If there is any place in the United States most likely to spawn legions of angry, bitter, European-style soccer hooligans ripped to the gills on Yuengling and setting fire to stuff just for the hell of it, it’s probably Philadelphia.
— Me, almost three years ago (then, in the comment section to that post, some wag humorously predicted that Philly would someday be the site of the first MLS fan fatality).
The time is right to trot out that blast from the past after yesterday’s final Philadelphia Union home game of the club’s inaugural 2010 Major League Soccer season, which took the form of a 2-1 win over the stupidest soda commercial of all time New York Pink Cows Red Bulls.
The reason it’s fitting to bring up is because of the security measures taken by the Union’s management for that game, which were unprecedented in the entire history of sports in Philadelphia. Here’s the Philadelphia Inquirer:
The roughly 400 New York Red Bulls fans who made the trek to PPL Park on Saturday were herded like cattle into the visitors’ section . . . Once they were in, they were there to stay – surrounded and confined in that area by security for the duration . . . They had their own concession stands, their own restrooms, their own smoking area. “These fans hate each other,” noted one Union security guard.
Right now, Philadelphia and New York probably share the most intense — and ugliest — soccer rivalry in the United States, and probably one of the craziest in all sports in the U.S. (although if I had to guess, I’d say it will probably be superseded by Seattle and Portland next year once the Timbers begin playing in MLS).
How the bad blood between Philly and New York escalated so quickly to the point that the Philadelphia Union felt the need to add extra security and keep the entire contingent of RBNY supporters groups physically separated from the rest of the stadium to such an extent that they’d even have segregated concession stands and bathrooms is an interesting story.
Millwall fans in their natural environment, surrounded by cops. From guardian.co.uk.
Long before the Philadelphia Union existed, and well before MLS even announced in February 2008 that the city would get an expansion team, a group of soccer fans from the Philadelphia area decided that if the region was ever to get a local team for them to cheer on, they would have to first demonstrate that a robust fan culture was already in place. So, they created a supporters’ group, the Sons of Ben (SOBs for short, with typical Philly grace), for a team that didn’t even exist and wasn’t even on the drawing board yet. These are the magnificently crazy people who today fill up the entire River End of PPL Park in Chester. One of their regular activities in those early, pre-Union days was heading up to the Meadowlands en masse, where the Red Bulls played back then, and spending the entire game taunting the home team and its fans.
Of course, this didn’t sit well with the long-suffering fans of New York which, despite being one of the original MLS teams that began playing 15 years ago, have yet to win a single title. No MLS Cups (the playoff championship), no Supporters Shields (awarded to the team that finishes first overall in the regular season standings — the equivalent of a league title in Europe), and no U.S. Open Cups (like the English F.A. Cup). The Red Bulls are 0 for 45 in opportunities to win a trophy — actually 0 for 46 if you count their hideous performance in the continent-wide CONCACAF Champions’ League last year. They’re practically in Chicago Cubs territory already.
Someone should keep them away from the vodka.
So, it’s the New York fans who actually became the first to transform into “angry, bitter, European-style soccer hooligans,” although I doubt they’re drinking Yuengling. After years of hearing these weird Philadelphians calling themselves SOBs and pointing out that their non-existent team has won as many championships as their own has, something snapped in Red Bull Nation’s collective mind when the Philadelphia Union played New York for the first time.
As the teams played each other twice over four days in April at the Red Bulls’ home stadium (first for the MLS regular season, then for the U.S. Open Cup) New York fans threw rocks and bottles at a bus carrying Philadelphia fans and managed to shatter one of the windows. So, at the teams’ first meetings, the tension between their fans had already escalated from verbal taunting to physical violence.
Adding insult to injury, this year the Red Bulls were knocked out of the U.S. Open Cup by the USL-2 Harrisburg City Islanders, a Philadelphia Union third tier minor-league affiliate.
Fast-forward to July, when the Union hosted an international friendly match against Scotland’s Celtic F.C., and a group of people from — you guessed it — New York City, decided to light a bunch of flares in support of Celtic in PPL Park near the end of the game.
So it comes as no surprise that, given the history of violence that already exists, said the Daily News, “police and event staff littered the Red Bull area with a keen eye on anything that went beyond insults. Union president Tom Veit felt the need to keep things safe required extra vigilance.
‘”It’s necessary. We have an obligation to our fans to keep it safe and enjoyable,” Veit said. “So with that said, I’d rather have a lot of guys standing around doing nothing, than a few having to do something.”‘
While the source of the violence so far has clearly been from New York fans, I suspect the decision to partition the stadium yesterday was also probably rooted in a desire to prevent any reprisals from Philadelphia fans, who naturally had the New Yorkers heavily outnumbered.
I can only wonder what’ll happen next year.