In Britain, exhibition matches are called “friendlies,” which is a nice, cute expression, though a jarring description when games feature a riot and mass arrests. Sometimes it’s weirdly illogical, like the linguistic equivalent of a photo of Donald Trump hugging a Mexican.
It’s a word that needs inverted commas even during the offseason, because hooliganism doesn’t take a summer vacation. In fact it was in fine preseason form when Eintracht Frankfurt took on — in more than one sense — Leeds United in Austria.
The picturesque setting of the small stadium makes it seem like the kind of venue where the Von Trapp family would have gone to watch a match. But yesterday the hills were alive with the sound of squelching flesh, squirts of pepper spray and grown men snarling “You want some, do you?”
A section of the Leeds fanbase has a notorious reputation, but a statement from Salzburg police, as detailed by the Mirror, suggests the conflict — which resulted in 25 arrests of fans from both clubs — was initiated by German supporters.
“As about 50 Frankfurt fans at 17.55 o’clock arrived on foot at the stadium, they stormed the entrance. At the square in front of the stadium, runaway Leeds fans were again attacked by the Frankfurt fans,” it read.
“Eventually the situation moved to the centre of Eugendorf where action was taken to stop the attacks, among other things a pepper-spray operation by the police.”
Other examples of preseason violence are really not hard to find:
- In 2012, a ‘friendly’ between Blackburn and Dutch side NEC Nijmegen was axed by police after clashes between fans in previous matches of the former English Premier League club’s tour and rumblings on social media of another confrontation.
- A scrimmage between minor-leaguers Stockport County and Burnley’s reserves — reserves! — due to take place next week was canceled amid fear of disorder and the need for a police presence.
- In 2008, followers of northern English club Darlington and Scottish outfit St Mirren tried to recreate Braveheart in Darlington town center.
- Two years ago a group of men described as Polish soccer hooligans even took on the Mexican Navy. On a beach.
Preseason exhibition violence is weird, given the matches are low-key and the outcome irrelevant. But I guess it’s what happens when people drink too much beer in hot weather and groups of fans think of themselves as a kind of invading force when they travel overseas.
Also, since it’s often a chance for teams to face opponents they rarely play, it’s a chance to meet new and interesting people, and kick the shit out of them.