Growing up, I hated going to my brothers’ soccer games. My mother may have dragged me there, but damn it, that didn’t mean I had to watch! As soon as we got to the game, I would actively turn my chair away from the field and open a book. The goings-on in a silly little game didn’t concern me!
So imagine my surprise when all of a sudden I realized that I am now not just voluntarily going to the games, but am actually getting into them? That when my brothers get fouled, I yell indignantly at the ref if he doesn’t call it? That I sort of maybe understand the general idea of off-sides now?
I don’t know how it happened. And I’m not the only one it has happened to. My grandmother was once a very positive cheer-er. She didn’t like violence and she didn’t like that there had to be a winner and a loser. And now, she often gets so worked up during a game that her remarks might make you cringe—that is, if you weren’t too busy hiding your laughter from her.
Some of her verbal gems from the past couple of weeks:
-At the referee made a bad call:
“Go back to school!”
-When the other school’s announcer reminded the crowd that the snack bar was open:
“Drop dead, we don’t want your snacks!”
-At the end of a game:
“I guess good does triumph over evil.”
-To my father:
“Is that the athletic director? I’d like to speak to him about getting better refs.”
Look out world, don’t get on my sweet elderly grandma’s bad side during a soccer game!
But all jokes aside, it makes me wonder—what makes people get so emotionally involved in sports? What makes people so quick to lose their heads an scream their selves hoarse?
Living with my soccer-centric family, I’ve seen plenty of bad behavior from fans. I’ve seen my dad escort a teenage ref to his car after a little kid’s soccer game because the other team’s parents were harassing him to the point of tears. During high school games, I’ve heard another school’s student section scream “Choke! Choke! Choke!” at my 16-year old brother while he waited to take a penalty kick.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg—my brothers own stories of what happens on the field are often appalling. My 19-year old brother (who now plays division 1 college soccer) once had a guy attempt stick his thumb up his butt (through the shorts, but still—ew!). He has been tackled to the ground seconds AFTER a game ended—and he was the loser! My 16-year old brother told me that during a high school game, another player threatened to shoot one of his teammates in the parking lot after the game.
None of these incidents have ever led to anything seriously harmful. But in other games, violence has resulted in deaths. Just a few weeks ago, a punch in the head from a 17-year old player led to the death of a referee in Utah. In the Netherlands last year, a ref was killed when 15 and 16-year old players attacked him after the game and kicked him over and over again.
There is a lot of testosterone flowing on a field full of teenagers who want nothing better than to win. And to get a competent ref is much more rare than it should be. But to me, it seems like a lot of people could stand to take a step back and gain some perspective on their behavior, and the fleeting nature of such victories. Its scary to think that things like that really happen, in trivial kid’s games.
Of course, negative experiences aren’t always the stand out moments in my brothers’ games. With the shifting nature of club teams, my brothers often end up playing alongside former opponents. They get along just fine, and if they don’t, its because of personality, not former enmity. When my 19-year old brother broke his nose in an unintentional collision with another player last year, the player apologized to his coach afterwards. He also had an opponent compliment him and ask if he was playing college soccer.
There is always another game, and as much as it sucks to lose, especially unfairly, losing your head only makes things worse.
Apparently, my brother’s high school just voted in a rule stating that after a soccer game is over, the players will only line up and shake hands with each other, not the referees. When my dad first told me this, I thought it was ridiculous. But considering some people’s tempers, maybe it wasn’t. Those fatal incidents seem far away, but are they? Last week in another school’s game, parents apparently rushed the field after the game to yell at the ref. It seems laughable, but looking at the recent referee deaths, maybe it isn’t.
So back to the big question—do both players and fans get too emotionally involved in sports games? Maybe we do. But even know that I can guarantee that if my little brother is fouled in his regional semi-final game on Wednesday night and the ref doesn’t call it, I’ll be standing up yelling myself hoarse in the stands!
But I can also guarantee that neither he nor I will be beating the ref to death in the parking lot after the game either, win or lose, no matter how wronged we feel.