Scenes such as those witnessed Saturday in England continue to baffle the average American sports fan, who fails to understand the passions that soccer arouses in its followers in Europe and Latin America.
Why would tens of thousands of fans go to almost any lengths to be present when their team plays? Why do they sing in the stadiums? Why do they sometimes riot? The reasons are many, but three stand out:-The first is tradition and continuity. Teams such as Liverpool date their existence back a century or more. They have played in the same city - and in many cases on the same field - for decades. Historic rivalries have developed and been nurtured over the years.
Adding to this is the fact that many teams rely on home-grown talent, discovering local schoolboy players and gradually bringing them through the ranks of youth and reserve teams until they finally break into the senior team.
As a result, the community identifies much more closely with its local team than fans do in the United States. How well or how badly the team does is reflected in the entire spirit of the community.
-The second ingredient is nationalism. No matter how many negative connotations the word may have, nationalism is a vital factor in the development of crowd participation.
This is fostered in Europe and Latin America by the existence of various continental competitions such as the European Cup or the Copa Libertadores. Add in the quadrennial World Cup, the Olympic soccer tournament and other international events, and the pot is kept constantly boiling.
-The third ingredient has to do with both economics and alternative forms of entertainment.
Liverpool, for example, is a blue-collar, economically depressed port city with few luxuries. Soccer is THE spectator sport, and entire lives are built around the 90 minutes of magic that the team provides on Saturdays.
Whatever else may be happening in the lives of its supporters, the team's performance in domestic and international competition lifts, at least temporarily, the gloom of everyday existence.
Tragedies such as Saturday's have occurred in the past and will no doubt occur again. The game has survived them before, and it will do so now. Anyone who doubts that need only try to get a ticket to the replay of Saturday's abandoned match.