Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, July 11, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Don’t judge all soccer fans by what happened last week at Sam Boyd Stadium.
And not just fans in Las Vegas — worldwide.
Most, unlike the troublemakers in Las Vegas for an exhibition between Mexican rivals Chivas and America, or a group of fans who stoned to death and dismembered a referee in Brazil, attend games to cheer for their team. They aren’t looking to start a fight and have enough respect for the sport that they don’t storm onto the field. They wave flags, chant songs and blow horns. Their support doesn’t include stomping on an opposing fan's head.
It’s families, youth soccer players, organized fan clubs — supporters who attend for soccer’s awesome pageantry and tradition, taking an active part to root for their team in a responsible manner. While the passion of some often gets aggressive, especially for rivalry or other matches of significance, the end result is mostly good fun.
Make no doubt about it, it’s definitely not what occurred last week in one of the worst black-eyes in our town’s sports history.
A parking lot brawl between fan clubs sent six people to the hospital and set the tone for an ugly night. There were fights in the stands during the game, which eventually spilled onto the pitch when fans stormed the field to prematurely end the game. Then, of course, there were fireworks and liquor bottles illegally brought into the game.
“Overall, the number of fights didn’t surprise us. The brutality did,” said Mike Newcomb, the executive director of the Thomas & Mack Center, which oversees Sam Boyd Stadium.
Still, we have nothing on what happened last week in northern Brazil. When an unruly player threatened a referee and refused to leave the field, the referee produced a knife and stabbed the player. Outraged spectators stormed the field, killing the referee and dismembering his body. His decapitated head was placed on a stake in the middle of the field. Classy, right?
But, just like the incident in Las Vegas, Brazilian officials say it's unfair to paint all fans with the same brush.
“It’s something that’s completely out of the ordinary which took place in an isolated area of the poorest state in the country, an area where violence is very widespread,” said Paulo Storani, a Brazilian security expert and former police officer, to the Associated Press. “While it’s true we are used to soccer violence in Brazil, this is completely off the charts of what we usually see.”
The fans ruining the soccer experience seem to have one thing in common: They live and die with the outcome of a meaningless soccer game. It’s just a game, after all. The one last week in Las Vegas was an exhibition and didn’t affect the standings; the one in Brazil was an amateur match and the referee was 20 years old.
While fan is short for fanatic, and soccer fans appear to be more fanatic than other sports, it’s inaccurate to think they all lack common sense and decency. That’s something I’ve learned thanks to the real soccer fans of Las Vegas — some even suggested not playing last week after the pregame fight.
I walked to the stadium alongside fathers and sons, and groups of families going to the game together — a group of fans that promote Sam Boyd Stadium, and definitely not unruly. They had cameras, wore jerseys and were happy to have a piece of their homeland in their adopted city.
They didn’t want to start a fight or expose their children to that violence. Unfortunately, that’s what the night entailed, overshadowing the action on the field and the experience of attending a professional soccer game.
Other fans reacted via email, disgusted to be stereotyped alongside the others from the culture. They realize soccer is a beautiful game and provides many reasons to be proud. Last week, unfortunately, wasn’t one of those days.
“They should have been detained and held accountable for all damages to morality and the reputation to all good Hispanic working people,” said Jose Rosas, who attended the game. “My most sincere apologies to each and every police officer who was present that day, and all my support against the bad apples to be punished and rejected, no matter nationality, race or color.”
Rosas is right — it was a bunch of bad apples. It’s not the norm.