Hooli­gan is­sue not go­ing away any time soon:

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Richard Sadlier

We were “full-on Paki-bash­ing” boasted one man, re­count­ing his week­end sup­port­ing his team away in Brad­ford. His mate was more con­cerned with show­ing me the scars from his fight with a po­lice­man. I was hav­ing a chat in a pub with peo­ple who would de­scribe them­selves as football sup­port­ers but all they talked about was the feel­ing they get when vi­o­lence breaks out. To them, it was the pri­mary rea­son you’d go to a match.

They looked and dressed ex­actly as you would ex­pect of football hooli­gans. While they spoke about how im­por­tant the club they fol­lowed meant to them, they were obliv­i­ous they were in the com­pany of sev­eral play­ers from that team. To them, sup­port­ing Mill­wall was an ex­pres­sion of some­thing deep and mean­ing­ful. It just didn’t ex­tend to hav­ing any in­ter­est in what hap­pens on the pitch.

Seán Cox, a 53-year-old fa­ther of three from Dun­boyne, is in crit­i­cal con­di­tion in hospi­tal fol­low­ing an un­pro­voked at­tack out­side An­field last Tues­day evening. He had trav­elled to Liver­pool’s Cham­pi­ons League semi-fi­nal first leg tie against Roma with his brother and is in an in­duced coma due to bleed­ing on his brain. Two Roma fans in their 20s have been charged with vi­o­lent dis­or­der and caus­ing griev­ous bod­ily harm.

Liver­pool’s pre­vi­ous Cham­pi­ons League tie was also marred by trou­ble when Manch­ester City’s team bus was pelted with bot­tles and flares as it ap­proached An­field. Thank­fully no in­juries were sus­tained by any play­ers or staff on board, but a re­place­ment bus was re­quired for the jour­ney home.

Why can’t every­one just go to a game to sup­port their team and ap­pre­ci­ate football? How is it pos­si­ble to not make it home after go­ing to a match?

Sol­i­dar­ity

A GoFundMe page has been set up by sup­port­ers to help with Seán’s med­i­cal ex­penses. Cap­tain Jor­dan Hen­der­son re­leased a state­ment say­ing the out­come of his treat­ment was the only re­sult that now mat­tered to him and his team-mates. Jür­gen Klopp wore a Liver­bird badge in the colours of the Ir­ish flag dur­ing his press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day in sup­port of Seán and his fam­ily. Alex Oxlade-Cham­ber­lain said his own dis­ap­point­ments at miss­ing the World Cup through in­jury paled in sig­nif­i­cance to what Seán’s fam­ily must be feel­ing. A jersey from his home­town GAA club, St Peter’s in Dun­boyne, will be hang­ing in the An­field dress­in­groom this af­ter­noon as a mark of sol­i­dar­ity. It will also be brought to the Sta­dio Olimpico for the sec­ond leg on Wed­nes­day.

The re­sponses have been su­perb to some­thing that should never have to be dealt with in sport, but the trick­ier part is to en­sure it won’t hap­pen again. “I ob­vi­ously don’t have the so­lu­tion for it,” said Klopp yes­ter­day, “prob­a­bly no one has that.” Even more com­plex is try­ing to un­der­stand the mind­set of those in­volved. While it’s com­pletely at odds with how we de­scribe the na­ture of fan­dom it­self, it’s a part of the ex­pe­ri­ence that draws a lot of peo­ple in. Sadly, there’s no rea­son to be­lieve it’s go­ing to go away.

The con­ver­sa­tion I al­luded to ear­lier wasn’t the only one I had of its kind. The be­hav­iour the fans spoke about weren’t iso­lated in­ci­dents.

What was alarm­ing to me ini­tially was how they ra­tio­nalised what they were do­ing, see­ing it as a laud­able way of show­ing their sup­port for their team. Like they’d been passed the torch from pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions of the club’s more trou­ble­some sup­port­ers, they fig­ured the stand­ing and rep­u­ta­tion of the area was theirs to main­tain. It was no dif­fer­ent to what you’d usu­ally hear when fans de­scribe be­ing fans, just with vi­o­lence and ag­gres­sion in the place of chants and songs. A lu­di­crous line of think­ing to many but per­fectly rea­son­able to them. They were do­ing their bit, as they saw it, and should be looked up to.

Pres­sure

Ac­cord­ing to some me­dia re­ports, mem­bers of Roma’s Fe­dayn Ul­tra group are un­der­stood to be re­spon­si­ble for the un­pro­voked at­tacks at An­field on Tues­day. Th­ese aren’t fans that got car­ried away or over­did it on drink and drugs, but ones that see vi­o­lence and chaos as ac­cept­able means of sup­port. They’re not fans that over­re­act to things go­ing poorly on the pitch for their team, they’re fans that travel to games with the in­tent to cause in­jury and harm. Pres­sure from de­cent fans or threats of ex­pul­sion from the club them­selves won’t do any­thing to bring about change in how they be­have. They won’t see Seán Cox’s in­juries as a rea­son to de­sist from more trou­ble, as those in­juries are the in­evitable con­se­quences of what they set out to do.

Liver­pool took the un­prece­dented step of re­quest­ing a meet­ing yes­ter­day, ask­ing Uefa, Roma of­fi­cials and the rel­e­vant po­lice au­thor­i­ties to at­tend. Ten­sions around the game have been height­ened given the at­tacks by the Fe­dayn Ul­tras, but the safety of their 5,000 trav­el­ling fans is the club’s con­cern now.

As sick­en­ing as it is to get inside the head of those in­volved, at­tempt­ing to un­der­stand their world is a good place to start. The thug­gery af­fords them a sta­tus among their peers. Se­nior fig­ures who’ve been be­hav­ing like this for decades are revered in their group and they see vi­o­lence as an ex­pres­sion of the strength of their feel­ing for their club. They’re not in­flu­enced by Uefa cam­paigns pro­mot­ing re­spect or good be­hav­iour, and they won’t be swayed by edi­to­ri­als or moral out­rage. And me­dia cov­er­age is a badge of hon­our, all the bet­ter if it’s in­ter­na­tional.

The lines are of­ten hard to draw be­tween ac­cept­able dis­plays of pas­sion and the kinds of things that should get you ejected from the ground. Most peo­ple know that singing songs is more sup­port­ive than caus­ing trou­ble but in the minds of those that do so, there’s no dis­tinc­tion. They con­sider them­selves to be the real fans and they’re not go­ing to change.

As sick­en­ing as it is to get inside the head of those in­volved, at­tempt­ing to un­der­stand their world is a good place to start. The thug­gery af­fords them a sta­tus among their peers

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