- Before entering a soccer match, you have to get searched. I mean, really patted down, not just "can I have a look in your bag." This is a measure to discourage soccer hooligans from bringing in anything potentially dangerous. They do have women security people to search the women, though, so it was fine.
- Red Sox fans get up a good cheer of "Here we go Red Sox" or, when feeling mean-spirited or drunk, "Yankees Suck." Soccer fans also chant slogans, and in Serbia they go something like "Let's go kill some Turks." Interestingly, for both teams, they don't have to be playing the Yankees / Turks for the crowd to shout these things.
- Baseball fans toss around the occasional beach ball, and once in a while you hear about some trash / beer being thrown into the field. Soccer fans throw their chairs at other fans (of the opposing team).
- Fans of the visiting team are segregated into their own area, circled by police in riot gear, and separated from local fans by completely empty sections on either side.
- Being separated does not prevent people from throwing things at each other. The aforementioned chairs as well as FLARES. First of all, how do people get the flares in when they're being searched (see #1)? Second, do people practice throwing them far enough to go across the empty section into the middle of the opposing fan seating area? Third, what the hell?
Last night we went to the World Cup qualifying match between Serbia and Bosnia. It was AWESOME. Our friend Andreja pulled off the miracle of getting us tickets the night before the game, so off to Belgrade we went.
The stadium was packed - I understand it holds between 55,000 and 60,000 people. Technically speaking, we had assigned seats, but that doesn't mean anything. When we arrived a half hour before the game, the seats were already full. We pushed about ten rows down the stairs, and there we stood for the first half of the game. The aisles were completely full of people. Looking around, the stadium was just a sea of bodies with no apparent way to get in or out. Fire hazard, you say? What's that?
The best was when people actually tried to use the stairs as stairs - whenever someone tried to get by it was like body surfing, trying not to get knocked over or into the nice lady in the aisle seat. It was like riding the T during rush hour. Dan and I mostly shared a step, and it was really ok. We had a great view of the field and we were right there in the middle of the frenzy.
Just before the game began, two dozen doves were released. This was a beautiful sight, although some of the doves came back down and landed on the field. Players chasing them off drew a hearty chuckle from the crowd. The birds continued to fly in and out of the stadium throughout the match. The symbolism of the doves was lost on / ignored by the crowd as they chanted "Bosnia will be the heart of Serbia."
Almost as soon as play started, the first flare went sailing into the Bosnia section. This resulted in a huge cheer. The Bosnians sent it right back into the Serbian crowd. For the rest of the game, things kept getting hurled back and forth, including these red squares that I couldn't identify. Eventually an extra twenty rows of Serbians were cleared out so the distance would be too great for tossing things. The Bosnians were also compressed into the top part of their section so they couldn't roam around as much. It was at this point that I realized that the red squares were chairs that people had been prying up. The chairs are just these little plastic things attached to the concrete, and Andreja said they only cost 10 euros each, so a bunch get pulled up at every game and then replaced before the next one. Imagine that at Fenway.
(For anyone concerned about my safety, rest assured that I was well out of firing range on the opposite side of the stadium.)
During halftime our aisle thinned out a bit, so we worked our way down to the front and were about as close to the field as you can get. Dan and I were actually able to get seats, although we stood on them the entire time, which certainly seemed to be the custom. I didn't see anyone sitting. As for the game, the Serbians won 1-0, and go forward to next summer's World Cup in Germany. People who know about soccer say the team didn't play exceptionally well, but, as always, that doesn't matter since they won.
It was an incredible night. Soccer fans are so intense, and the energy in the stadium was unbelievable. A little scary, but mostly amazing. For the Americans who've told me that soccer is boring to watch, I say it's because you've never been to a game where people really cared about who won. Every play close to the net has 60,000 people holding their breath, not to mention all the people watching in bars and at home. For the record, it's really loud when 60,000 people all exhale at the same time.
The World Cup is truly an international event (unlike the World Series). So it's not just regular sports fan pride, it's also national pride. While I do look forward to returning to the relative calm of baseball games, the furor evoked an unexpectedly strong emotional response in me, and I found myself chanting Srbija, Srbija along with all the other fans. I would have joined in on the other cheers as well, but I don't know the words.
The Serbian uniform, by the way, is blue jerseys, white shorts, and red socks.