(Let’s pretend the answer is yes.)
Have you ever feared for your life at a stadium? Like actually feared that your body will suffer physical harm?
Other than the stomach pain that comes from eating too many hot dogs, probably not.
Well, in Spain, it turns out, you should be worried about that. Spain is a supposedly civilized, first world country, but on Sunday we were reminded that our society is rotten at its core. Shortly after 2 p.m., medical officials pronounced a man named Jimmy Romero dead. He was 43 years old and left behind two children, a 19-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son.
As it turns out he was a member of “Riazor Blues,” the radical left wing Deportivo de La Coruña supporter’s group. He traveled 367 miles from A Coruña to Madrid on a bus to participate in a pre-meditated and scheduled brawl between his group and Frente Atlético, the radical right wing Atletico Madrid supporter’s group.
It was like the opening scene in Gangs of New York.
Apparently the two groups organized the fight over WhatsApp. The crazy thing is that hundreds of people could organize something like this right under the noses of the Spanish authorities and the clubs. The game wasn’t flagged for high risk, which would mean beefed up security. In fact it seems that the radical groups knew this and set the time for the meetup at 9 a.m., an hour before police showed up for the match.
Why would these guys be beefing so hard that they need to schedule a showdown like this?
It’s odd. Depor and Atleti aren’t what you would call traditional rivals like Barcelona and Madrid, or Betis and Sevilla. That’s one of the reasons it slipped under the radar. But the utlras groups have radically differing political ideologies, and it seems that during the celebration for Atleti’s league title last year, a handful of Riazor Blues beat up a group of Atleti fans that were celebrating in A Coruña. So this was payback. Worse still, it looks like Riazor Blues, who remember are left wing radicals, recruited local allies in their fight: the Bukaneros of Rayo Vallecano, also radical left wing ultras.
Not all teams have politically-motivated supporters groups, but a lot of them do. Check out Marca’s graphic with some of them. The most famous are probably Real Madrid’s Ultras Sur, a lot of whom are neo-nazi skinheads. When I went to the Bernabéu to watch the Champions League final last year, I saw hundreds of them waving Nazi flags and burning flares outside of a bar called Drakkar, which is their unofficial headquarters. We tried to walk around with a camera, but a few of them kindly told us that that would be a bad idea. After years of dilly dallying on this issue, club president Florentino Perez finally officially banned the group this year, although it’s unclear how strictly the club is adhering to that ban.
Barcelona also has a group, with a name you can’t pronounce. They are called The “Boixos Nois,” which means the “Crazy Boys” in Catalan. They gained notoriety in 1991 when they stabbed an Espanyol fan, a member of their radical group “Brigadas Blanquiazules,” to death. When Joan Laporta became Barca president in 2003, he banned their presence in the stadium, an incredibly brave and pioneering decision that he maintained throughout his tenure despite suffering numerous death threats and even an attack as he was leaving his house.
So why the hell do these groups exist? Why is the world such a scary place?
Europe in general has always had an undercurrent of extremism that ebbs and flows, typically inversely proportional to the way things are going generally for the rest of society. The past several years have been very hard on Europe, and you’re seeing things like the far right and openly racist National Front party in France finishing first in the last parliamentary elections with just under 25 percent of the vote.
Extremism is rising from Greece to Germany, and Spain is no different. To call the current political situation in Spain “tense” would be an understatement. Nationalism is flaring up all over the place, and unemployment is hovering at 24 percent, with youth unemployment at around 50 percent, which is crazy if you think about. Young people with no prospects and no hope and a lot of anger sometimes resort to violence, and for too long, the soccer clubs in Spain have tolerated this or looked the other way.
It ended up costing Jimmy Romero his life.