Italian authorities in search of answers to curb the soccer violence in the Palermo and Catania match that resulted in the death of a policeman and injuries to hundreds of fans, have cast envious eyes at English soccer and its relative placidity.
As Richard Williams points out that this too was an endemic problem two decades ago culminating in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster when 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death as thousands of fans pressed up in narrow pens hemmed in by high steel fences, a barrier erected to keep hooligans from invading the pitch, a common occurrence back then. The Hillsborough tragedy sparked off widespread reforms in English soccer.
One of these maneuvers involves the classist tactic of raising ticket prices to unaffordable levels which stopped hooligans from coming to see matches at top tier clubs. They were forced to ply their trade in the lower division clubs. Out of sight and out of mind. Over the years, Premiership clubs have raised the stakes in their relationship with the fans and with it the responsibility of the fans to their clubs image. Neo-liberal economic policies have added rich foreign owners, shiny new stadiums, expensive players, luxury boxes, credit cards, and housing loans, to the club brand. The new breed of English fan does not have to invade the pitch. With his buying power, he reposes in hundreds of internet registries, easily traceable through them and video cameras. One mistake and he is on the police blotter banned not just from attending matches but even to credit cards and loans. But why should he? He now has blogs and You Tube to start virtual wars with his rivals. There is a process of enlightened self interest at play here, one that keeps moving English soccer ahead, making it an attractive destination for players and coaches alike.
In Italy, you can see Serie A matches paying just ten pounds. It pays for a municipal stadium, low paid referees, and ineffective and inadequate policing. Clubs are family run businesses and handed down from generation to generation. They subsidize the cost of all those fantastic players playing in the Serie A.
Which leads us to an interesting debate, has the demise of the English soccer thug led to the failing fortunes of the English in international soccer since 1966, the last time they won the World Cup? Whereas, the countries that still experience rampant hooliganism, continue to win World Cups and regional titles regularly. Maybe England's smug satisfaction parroting their league as the best artificially inflates opinion of their own players.