As a rule, I’m a pretty peaceful sort of fellow.
The only person I can recall every having a real physical altercation with is my brother, but even those have been very few and far between. And ever since he became bigger and stronger than me, I’ve tried to make sure we settle any disagreements with words rather than fists.
However, in spite of my usually easy-going personality, I recently found myself ready to throw down in a soccer stadium.
How did this happen? It started with an invitation from some friends to accompany them to the Swiss city of Basel to watch a Fußball match. The home team, FC Basel, would be hosting their hated rival FC Zürich. My German friends informed me and the other Americans in the group that this was a heated series, and that no love would be lost between the two teams.
This was an exciting opportunity for me. I had not been to a soccer match in Europe yet, and was looking forward to getting an authentic taste of “the beautiful game.”
My German friend who had purchased the tickets also wanted us to have an authentic experience. To that end, he had bought us tickets for the “hooligan section” of the stadium, where the home team’s most loyal and committed fans stand.
On our way to the game, I was imagining the hooligan section as the equivalent of a student section at a college football game in the United States. I guess this wasn’t completely wrong: the hooligans, like college students, were definitely the loudest, craziest, and most intoxicated fans in the stadium. What I didn’t know, however, is that soccer hooligans are sometimes organized into gangs, will often set off firecrackers in the stadium, and might even attack a person who supports a rival team.
When we got to the stadium, we entered the gate to the hooligan section. Almost immediately, a very large Basel fan approached our group and wanted to know why we weren’t wearing FC Basel gear. The Germans among us tried to explain that we weren’t from Basel, but we wanted to sit among the “real fans” to get the full experience.
Our new Swiss friend wasn’t satisfied. He “suggested” that we sit on the edge of the section away from the other fans. And then he followed us to make sure we did.
Fine, whatever. I didn’t see any point in starting an argument.
Then I pulled out my phone to take a picture of the field. Immediately, Mr. Cheerful was back.
Why was this random person telling me that I couldn’t take photos of this soccer field? In retrospect, it’s clear that he was just looking for a way to harass spectators who weren’t Basel fans. At the time, however, I was confused.
My German companions tried to intercede for me by explaining that I was an American and didn’t know the unwritten rules of this sort of event. This actually seemed to mollify the hooligan a bit, and he started to back off.
But at this point, I wasn’t having it. In my mounting frustration, I wanted to tell him that I would take photos of his sissy soccer stadium every day of the week and twice on Sunday if I felt like it. Fortunately for me, my level of lingual dexterity in German did not permit me to express these sentiments.
I settled for informing him that, despite my nationality, I could “understand what he was saying quite well, and…”
That’s as far as I got before my buddies hushed me with some variation of “shut up, you idiot” and promised the hooligan that I wouldn’t take any more pictures.
And I didn’t. Partly to avoid trouble, and partly because, after all that, THEY CANCELED THE GAME. A power outage in the stadium caused the officials to postpone the match. Talk about an anticlimax.
Lessons learned? First, it’s probably better not to sit in the hooligan section. Second, if I ever do sit in the hooligan section again, I’m bringing my brother.