceremony is almost entirely Spanish-centric where there is at least one account that the US players were both confused and humiliated by the display, and there are multiple accounts of harassment and outright violence against US fans that were the extreme minority at the Rose Bowl. Conversely, it’s “cultural pride” for Mexicans, most of which were actually Americans, to engage in the above so as to express their apparently more “acceptable” pride in THEIR heritage? Put more simply, many American commentators these days seem almost paranoid to give off even a sniff of US pride and are almost deferential to the seemingly more “exotic” cultural markings brought in through various immigrating cultures perhaps simply b/c it “different” or it tugs on the right political heartstrings.

    It’s quite weird when you think about it…foreign countries routinely espouse an ugly Americana image of exorbitant American patriotism, yet pretty much the entire rest of the world has far more restrictive immigration laws (almost outright racism in some cases), mandated national languages, and an overall much deeper sense/commitment to cultural preservation. Indeed, I believe Howard’s suggestion would prove to be quite true…if the situation were reversed in Mexico City, there’d likely be a national outcry by Mexico. Really, the same would be true almost anywhere else in the world. But in the US? No, you have to be quiet Americans…don’t complain. It’s rude, racist, xenophobic, etc.

  11. A.S.

    This is an interesting post, but I think rather naive. The implication is that the atmosphere is new and shocking. But in reality, this is how the atmosphere at USA-MEX matches are all the time, in any city where there is a decent sized Mexican population. There is a reason, after all, the USSF plays home qualifiers against MEX in Columbus is February- it’s the only way tp get a pro-USA crowd. In truth It’s not very different than any other team in a city with a large population of opposing teams fans – try going to a “home” game against El Salvador played in DC… It’s mostly Salvadorans.

    What is shocking to American fans is their exposure to typical Latin American soccer behavior. There is a reason they have barbed wire fences around their pitches, after all. I don’t really see much of an issue here.

  12. Sam

    I was at the game in Pasadena and definitely agree that the security was basically non-existant. Our seats were taken by Mexican fans and the security refused to try and get them to move. They told us to just try and find a seat somewhere else. People were crowding into the aisles and just watching from there.

    Our group of 4 squeezed into 2 empty seats that were nearby. We were the only USA fans in that area. Apparantly we were lucky though because the Mexican fans around us were very friendly throughout the game and we never felt threatened or in danger of being injured. There was a lot of good natured teasing back and forth but it was all in good fun.

    We were also there tailgating for several hours before the game and had a great time with no problems. While we walked around the area many Mexican fans would call us over to take pictures with them and have a drink together.

    Seems to me like the unfortunate incidents of bottle throwing, etc were the work of a very small minority of Mexican fans and not representative of their whole fanbase.

  13. Pablo

    I was at the game like many people that have responded. My observations are not too dissimilar. Yes I was showered with beer, yes I was cursed at in Spanish, and yes there were plenty of respectful fans from both sides. Several comments. I was shocked by the Mexican supporters who booed the US national anthem. I understand national pride, but to disrespect the country that provides you with the rights and freedoms the US does, again… Shocked.
    Secondly, I’m pretty sure the Mexican fan knew long before their Semi-final that the their team would make the final. Not so with the USMNT. While watching the semi-final, USA, PAN. I tried to get tickets to a sold out Rose Bowl, that simple fact I believe changed the attendance percentages to some degree (ended up getting scalped tickets at the game). And lastly, what a fantastic game! While I would have preferred to see the USMNT win. It was truly an epic game.

  14. Ed from VA

    I’d like to know the reason why so many mexican-americans choose to support the Mexico MNT rather than the USMNT. I can’t help but think how many young kids at that game would choose to play for Mexico rather for the US a la Giuseppe Rossi.

  15. john

    lmao @ us-mexico or other brilliant international rivalries being compared to duke-unc, two rich white boy colleges. ok man.

  16. Shannon

    I was at the game. I met many friendly Mexican fans. But what I can say is that I did not see American supporters throwing full bottles of beer randomly during the tailgates. I did not see Mexican fans with their head slashed open from having a glass bottle thrown at them. I’m not saying that American fans were perfect by all means, but the outright violence seemed to be coming from the otherside. And when we told security guards, they laughed. Yes, laughed. We tried to tell another one and he said he did not see anything so could not do anything. The Mexican fans around us barely saw any of the game because they were yelling abuses at us the whole time. Again, the majority of Mexican fans were wonderful and fun to banter back and forth with, but this minority were horrendous.

