Among The Thugs

Who Are the Real Soccer Hooligans at Giants Stadium?

Fan hooliganism is practically a tradition among soccer crowds in some countries. In the States, however— at Giants Stadium, at least— fans are saying that cops and security guards are the ones acting like hooligans— and they're making some fans their victims.

The latest clash between these two groups hit a fever pitch two weeks ago during the USA-China women's match, which followed a MetroStars­Tampa Bay Mutiny clash. During the doubleheader there were seven fan ejections, including four arrests, plus several broken seats and one macing. It was the latest development in what many claim to be an ongoing confrontation between stadium security and members of La Doce (loosely translated: "the Twelfth Man"), one of the MetroStars' supporters clubs, which is primarily Latino. Fans say they're discriminated against; security says they're damaging property; and the MetroStars want everyone to be happy so they'll keep coming to games.

Nelson Martinez, the macing victim, was sitting limp in his seat in the La Doce section, according to witnesses, when he was sprayed by New Jersey State Troopers. The troopers say Martinez was guilty of "improper behavior" and asked him to leave. And while he didn't actively resist, Martinez didn't stand up and cooperate either, the witnesses say. Currently embroiled in the racial profiling controversy, troopers at the stadium refused to comment. But according to spokesman Lieutenant Dan Cosgrove, use of pepper spray in the case of passive resistance falls within guidelines. But not everyone feels those guidelines are just. Says witness Joe Farrell, "He wasn't putting up a fight. It was uncalled for."

From the perspective of Richie Ryan, head of stadium security, problems at MetroStars games are "unique to the sport." He adds that at football games there aren't "30 or 40 individuals in an organized group, jumping up and down." He also points out that security has made concessions— allowing normally prohibited horns, drums, and banners— "because of the culture of the sport."

It's a culture that security has little or no experience with, and one that is as varied as the players themselves. Of the 411 players who have been a part of Major League Soccer, 24 percent are immigrant or first-generation Hispanic Americans and 16 percent are African Americans or immigrants from Africa or the Caribbean, for a total of 40 percent, as compared to 47 percent who consider themselves to be "Anglo." MetroStars fans mirror that diversity, and their approach to cheering is as varied.

Three years ago, an isolated end-zone section of the stadium was designated the supporters club section to give boisterous fans more freedom to stand and cheer without bothering those around them: "The red-light district," as Metros GM Charlie Stillitano calls it. This year, a splinter group of the supporters club moved to the opposite end zone. That group was the mostly Hispanic La Doce, who left behind a primarily Anglo Empire Supporters Club (ESC). The dichotomy is quite noticeable, especially for a visiting keeper like Los Angeles's Kevin Hartman, who says he got called "puta" in one net and "wanker" in the other. The groups have one thing in common, though: a history of confrontation with baby-blue-outfitted stadium security guards. "Security started in on us from the very first home game in Metros history," says one ESC member who preferred to remain anonymous.

"Everyone comes with their own sensibilities," says Stillitano. "It's a very difficult job for security to balance those sensibilities." The difficulty has resulted in what La Doce feels is discriminatory attention.

"Of course they think we're picking on them, but we're not," says Ryan, who adds that while he loves the horns and drums, he can do without the broken seats. Last weekend, security was very prominent in La Doce's section (13 within view, at one point), despite the relatively small number of people seated there. Says Ryan of his guards, "They don't stand in the other areas because everybody's sitting there behaving and watching the game and cheering."

Overall, says Ryan, problems are few, and "once we get this group resolved, we'll be fine."

Resolution can't come quick enough for the MetroStars, who want to keep asses in the seats; for security, who don't want those seats broken; and for fans who want to enjoy the game their way and say that if they can't, they'll take their asses elsewhere.

The biggest loser stands to be soccer. Fans of the sport hope the choice isn't between broken seats or empty ones.

 
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