This appears in the Monday, January 7, 2013 edition of the Business Mirror.
by rick olivares
The other day, I read about a pair of fan experiences who went to watch the San Francisco 49ers-Seattle Seahawks match at the CenturyLink Field in Washington. The two fans are from Seattle and wrote about terrible experiences were some family and friends rooting for the visiting 49ers were rudely confronted and cussed out by Seahawks supporters. Their experiences were published in the Seattle Times and drew both words of support and sharp criticism from natives of the Emerald City.
Among those who criticized the two letter writers said that they did not understand stadium culture at all and going to a home match wearing the opposing team’s colors was asking for trouble.
And that begs the question – is that right?
A couple of years ago, I went to watch an exhibition match by Liverpool against the Malaysian national team in Kuala Lumpur. A couple of friends of mine recounted the night before that someone watched Liverpool’s practice in a Manchester United shirt and got un-shirted and heckled for his trouble. It was even posted on YouTube. My first thought was, ‘What the hell was he thinking wearing that shirt? I can understand if it was a match between the two English club rivals but here in Malaysia? It’s like you’re asking for trouble.”
During the night of the match as we left Bukit Jalil Stadium, there was another unfortunate fellow on the train wearing the Red Devils’ shirt. Fortunately for him, he was only ribbed and not disrobed or anything worse.
The treatment of those United fans was actually mild because in other countries, visiting fans are sometimes assaulted and beaten up. The closest I’ve experienced that was in Jakarta, Indonesia for the Suzuki Cup semifinals in 2010.
We were already warned about wearing the Philippine colors near the stadium but didn’t take it really seriously until we arrived there for the first match.
On the way in, we had the bird flipped to us many times over, we were cussed at, threatened and even chased when the bus entered the stadium and security was a little slow to close the gates where all these rabid fans were. If looks could kill we would have died right there with all our ancestors feeling our pain.
A fellow broadcast journalist bravely ventured outside to give a live stand up report. As soon as he started speaking in Filipino, he had a huge bottle of Evian water thrown at his face with other fans hovering nearby and spoiling for a fight. He retreated to the relatively safer confines of the stadium.
Relatively because delegates from the Philippine Embassy were insulted and pelted by missiles from the crowd once the match got underway. The only thing stadium security could do was to tell the guest crowd to put away the Philippine flag and to avoid cheering so they will not antagonize the crowd! Imagine that.
On the way out, a couple of us had to don Indonesian jerseys in order not to draw any attention. The Bung Karno is literally a stone’s throw away yet the bus ride took an agonizing 20-minute ride just to get in. Think of Rick and Glenn in the second episode of the Walking Dead Season One when they had put zombie entrails all over them in order to disguise the undead from smelling them as they trudged towards their escape vehicle that was at an adjacent parking lot. That’s how it felt.
Several years ago, a friend of mine and his girlfriend sat at the side of the opposing team during a UAAP basketball game simply because that was where their tickets were good for. An official from that school asked the couple to consider sitting elsewhere because he could not guarantee their safety.
Really? If we’re going to scalp one another’s heads then why go through the exercise of a sporting event? We can always bring back the 1970s when rumbles were the norm when it came to extramural exercises.
Once upon a time, it was a death wish to wear Red Sox jerseys in New York or Yankee jerseys in Boston. Thinking that an “f-bomb” was the worst I was going to get, I wore a Yankee jersey to Beantown. Much to my regret. Not only did I get the bird flipped at me the moment I stepped down the bus but a couple of cops stopped me twice and told me to remove my shirt if I knew what was good for me. I got my revenge when I doused beer on a Boston fan in Yankee Stadium in our very next home match.
When I think about that beer-dousing incident, I am ashamed that I did it. It did seem the right thing at that time as I was hell bent on getting even. The truth is, on that night, I was one of those louts. My actions might have even spoiled the experience for those who brought their children with them.
Before I became a journalist, I was a fan who sometimes let the moment get away from me. One time, I cussed out an opposing player only to learn later on that the son of a friend picked up on the expletive. That has got to be one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.
At the time when I first getting into sports, you almost never watched a college game on your own. Nor did you bring a girlfriend. You always went with some friends and was always mindful of where the car was parked, where we sat, and perhaps more importantly, what we wore to the games. In the case of one former officemate who informed his boss that he was attending to an outside meeting only to be seen on television watching a college game, then one has to also be mindful of not being seen on camera.
The point is -- you always had to be careful.
We expect people to behave and for the venue to provide ample security but it still pays to be very careful. When I used to live abroad, I wouldn’t just wear any apparel from my favorite club if we were on the road. I’d wear something else then change once inside. And before going out, I’d do the same thing again. Well, unless I felt it was absolutely safe to wear the opposing team’s colors.
I think it is generally better now as sporting events everywhere have become more of a family experience. The insults and heckling are still there although it is generally tamer nowadays. I even saw a video that it’s now safe to wear pinstriped jerseys at Fenway Park. Would you believe that?
I’ve mostly sat in the cheap seats at Giants Stadium, the United Center, Madison Square Garden, and many others. Yet wherever you go stadium culture is the same – tailgates, rowdy fans, heckling, singing and chanting with some fighting.
Aside from the usual louts, is it safe to infer that alcohol makes the heckling worse? Sure it does but one doesn’t need alcohol to cuss or heckle. There’s something about competition that brings out the worst in people. It’s a tribal thing I guess. But the alcohol makes it worse as it loosens tongues.
When I think of that San Francisco Giants fan who was beaten into a coma after a game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, it frightens me. It’s akin to walking crime-infested areas. You can get jumped anytime, anywhere.
Even in the UFL, you have fans of Air Force (mostly males) deliberately goading the fans of Loyola (mostly females). So far there hasn’t been any serious altercation but that doesn’t mean it cannot happen.
I really do not know the solution to this. I can only share experiences. Even outlawing alcohol will not end any unpleasant experiences. My take on it is one has to be very prudent and careful when going to a sporting event. At the same time, stadium or arena management should provide more than ample security that extends to the parking lots.
Funny. You came there to watch a match but also end up watching out for trouble.
Here are the links to a pair of commentaries about the incident at CenturyLink Field:
Alex who defends the 12th man for his actions
Here's a video I shot from the bus ride to the Bung Karno during the 2012 Suzuki Cup. That's Chieffy Caligdong's voice you will hear.