  17. Julie

    I also attended the Gold Cup final in Pasadena, and I will say my experience during the game is much closer to Jordan’s account.

    As I walked across the parking lot to join the AO supporters in Lot H, some Mexican fans yelled me and my friend “Go Home.” We were a little surprised by that, and laughed it off. At the AO tailgate, there were a lot of Mexican fans coming through taking pictures, shaking hands, sharing beers. Kids talking about how supporting the US over Mexico broke their parent’s heart, but America was their home, not Mexico. It seemed that it was going to be a lively crowd, not a dangerous one. My group had traveled from the East coast for the game; we weren’t new to this, at all. All of us had been at the Gold Cup final in 2009 in NY. We stayed together, we didn’t get to drunk, we didn’t egg anyone on, and we didn’t make racist chants. We just wanted a good game, hell, we didn’t even really expect the US to win, Mexico was too good.

    Getting into the stadium was like a mob scene, no lines, just large groups pushing their way through gates in an outdated stadium. CONCACAF got what they wanted, a sold out crowd with the two biggest teams in the league, it couldn’t have turned out better. When we arrived at our sections, my ticket was for the second section that had been set aside for US Supporters, when I looked at it, it was full of Mexican fans. We told security point blank – I wasn’t going to be left alone in that crowd, mostly because I want to be with my friends, the ones I had traveled cross-country.

    Imagine our surprise we are up 2 goals early on in the game, we were happy the 90,000 fans were quiet. Some of my friends missed the second goal because they went to get some water – but the Rose Bowl catering/vendors had already run out of water. Before the US’s second goal, there was no bottled water left in the stadium to be bought. Who planned this thing? I guess the Rose Bowl doesn’t sell as much water in January as they might sell on a hot day in June.

    Mexico scored their first goal, and immediately, the debris started flying. It was not beer cups tossed in the air as celebration – these were bottles pelted at us. All of us got hit by liquid at some point. So what happened next was the most disappointing/horrifying act of the day – security did nothing. The security workers hired to work this event, didn’t move a muscle, didn’t even turn to see where all these bottles were coming, didn’t care. When we asked security to help, they ignored us. By the time the third goal was scored we knew the drill, and my friends would stand behind me and push me to the ground to block the debris from hitting my head.

    So am I shocked or upset by the behavior of a few Mexican fans? No I am shocked by the behavior of every single worker donning CSC shirts at that game, the ones that did nothing to protect us or eject the parties causing issues. As a Revolution fan, I never thought I would so dearly miss the heavy handed tactics that the Gillette stadium TeamOps has so perfected.

  18. FGB

    I’d like to offer my experience as someone who attended the 07 GC final in Chicago, because I’d like to quiet the idea of sour grapes. This type of behavior happened when the US won too, it’s not being overblown by a losing side’s whining supporters.

    I’d estimate that the split in fans was about the same, 4 to 1 or so. I don’t recall if there was segregated seating for Sam’s Army though there was certainly a concentration of US fans behind one goal. Regardless, I was seated in a random seat in the midst of mostly El Tri fans.

    Throughout the game there were bottles (sometimes full), coins, shoes, you name it, thrown around. This included at the US team after they won and circled the field. There was a fellow in our section dressed in a headdress who after the game shouted his predictions about the downfall of America and the triumph of Mexicans as they would soon pour over the border and basically overrun “Americans”.

    BUT while many Mexico fans around me were partaking in the throwing of projectiles, just as many were annoyed at getting hit with stuff, protecting their young children who were just there for a rare chance to watch their ancestral team play soccer. Stuff didn’t really seem to be throw at US fans in particular, it was just thrown. And I saw a lot more arguing amongst Mexico fans than I did between US fans and Mexico fans. The people around us gave us some gentle and not so gentle ribbing, but no one was trying to start a fight with us. When headdress guy was ranting after the game, I saw as many quizzical looks from Mexico fans as American ones, making faces like “what the hell is this nutjob talking about.” In short, I don’t think most of the actions were directed at US fans in particular or born out of animosity toward US fans.

    At the time, I was really taken aback because it was so different to experience that kind of behavior at a sporting event. At a typical “heated” sporting event in the US, like an OSU/Mich game, taunting happens but if an opposing fan threw an object, that’d be considered crossing a serious line. But it was commonplace at the Gold Cup final, few batted an eye, and when I relayed my experiences to some Mexican-American friends of mine, they sort of just shrugged their shoulders and said “yeah? so?”.

