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Russell Berrisford

Russell Berrisford

Russell’s support of Derby County eventually led him to leave the country. He has lived in Canada since 2007 and currently writes about soccer for The Vancouver Sun.


TANGENTS

Mind Your Language

Written by on June 28, 2011 | 13 Comments »
Posted in General, MLS

Many of you will have seen the recent controversy over the ejection of a group of New England Revolution supporters for persisting with the “You suck, asshole!” chant whenever an opposing keeper takes a goal kick.

For the fans involved the real issue is the overbearing way that those ejections were handled by the security staff at the stadium, but for the rest of us it raises the interesting question of what type of language and behaviour is acceptable at a soccer game in North America.

Anybody who has attended a match at any level in Europe (or even watched one on TV) will know that the use of profanity is both endemic and accepted for both the fans and the players.

So does MLS embrace this aspect of the sport or does it try to tailor what it sells to a more family oriented market? At the moment it seems caught between a rock and a hard place.

It is all too keen to use clips of the various supporters groups when promoting the atmosphere and excitement of attending a game, but is then quick to shy away once these same supporters push the boundaries of what is perceived as acceptable behaviour.

Now I am shocked, shocked I tell you, that there is profanity used at any sporting event in North America but soccer is still held to a different standard than the other major sports.

The assumption persists that fans of the beautiful game are always poised on the verge of  a breakdown in civil order and must be watched closer than those of other sports (does anybody doubt that if 100,000 soccer fans had gathered in downtown Vancouver the police presence would have been substantially higher than that seen for the recent NHL Stanley Cup games?).

Major League Soccer is now at a fork in the road where it has to choose what it wants to be in ten years time; does it want to be a “family safe” environment that parents can safely take their offspring to but one that fails to capture the imagination of those children who find that they prefer the raucous atmosphere of an NFL or NBA game, or does it become a sport that captivates first time attendees, both young and old, through its passion and it’s energy?

“You suck, asshole!” is a juvenile and lame chant, and nobody wants a whole stadium hurling a constant barrage of profanities from the first whistle to the last, but watching sport is partly about stepping outside the norms of society for a brief period of time and learning that different contexts permit different behaviour.

That, in itself, is a pretty valuable lesson for any child to be taught..

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13 responses to “Mind Your Language”

  1. tim says:

    i attend Columbus Crew matches and “you suck asshole” is chanted everytime… i think it happens at most MLS matches…so does this stuff not happen at MLB or NFL games????

  2. Russell Berrisford says:

    Tim- I think it probably doesn’t happen in such a co-ordinated way at those games.

  3. TomL says:

    Forget the children. I (a 60+ adult) would not attend an event where large numbers of spectators shouting profanities is considered acceptable behavior. I only rarely hear profanity of any kind at MLB or NHL games (haven’t been to an NFL game in ages), and if a fan persists in shouting such things that a large number of people can hear, they are usually given a choice by the ushers – hold it down or leave. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the way it ought to be.

    I’ve never understood the attitude that behavior that would be unacceptable when walking down the street (and would likely get you arrested) is perfectly fine, or even to be encouraged, when one attends a sporting event. If MLS thinks that such behavior will attract more fans, I suspect they are very wrong. Unless they want their fan base to be loutish yobs.

  4. sucka99 says:

    I think that, much like at the newer stadia in England, the atmosphere at the newer stadiums in the US for NFL and MLB games has been affected by pricing out the loud fans. Everyone knows how vile the fans at Cleveland Browns games, NY Yankees games, or Philadelphia Eagles games traditionally could be. Add to that the raucous student sections at many college football and basketball games – all of those just as coordinated as anything in soccer.

    I think MLS is definitely being careful about managing their brand so that people and the mainstream sports media don’t lazily try to link MLS games’ atmospheres to riots in Buenos Aires or Sicily or Belgrade.

  5. Russell Berrisford says:

    Sucka99- Yes I think MLS is very wary of being linked to hooligansim in a way that other North American sports wouldn’t be.

  6. Nathan says:

    I agree with a previous comment stating that much of the raucousness has been priced out of the likes of the NBA, NFL, and the top MLB teams. With that said, I have been to numerous Washington Redskins (NFL) and Washington Nationals (MLB) games where there is an above average level of cursing, there just isn’t the level of camaraderie to get it very organized.

    College sports (particularly basketball and football) are the vessel of creative phrases based on four letter words. These MLS stadium managers/ushers would be appalled at the creativity and obscenity used by college students to distract the opposing team. It is part of what makes it an amazing environment for home fans and makes it extremely difficult for opposing teams to visit schools like LSU, Alabama, UF, Ohio State, USC, and WVU. MLS needs to accept this behavior.

