The Chicago Cubs had a chance to reach the World Series for the first time since 1945. Last night, it ended in tears, of course, but just like the ‘86 Series, everyone’s going to remember Game 6, when the Cubs suffered a complete (though not unprecedented) meltdown, giving up a staggering eight runs in the seventh inning. The curse of the Bambino may be a myth, but Cubs fans across the nation are wondering if the curse of the billy goat. During the Cubs’ collapse, 26-year-old fan Steve Bartman prevented Cubs left fielder Moises Alou from catching a foul ball that drifted into the first row of the stands. Unlike the wretched Jeffrey Maier, the Bartman wasn’t actually reaching over the wall, but his instinctive reaction to make the catch was unfortunate. In a statement released yesterday, he apologized, saying that he just didn’t realize Alou was going to try to make a play. Cubs fans were not immeditately forgiving; Barman was pelted with beer and escorted out by security for his own protection. He skipped work the next day as online fans started baying for his blood. Remixes of his picture are cropping up on the Internet. His parents received death threats. Last night, as the Cubs added another chapter to their history of failure, a police helicopter hovered over his home. Bartman’s life isn’t going to be very pleasant for the next few months, but he should be consoled by the fact that America isn’t a soccer-worshipping nation. American sports rivalries can get heated — I’ve seen trash talk lead to fistfight at both hockey and baseball games. Occasionally, fans can get out of control; championships often lead to rioting, and there are severe outliers like the battles for the Stanford Axe from the turn of the century through the Thirties (armored cars were used to transport the Axe; Stanford fans used tear gas in their final raid). But American sports teams aren’t politicized the way European football can be. National teams are national symbols; Mathias Sindelar’s principled refusal to play for the German team in 1938 made him a hero to anti-Nazi Austrians. But nobody thinks that a decision to root for the Dodgers over the Angels or the Dolphins over the Panthers says anything about one’s personal politics. The character of those who choose to root for G.M., join Raider Nation, or cheer for the worst franchise in sports is a separate matter, but Hillary Clinton and Ronald Reagan are both Cubs fans. Rock-ribbed Democrats and bomb-throwing Republicans both cheer the Redskins. A fan in a Mets jersey at Yankee Stadium might get jeered, even drenched in beer, but a fan of the wrong club in Europe might get some bones broken or hit in the face with a rock.
Glasgow is Scotland’s second largest city; it’s also Belfast’s sister city. The Glasgow Rangers football club (whose fans lean Tory and Protestant) and the Celtic FC (their crosstown Labour, Catholic counterpart) don’t care for each other one bit. A spectator tragedy I remembered at a Rangers-Celtic game was not the result of rioting (fans returning to the seats to see a last-minute play trampelled one another, killing 66), but Rangers-Celtic games still are politically tense and prone to violence. The mere act of booing a rival team’s players is laced with political overtones. European soccer has a history of riots, and fans often pick and choose based on sectarian affiliation. David attended a match between Celtic and MTK,
the Hungarian League champions who count leftists, pensioners and Hungarian Jews among their staunchest supporters…. Lowlights include the abysmal MTK play, as well as the Sieg Heil salute given by the 200+ Hungarian skinheads in the audience for every Celtic goal. They claim it’s not a hateful salute, rather it’s "from the heart," reminiscent of the Tomahawk Chop.
Because the right-leaning Fradi fans root for any team that’s playing the MTK and their Jewish constituency, (Gwen: that’s leaning so far right that they’re horizontal) they have their own fenced off section of the stadium, and were asked over the PA to remain in their seats for ten minutes following the game. Incidentally, they once burned down the very stands they were sitting in….
Politicization of football isn’t confined to Europe. In 2001, Iranian soccer riots were the most destructive public uprising since 1979; longtime advocates for democracy and liberalization (and satellite television) were joined by fans who believed that the national team had thrown a game. In Latin America, Honduras and El Salvador fought the "Soccer War" of 1969 as tensions between the two nations grew during a three game series played as a qualifier for the 1970 World Cup. It was a real war; borders were crossed, the Salvadoran and Honduran air forces were used, thousands died, and El Salvador won the rubber match (played in Mexico two weeks later) by a score of 3 to 2.
The city of Chicago loves the Cubs. But last night’s loss will not send the Illinois National Guard towards Florida on a search-and-destroy mission. The ninth inning ended without any frustration-induced suicide, unlike Brazil’s 1950 loss in the World Cup finals. Like Cubs fans since 1908, Steve Bartman can think to himself that next year will be their year. Andres Escobar, a player for the Colombian national team, was assassinated in retribution for an own goal he scored on the Colombians; Bartman should be around next year to see the curse of the billy goat in action again.