    They had a different perception of what was acceptable. Violence was still not ok, but tossing a plastic bottle was not such a big deal. It was basically a difference in custom. I do think it walks much closer to a line of physical violence than if there’s a customary prohibition on throwing things and particularly profane chanting. But as long as that line of physical violence still exists within the Mexico fan community (which it certainly does, we’re not seeing mass rioting and beatings), there’s an argument that the behavior is generally innocuous and a matter of taste more than a indictment of an entire culture.

  19. elliott

    I think there is an element of sour grapes and some racial tension. However, lets not lower our standards by comparison. Better planning and procedures can ensure a fun and safe ambiance for all. Both Mexican and us fans deserve it.

  20. Nelson

    I attended the Gold Cup semi-finals in Houston and had one interesting “political” anecdote to share. Between the two games (after the US, before Mexico), a Mexico supporter walked to the front of each section holding a sign that read (in Spanish): “I’m illegal. So what?” His message was met with nothing more than pointing and eye-rolling by the vastly outnumbered Americans – or should I say USA fans. And, predictably, he was cheered for wildly by Mexican supporters until security confiscated his sign and returned him to his seat.

    This was but one example of the wanton disrespect that I observed all evening. These Mexican fans, the vast majority of which I have to imagine live (legally or not) in the United States, didn’t just support their team. They actively cheered against the United States on a night when they weren’t even their opponent. Obviously there’s a great soccer rivalry here, but here it clearly went beyond the lines of sport. I saw many Mexican/American arguments occur in the stands. Some booing during our anthem. And then the aforementioned sign, which provoked much more than a sports rooted response from both sides.

    Through it all, I couldn’t get beyond the irony of a people flooding into the United States then blatantly disrespecting this country. As you said, this is a complicated issue. And I can only imagine the inequality that so many immigrants (particularly Mexican-Americans) feel. That sentiment certainly shined through at the Gold Cup. This was their chance to not be a minority for a few hours. This was their chance to be heard for once. I get that. But the beauty of sports is that it serves as an escape from the real world. It’s really just a game. And although there’s an opportunity for it to be so much more than that in the world of international soccer, hopefully fans of both teams can maintain some small amount of perspective as this wonderful rivalry continues.

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  22. Laurent Dubois Post author

    Thanks to all for your comments, and to Paula, Mike and Nick for sharing your personal experiences and reflections on this. I think it’s important that these issues, which have been present — and even festering — for a long time are not getting an open and frank airing and debate. I also think we can all agree that, while verbal conflict, ribbing, etc. will always be a part of fandom it’s crucial to avoid any kind of violence, and to maintain the kind of respect and dignity for one another that most fans do want to practice. Soccer rarely offers up much morality clarity, and in fact the frequent ambiguity of fandom is part of what makes it so interesting in the first place. We know that for every defeat there is some past and future victory, and that whatever position we find ourselves in, we’ll be on the other side at some point. So the cherished golden rule should remain in effect, no matter how intense our emotions and sentiments at any given moment.

  23. Anonymous

    To compare mexico vs. usa to a duke game is absurd. The mexican fans threw bottles full of beer and urine at men, women and children, booed the national anthem of the country they live in. I want to make this clear. This wasn’t a minority of Mexican fans acting out while the majority condemned it. It was 25% acting out while the other 50% condoned the actions and the other 25% just turned a blind eye.
    Let me be clear, many American’s of mexican descent support the american team and not everyone cheering on mexico was of the mexican background.
    I’m sorry that the truth doesn’t sit well with many people, and makes for a story that unfortunately preys on many ameri
    can’s fears, but let’s be real. The truth is scary. This was about WAY more than football. This was moment when individuals took action, acting on anger towards the united states and made a celebration out of it

  24. Marc from Durham

    A couple points here. 1) It’s the biggest rivalry in CONCACAF…why does the actions of certain groups of fans surprise anyone? Honestly, the fact that our boys were taking their lumps by getting pelted with coins and beers just reaffirms our status as being a legitimate threat to a soccercentric regional power like Mexico and a legitimate support group (even if that group is %2 of the general public).

    2) Dear America fan, just because you are the minority, don’t forget the reason you are an American. July 4th is coming up. Independence day. Our people fought for their independence as a minority: they were outnumbered and won. So, the next time you enter the Rose Bowl to face Mexico and see that you are outnumbered 4 to 1 (and it will happen again), grow a sack and shout it out loud. I’m a 4th generation Boston sports fan and long time USA supporter, and I’ll be damned if I let Yankee fan shut me up in the Bronx.

