Worse Than a Kick in the Shin

When I played soccer as a kid, I mostly enjoyed it. Didn’t like games more than I disliked the practice, but as I can get rather intensely competitive under the right circumstances, I occasionally had fun even though I played the defense and didn’t like to run. I still hold a grudge against the teammate—the most skilled—who made every practice, but missed every game, and once kicked a soccer ball straight into my face. I remember it as an accident.

Still, it wasn’t until I started watching “Most Shocking”-type show on what was then Court TV that I realized how violent soccer fans could be. At least every few episodes they’d have a video of soccer fans at war and the aftermath. Usually only the number of people sent to the hospital varied, it seemed like every time someone was.

In How Soccer Explains the World, Franklin Foer uses soccer as a metaphor to explain globalization. Before 9/11, globalization was supposed to be the cure-all for the world’s ills, and once it was finished, Earth would be a happy, peaceful place, where no one would go hungry and there would be no violence. One the surface, globalization seemed only for the best in terms of soccer. Soccer teams could not only face off against a larger number of opponents, but fans all over the world could watch games that they never would have had a chance to see before. Soccer clubs could choose players from outside their usual circle and could blend the best of all country’s styles and techniques.

However, even in soccer globalization isn’t always good. In (the former) Yugoslavia, differences are based in ethnicities of the fans, primarily the Serbs and Croats, according to Foer. The fans of Red Star Belgrade have been notoriously violent, and are officially organized into gangs, gangs that have even formed themselves into military, using their former stadium songs into war cries. The intensity of the fans isolated the country from much of the rest of the world—at least soccer-wise, because other international clubs couldn’t trust their players not to get hurt there. Much of the inspiration for these gangs came from foreign influences, including the Russian mafia and American rap. According the Foer, “it was in the Balkans that this subculture became the culture and unfolded toward its logical conclusion.” Because of the instability of Yugoslavia at the time, globalization only brought more violence.

In How Soccer Explains the World, Glasgow’s soccer culture is viewed as much the same way. Previously acrimonious ethnic differences are exacerbated by globalization. While at games, fans sing “We’re up to our knees in Fenian blood,” in their home stadium. Despite globalization, the Catholics and Protestants have divided themselves still through soccer, and fans are murdered when they find themselves in the wrong neighborhood. One of the goals of globalization according to Foer is that old enmities should die off, but because of soccer, fans of each team have an “excuse” to continue the hatred.

Fans there have history to fuel their hatred, even the ability to trace the timeline back to the fifteen hundreds. Even a player who was only technically Catholic, Maurice Johnston was threatened with assassination, and eventually fled to Kansas City. Though he was ex-Catholic, his presence intensified the ethnic hatred in Glasgow. Still, once fans return home, fans must be more careful. They can safely proclaim their political believes in Glasgow, while at home they must be concerned with consequences. Globalization in Glasgow even encourages hatred, instead of lessening it.

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