Nothing says hardcore New York City soccer like fighting on the streets of Newark, New Jersey.
Sunday marked the third and final regular season meeting between Red Bull New York and New York City FC. Whether you call it the Hudson River Derby or #NYCSoccerWarz or That Thing I Saw On Fox Last Night, this rivalry has grown to a size and intensity that not even the most optimistic MLS marketing executive could have anticipated.
From a never-ending barrage of supporter insults flying from either side on social media, to a possible rift between coaches Jesse Marsch and Jason Kreis over perceived insults, NY versus NYC has become exactly what the league prayed for when it accepted a fat check from the owners of Manchester City to put a second team in the New York market.
Sunday’s game — a 2-0 victory and third head-to-head win for RBNY — garnered more attention from media outside of the soccer bubble than any regular season game in recent memory.
But unfortunately, little of the conversation was about actual soccer.
Rather than talk about the third biggest crowd (25,219) in Red Bull Arena history and the incredible atmosphere that came with it; or the Red Bulls leaving no doubt that, at least on the field, that “NY is Red;” or NYCFC’s early struggles to find a way to make their glamorous Pirlo-Lampard-Diskerud midfield gel, media entities who otherwise couldn’t give less of a shit about an MLS game in August (or any other time) were talking about a brawl. A brawl at a Newark bar between two factions of assholes with nothing better to do than live out their fantasies of European hooliganism, fighting a bunch of total strangers, all in the name of other strangers kicking a ball.
UK-based Associated Press reporter Rob Harris was in the area to attend the game and caught footage of the sign-swinging, trash bag-lobbing, dick-measuring melee that erupted outside of Bello’s Pub & Grill. Bello’s is the usual pre-game home to one of Red Bull New York’s officially recognized supporters’ groups, the self-described “European ULTRA style,” Garden State Ultras (GSU).
Representing NYCFC in the clown show was Batallon 49, who claimed “victory” in the brawl and pride themselves as “una hermandad de Cabezas Rapadas Hispano americanos de New York City y New Jersey” (a brotherhood of Hispanic-American skinheads from New York and New Jersey).
According to a report from New York-based site Empire of Soccer, Sunday’s fight dates back to the previous meeting of the New York derby in June, near NYCFC’s home of Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. A group of RBNY supporters, particularly GSU arrived (as planned with officials from both clubs) to be escorted into the stadium with an arranged security detail. (Most of GSU dressed in black and aligned with the casuals-style of supporter culture, in an effort to appear neutral to authorities.) Security was either late, or never arrived, leaving a historically combative GSU alone in a sea of NYCFC fans.
According to EoS:
“Tempers flared quickly with both groups engaging in a small melee before GSU members made their way through the City supporters and into the stadium.
Word of the ruckus spread quickly in NYCFC fan circles. A European styled NYCFC supporters’ group who made a name for themselves in an incident involving alleged Nazi chants at Yankee Stadium earlier this year caught wind of the confrontation, setting the stage for Sunday’s melee.”
Sunday’s brawl in Newark is believed to have been in retaliation for the June incident. GSU was in the midst of its usual pre-game festivities when members of Batallon 49 — and possibly other groups — arrived, looking to settle a score. About soccer. In America. In Newark, New Jersey. (Red Bull Arena is in bordering Harrison, NJ, just on the opposite bank of the Passaic River from Newark.)
Newark is a misunderstood and neglected city marred in more than enough heartache and tragic violence. A city that absolutely doesn’t need weekend combat tourists hopping on trains to boost local crime statistics and further the perception that it is one of the most hopeless places in America. A city whose residents have been yelling out for change, and just a day prior, welcomed thousands for an anti-violence rally downtown.
Violence in the name of soccer — or, more accurately, violence between opposing factions with differing social and political views that takes place under the guise of supporting a soccer club — is flatly stupid in any context. When it happens under the banners of two Major League Soccer clubs, it’s extra dumb, featuring layers of pathetic cosplay and sad attempts to emulate the rush of soccer violence seen in other countries.
There is no nobility to be found in fighting in the streets over a sports franchise that is, at its core, a branding exercise for an Austrian beverage conglomerate (Red Bull New York), or a first-year team (New York City FC), which serves to extend the brand reach of an English club, which is itself owned by the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates.
Whose turf is being defended here?
In MLS we accept salary caps, designated players and a games in 90 degree heat, because American soccer — for the most part — doesn’t mean wading through a cesspool of racism, violence, and corruption on a weekly basis. There’s a trade-off of perceived authenticity in the name of what we should all be here for in the first place: simple fun.
Some have rushed to call Sunday’s NY derby an isolated incident, which is accurate, as events like this are extremely rare in MLS’ 20-year history, but that too easily dismisses just how stupid it all was. A bunch of grown men chanting “Who are ya?” like scripted extras in a shitty and straight-to-Netflix Green Street Hooligans-meets-Westside Story movie deserve to be the subject of ridicule from the rest of us that have a grip on reality.
Sunday may have been an an isolated incident, but ultras, casuals, skinheads, and other caustic subcultures of soccer support have lived under the surface of MLS fan groups in small numbers for as long as the league has existed. As MLS grows, this Hudson River clash can also be the opportunity for reasonable fans to make it known that when we ask for MLS to be more like the biggest leagues in the world, brawls in the street is one aspect we can leave across the Atlantic.