    3) El Tri is Mexico’s flagship athletic group of any sport. By far the national darling of the Mexican people. When they knock, people of Mexican decent answer (whether MEX or USU citizenship). They sold out Reliant Stadium, Cowboy Stadium, and another huge arena because of one reason: their vast fan base see spending $50-$150 of their hard earned money for a single ticket to be a major investment in not only their social and intrinsic well-being, but also to the well-being of their dear El Tri. The large majority of the USA do not identify with this urge. We all know this and I’m not sure why we don’t acknowledge this. Yes, membership to the American Outlaws is growing, and yes, the informed soccer fan base in the USA is growing, but total all-encompassing devotion takes years and generations to build (not to mention several less pro sports to devote yourself to).

    4) Do you really want a Gold Cup in Mexico to see if something different would happen?………REALLY?
    and 5) I live in Durham, and just because you teach at Duke doesn’t mean you are smart at all (I’m a proud graduate of North Carolina Central University just 2 minutes away from Duke). With that being said, I do agree with a majority of what our newly-dubbed “online soccer pundit” has said, even if he is a Dukie, lol. 🙂 . Racism plays a large part in it. Just like NCCUs (an HBCU)relationship with Duke, there is an invisible barrier cast by the majority of the Duke community between them and my school. And it has a great deal to do with past events, status quo, and a failure to experience each others cultures. But it isn’t any more complicated than that.

    Its actually very simple: we have a rivalry and there are many more El Tri supporters than American Outlaws. Patience people, USA will get there. All us soccer fans found the beautiful game and so will more Americans (I’m responsible for all of my friends and family setting their DVRs to record the EPL and MLS and USM/WNT.

    So, let’s fight this good fight USA fans, even though we are outnumbered….its what this great country was founded on.

  25. Nick from MN

    I think there’s a few things at play here:
    1) The Mexican fan base as a whole is being blamed for the appalling actions of a few; those few should be dealt with accordingly but the rest should not be punished or subjected to racisit comments. I’ve heard tales of sharing BBQ and jovial taunting but only in good fun which is what this game and this event should’ve been about.
    2) The American fan base is not as innocent or as morally superior as a select few will have you believe.
    3) Shame on CONCACAF, USSF, FMF, LAPD, and the Rose Bowl staff – you should’ve known and planned better. Even though LA is in the US, ticket packages/grouping should’ve been set up the way most EPL Teams deal with away fans; give them their own section to buy tickets in. Sure it sucks that our home games are in effect away games, but it is what it is at this point and we need to accept it. PLUS it’s not like they didn’t know this was possible, see every game the US has played in Estadio Azteca since the beginning of time.
    4) Respect between the two sets of soccer fans…this one gets a bit dicey due to the racial and political undertones that permeate the rivalry and any casual interactions of the two sets of fans. However, US and Mexican fans need to police themselves as do the Federations. The FMF, to my knowledge, has never offered an apology for the “Osama, Osama” chants that the US players endured in a 2004 Olympic Qualifier (U-23 teams, not the full senior teams, mind you) game between the two ( Our two countries have an up and down history, but that doesn’t excuse hatred on this level.

  26. Dave

    I agree with you that US fans have only themselves to blame if they are outnumbered by Mexican fans. However, that doesn’t give Mexican fans–or American fans, or fans of any team–to act in an inappropriate manner, and there is evidence to suggest that this did indeed happen. In fact, “inappropriate” is putting it lightly considering some of the accusations.

    Obviously these few thugs who misbehave don’t represent the Mexican fan base as a whole, but to sum up your article by concluding that the blame lies with American fans not attending in large enough numbers–instead of with unruly opposing fans and poor security–seems pretty off base.

  27. Alebrije

    @Chris… what all the Mexican fans yell, and this started in the Mexican “clasicos”, is “BURRO”…

  28. Mike

    In reading this, my experiences for the 2009 and 2011 Gold Cups come to mind.

    I live in the New York City area, so I was one of the 10,000 or so people rooting for the United States in the sold out, 80,000 seat Giants Stadium. My friend and I wore our USMNT jerseys and walked through the parking lot to what I considered to be friendly taunting by a number of people wearing Mexican team jerseys. It was no different for me when I wear my Buffalo Bills jersey at that same stadium during a Jets game. What was interesting though, is after I gave them a smile and defended the honor of my country in amicable way, a number of them came up to me and said, sheepishly, “I’ve lived in this country for more than ten years and root for the US when they are playing other countries,” or “I consider myself an American but was born in Mexico,” etc. At my seats, surrounded by only one or two US fans in a sea of green, I felt a similar vibe. There seemed to be a recreation of the Mexican futbol experience in Giants Stadium, without the real violence part (vuvuzelas, “puto” chants, etc.). I found the Mexican fans to be nice, appropriately chauvinistic, and actually glad to be in the country. The only thing I hated was the 5-0 scoreline. That was the good side of things.