    I believe any sport environment where alcohol is served should be a warning for parents and those who prefer political correctness. MLS needs to embrace the atmosphere while guaranteeing safety to maximize the environment that has made soccer the most popular sport in the world.

  7. Gus Keri says:

    I hate this chant.

    In the Red Bull Arena, it started at the south end. But now, you can hear it coming from every direction.

    At one time, a youth team (something like U-12) was sitting behind me and I could hear the coach trying to tell them to keep it polite but there was no hope. The kids loved it and kept it going.

    It’s not like the kids have never heard it before. They hear worse at the school grounds and in the parks, and for some, at home.

    But what kind of message we send by singling out one person of all the stadium to public humiliation. I always feel sorry for the keeper. No matter how bad he is, he doesn’t deserve it.

  8. Russell Berrisford says:

    Nathan- “I believe any sport environment where alcohol is served should be a warning for parents and those who prefer political correctness.” Is well said, although others would probably say that any sports environment where children are present should limit the behaviour of people who are drinking.

    Gus- “The kids loved it and kept it going.” Whatever your, or my, thoughts about the chant the fact that a group of U-12 kids had a great day at a soccer game will probably do more to ensure their adherence to the sport than anything else we can think of and, as you say, they hear worse everyday.

  9. Gus Keri says:

    Russell:

    I agree that kids should have fun. But there are a better way, In my opinion, to make it happen.

    How about teaching them other chants that is less offensive?
    I can think of hundreds of chants that can replace this one and be more acceptable to every body and insure the kids are having fun.

  10. Ed Gomes says:

    The Bundesliga has been able to grow substancially through family friendly atmosphere. If you go and watch games in Germany, I don’t think that anyone would say they’re not passionate.
    If you take Serie A in Italy as an example, their crowd consists mostly of ultras that only cause problems. Their attendance numbers have been in a decline for years.
    Even the Premiership, whish was a hooligan heaven, cleaned up its act and attendance figures continue to grow.

    Yes alcohol does affect everyones actions, but people still have to be responsable adults. The NFL gets away with raucous crowds, because you are looking at an eight home game schedule. The demand is much greater than supply. And remember that in the playoffs, most of those raucous fans get booted/priced out.

    Of course you hear profanity at sporting events, and that’s always going to happen. What I have found at European football matches, is that the home fans seem to be more creative in their chants, than just cursing.

  11. Dave in Philly says:

    Good article and I hate that chant too, which of course Philly fans do at Union games. Like all other sporting events in Philly the drunks are out in full force at Union games yelling at other fans. I take my boys and players from our youth team I coach but they are at an age, U12 and U14, where I am not too concerned for them to hear that stuff but I feel bad for parents with younger kids who want to take in the match and have to deal with this nonsense.

  12. John Bladen says:

    Good piece, Russell.

    Vile & profane chants are endemic in most sports, as stated. Clubs know that while these may be popular in some facilities, they turn off far more fans than they bring in.

    I agree with those of you who said the price point of elite level modern sport has made it difficult for the “bad” fan to attend, but not impossible. I know plenty of people in the GTA who will not go to Bills games (but used to have season tickets) because of how bad things have gotten in the stands (drunks, fights, projectiles etc), never mind braving the walk through the parking lot.

    This isn’t new for football, of course. I remember being in the terraces and seeing (or worse… wet leg anyone?) people urinating in the stands. I’ve seen that at CFL games too. At some point, raucous atmosphere transforms to hooliganism. All leagues are trying to clamp down on inappropriate fan behaviour (whether physical, verbal or what have you).

    I just hope the crack down doesn’t turn all stadia into quiet zones. I for one would miss the beautiful chorus of “You’re shitty and you know it” from the upper stands as a hard trying player dribbles upfield…

  13. Rosco says:

    Good to hear so many differing opinions on this subject and i tend to agree with the point about any place where alcohol is readily available should serve as a guideline etc.

    One way of getting round this, which is used in the u.k (i myself am from scotland) is the introduction of “family stands”. Where stewards/security are far more vigilant about bad language and rawcuss behaviour. Obviousley chants can still be heard but are not in close proximity. These stands are not manditory for children but are left at the discretion of the parent or guardian.

    The second point this brings up is what is offensive to some people is not offensive to others.

    Good article and good comments. Hope to see the MLS go from strength to strength, it can only be good for the sport.

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