I May Hate Your Team, But At Least We Can Mingle
This picture of fans at the 2007 Tennessee-Kentucky game struck me as I looked at it again a couple of days ago.
Two sets of fans that pretty much despise each other’s schools sitting right next to each other with no apparent trouble.
We take this for granted.
I used to.
I don’t anymore.
I love three sports more than any other: (1) college football; (2) major league baseball; and (3) professional soccer, especially European club soccer (the professional teams that play in domestic leagues such as the English Premier League). Since college football is moving toward hibernation in a few short weeks, I’ll be watching European soccer fervently from early December through May when most of the domestic seasons end. Then, this summer I’ll watch every World Cup match as I am able (played every fourth year – this June it is in South Africa) before getting pumped again for the renewal of college football.
This love of soccer is a relatively new one compared to my others, having contracted the disease in the early 2000′s. What it has done for me is: (1) learn to appreciate the shear beauty of soccer played at the very highest level (club football in Europe is the top of the mountain, period); and (2) rekindled, and perhaps even increased my love and passion for college football.
One thing that college football and European soccer share like no other sports is the incredible passion of their respective fandoms. The passion in Europe for their teams is simply way off the charts. And that has really moved me.
But one thing you almost never see in European soccer are the two fan groups of visitor and home supporters sitting physically amongst each other as you see in the picture above of Tennessee and Kentucky fans.
Soccer has a long, dark underbelly of intense, horrible fan violence. It still can flare up at matches in Europe, especially in Italy or some countries in Eastern Europe. In England, the violence has virtually been eradicated from within the stadiums, but it still can flare up outside the grounds (what the English call their stadia) as it did in a match this Fall between Millwall and West Ham United.
The long history leading up to the measures implemented in the early 1990s to eradicate the violence within the English stadia is multi-faceted and complex. England met the challenges head-on and succeeded. But the history of violence still casts very long shadows.
Visiting fans usually enter a stadium via a separate entrance that is cordoned off from the home supporters. They sit in a separate part of the stadium where there is no free-flow access between visitor and home supporter (police stationed in the stairways between seating sections). And sometimes after a match ends, the supporters of the visiting club must remain in their section until the stadium empties out before they are allowed to exit so that home and visitor supporters are not milling around in the immediate streets together.
Can you imagine fans of two college football teams not milling about together before or after a game?
So the next time you are at a college football game, maybe the one to be played up at Lexington on Saturday night, played between two long-time bitter rivals, and you find yourself in close proximity to the opposing fan base, perhaps sitting right next to or even among them, consider yourself privileged (or perhaps lucky) that our grand sport can still allow fans to embark in some good old fashioned, clean hatred, but still mingle at the same time.
Don’t take it for granted.