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Friday, August 17, 2007

Rumble in Široki Brijeg


As many of you know, I grew up a Red Sox fan and spent many years living in New York. While the crowds at Red Sox - Yankees games could be rough (especially for those of us who root for the Sox in the Bronx), I don't ever recall being involved in a violent incident. Usually, as long as you're not obnoxious, you can get seats wherever you want and stay out of trouble.

It's not like that on this side of the pond. The home team's fans and the visiting team's fans sit in different parts of the stadium, usually with a physical barrier between them. Sports fans here and in Europe are often uncivil (far beyond the cursing that is common today in American stadiums) and things do get violent. That's what happened at last night's soccer game between HaPoel Tel Aviv and Široki Brijeg in Bosnia.

Široki Brijeg is a mostly Croat town in northern Herzegovina. The ethnic make-up of the town probably doesn't matter: the Serbs and the Muslims in the area hate Jews as much as the Croats do. And reading this story, one has to wonder what kind of soccer 'fans' take firecrackers with them to the game. All in all a very ugly situation.

Since I made aliya to Israel in 1991, the only sporting events I have attended outside the United States were Israel Baseball League games (where fans aren't separated by team) and one exhibition basketball game in Vienna a few weeks after I made aliya (they were playing an Israeli team). After reading the story, you will understand why.

For the record, my American friends in London all avoid soccer games there for the same reason.
Hapoel Tel Aviv supporters who were ejected from Thursday night's soccer match against Bosnian side Siroki Brijeg on Thursday after throwing firecrackers blamed the home supporters for provoking the trouble with anti-Semitic chanting.

The referee stopped the UEFA Cup second qualifying round game at the Pecara stadium for some 20 minutes, leading the players off the pitch, before the decision was made to kick out the Hapoel fans.

Hapoel supporter Eyal Heled gave his account of events to Army Radio: "Disturbances broke out when fans in the Bosnian supporters' section started shouting 'Sieg Heil' and making Nazi salutes. One of our fans then threw a firecracker into their section and then the Bosnian security forces rushed in and started hitting us indiscriminately."

However, other Hapoel supporters put the blame squarely at the feet of their fallow fans saying: "They always come to games to get drunk and go wild."

The supporters lit the crackers after a first-half goal by Brazilian midfielder Abedi in Hapoel's 3-0 win.

Things got out of hand when some firecrackers were thrown on to the pitch and at least one landed in the home fans' section of the ground. The firecrackers set light to several seats in the stadium.
If you're wondering where such low class people get the money to travel overseas to games, it's called getting paid in cash (something else I don't do). But that's another story for another time.

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