    In 2011, I saw the game in Nevada Smith’s, a bar which seems to have an international reputation of being one of the best places to watch a soccer match in New York. It also appears to be one of the rare places on earth where teams of bitter rivals can watch a match there together with no problems. I’ve seen Chelsea-Man U, El Classico, and other hotly contested fixtures there with packed crowds and no problems many times. For the Gold Cup, it was 1/3 Mexico, 2/3 U.S. fans. If anything, it was my fellow Americans who were rude during the respective national anthems, as my side booed the Mexican song and most of the bar seemed to be singing ours. The fans gave each other chants, but it was all fun and respectful.

    So I get to the part that bothered me. There was a Mexican-American women that I started talking to. She was wearing the El Tri jersey. She was born and grew up in Southern California. She considered herself an American. No accent at all. As far as I knew she had barely spent any time in Mexico. Yet she was not rooting for the United States. Why this was she did not sufficiently explain to me, but it is common in the soccer culture. My best friend from high school, who spent two years of his life in Argentina and the rest of it living in the U.S., will always root for the country of his birth instead of the country where he lives. “Hey man, soccer is the only thing Argentina is good at,” he laughs.

    What seems to be that is unique in the U.S. soccer culture is that Americans don’t support their own team. There are millions who watch it, but only thousands to care about MLS. There are people who consider themselves Americans who own Messi Argentina jerseys, and not USMNT Dempsey ones. To me, this is maddening. It touches upon your “lonely” comment. On one hand, it is cool to be a fan of a sport that few people care about. On the other, it annoys me when people who should be US fans are not.

    So let me say this, I doubt that 90,000 people drove up from Mexico to go see that Gold Cup match. Almost all of those people live in the U.S. and probably consider themselves Americans. The question is, when it comes to the game, is not when U.S. fans buy tickets to tournaments but when will the U.S. fans who do actually root for the United States?

    After the 2011 match, I stuck around to be depressed and finish my beer. I had to walk through a bunch of Mexican fans celebrating to get to the bathroom. A couple gave me some crap. I kissed by U.S. badge. The same guy said, “hey man, it’s OK” and shook my hand.

    It’s different here, in the U.S. It’s 99% good. It’s a global sport in this country. That’s why I like it. But I do wish more people in the U.S. rooted for the national team.

  29. Chris

    Sachin is right on. I mean, the (Mexican) fans, in unison, call the opposing goalkeeper a manwhore (“puto”) every time he takes a goal kick. What wonderful people.

  30. Sean

    You wouldn’t have written this article if the Americans had won the game. Period, end of story.

    I’m a big US soccer supporter but the whole situation reeks of racism. Just because the ceremony was in Spanish? Get over it Howard. They won the game. And how does he know if they wouldn’t do the ceremony in English in Mexico City? The Gold Cup final has always been in the US. I saw nothing wrong with doing the ceremony in the language of the winning team & 80% of the people in the stands. And there was SOME English, contrary to Howard’s assertions.

    As for fan behavior…again, it reeks of racism & sour grapes. To be frank, there was a lot worse fan behavior just earlier this year in Los Angeles as a Giants/Dodgers game on Opening Day. There should be better security, it seems, at ALL sporting events in Los Angeles. To point the blame at “Mexican soccer fans” is sad and disappointing.

    The bottom line is….U.S. soccer, and the fans, are mad because our boys got embarrassed. I wasn’t very happy either 3,000 miles away watching the game on television. Mexico was far superior.

    But if the U.S. holds on to win….Howard doesn’t complain…which means the fans don’t complain about the Mexican fans….which means you don’t write this article.

    And to compare it to the France/Algeria game…uhhh what?? I thought you went to Duke, which would imply some level of intelligence and perspective. The events of that game and the Mexico/US game aren’t even in the same universe.

  31. Paula

    Oh, and obviously the undercurrent of the insecurity of the American footy fans in regards to the rest of the world is only compounded by the fact that their non-footy-fan fellow Americans deride them for liking soccer at all. In that sense, they also see themselves as a kind of minority, but I think that effect is largely receding as a result of the massive media exposure international soccer has gotten lately.

  32. Paula

    I’m a new fan of footy and sports fandom in general confuses me. I think drunk people who talk too loudly are a nuisance, and as such I am probably not the best qualified person to judge acceptable fan behavior …

    So that bleeds into my general agreement with the idea that sports identity — particularly in football — is a tribal identity and is often ripe with potential for bigotry and violence. USA-Mexico is not quite Celtics-Rangers, but as long as immigration is a hot button issue the rivalry is going to touch on the worst aspects of American ignorance of the subject and Latinos’ anger over American ignorance and, yes, racism.

    Let it be said, though, that it’s not just a matter of generalized “patriotic pride” that drives American soccer fans to be angry at people (ostensibly American citizens) who want to cheer for the visiting team within the United States. It’s an ongoing low-level panic about “how to grow soccer in this country”, which this post and the post previous touch upon. The “loneliness of the US soccer fan” is party due to the idea that advancement of US Soccer on the international stage is caught between a rock and a hard place. US fans feel that not only the athletes but the fans themselves are dismissed as not being part of the world of football. For them, the US needs more quality US players to come up in the system in order to win matches and tournaments and make an impression in the international stage. Unfortunately, it becomes a cycle in which our lack of depth prevents us from becoming good enough to win consistently, which means that in a winning-obsessed, over-saturated sports landscape like the US, US Soccer is still marginalized by audiences and (in the mind of the fan at least) cannot attract the best players to get out of the rut.

    So when US soccer fans participate in fan activities surrounding the US men’s national team in particular, it’s not just a “national pride” thing. It’s also a confirmation of solidarity to each other and their conceived “rightful” place among other football fans in the world.

    Thus, US soccer fans become extremely irate when people who support other teams not only deride the team but deny “membership” in the international soccer fandom to Americans. When they “see” other Americans boo the “American national team”, it seems to confirm their invisibility that much more. Mexico’s regional proximity, the number of Mexican immigrants in the US, as well as the quality of their football team, is the country that is the most likely to push all of these buttons for American soccer fans.

    The problem is that the for a lot of minority population within the US, Spanish speaking or not, the soccer pitch is a place where they are no longer the “minority” against what they perceive as the hegemonic American identity and its attendant racism/ethnocentrism. Thus, there are 2 identities being formed and confirmed in the space of the American soccer pitch.

    So … yeah. This begins to look like most bitter political/cultural rivalries sublimated on and around the pitch. People organizing for any future USA-Mexico matches have many models to follow, all of which involve strict crowd control and massive security. I hate that this is what it comes down to, but I’m also tired of people speaking like there’s a greater moral imperative for Americans to be better behaved than most football fans around the world just because they’re inclined to be “internationalist” by their footy fandom. In some instances, like club football, maybe — but the American national team fan has the potential to behave as boorishly as any other national team fan when confronted with opposition. It seems entirely human and predictable within soccer fandom.

    However, we should be less sensitive about the darned anthem-booing. The Welsh booed their way through “God Save the Queen” in a recent Euro qualifier against the English NT. My roommate was appalled, but as far as I can tell, the English players and fans present did not blink an eye.

  33. Laurent Dubois Post author

    Thanks for your comment, and for giving me a new moniker: “touchline pundit,” a role to which I have long aspired. : )

    I don’t think I ignored the basic issue, which is the behavior of what all accounts suggest were a small group of unpleasant fans who, as I suggest, should have been stopped and ejected from the game. I share your desire to see little kids and their families in Altidore shirts, or else in Chicharito shirts, according to their whims and affinities, free from projectiles. But let’s make sure the discussion focuses on the specificity of that common goal, rather than on generalizations about any larger group of fans.

  34. Sachin

    Sigh. Once again, another touchline pundit neglects the incidents that touch off this discussion: the abominable behavior of a rather large contingent of Mexican fans. After all, it’s not the U.S. support that is throwing beer, coins and other stuff at opposing fans. American fans aren’t booing the Mexican national anthem. And yet, it is American fans who are being condemned and the actions of these particular Mexican fans ignored at best and usually tacitly endorsed as part of a greater racism narrative.

    You are right that this issue needs discussion, but the first step is to provide a safe and secure environment for all fans to watch the game, free to cheer for either side (or the referee!). Then we can get past the holligans and celebrate the increasingly common sight of mom and dad wearing the old country jersey while the kids rock Donovan and Altidore shirts.

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