A lot of Gauchos like to brag about how passionate and rowdy their support is for the UCSB soccer team.

They’ve obviously never been to England.

I’m a season ticket holder at an English football club this year, so I go to pretty much all my team’s matches, both home and away. Home games are usually fairly tame, albeit with much more profanity, singing and empty threats toward the opposition and their fans than you see in the States. Away games, on the other hand, are a different beast. 

For away games, a few thousand of our fans travel up to 200 miles and are placed in a corner of the opposition’s stadium, usually separated from the home support by a mixture of stewards and police officers. For my most recent away day, I took a bus with about 45 other fans. Five miles outside the stadium, the police intercepted our coach and held us on the side of the road until the turnstiles at the stadium opened. After about a half an hour, 10 motorcycle cops escorted a group of coaches (including the one I was on) straight to a parking lot outside the stadium, where we were immediately taken inside, presumably in an attempt to minimize trouble between the home and away fans.  

After an hour of standing around in freezing cold and rain, the match finally got underway. On this occasion, I was placed right next to the home support. Instead of watching the game and cheering for their team, most of the people around me preferred to heckle the opposition. Although I wasn’t doing much more than giving ironic (but friendly) waves to the home support and joining in the occasional “sit down, shut up” chant, most of the fans took it to a whole other level. On one occasion, a home supporter pointed straight at me, flipped me off, flailed his arms uncontrollably and pointed outside the stadium as if he wanted to go out and fight me. Being a mature and responsible adult, I politely ignored him. A police officer threatened to eject a group of fans near me after 30 straight minutes of making threats against the opposition supporters. 

After the match, the police once again escorted us out of the parking lot, blocking pedestrian and vehicle traffic along the way. Although I heard there were a few isolated and brief scuffles between fans, the day ended without major incident. The vast majority of my fellow away fans left without causing any trouble, so it baffles me as to why we were monitored and controlled so closely. I am not a violent person, and I have never been in a fight in my life, so being corralled and babysat by the police and stewards for doing nothing wrong baffles me. I understand the long history of football-related violence in England, but I can’t comprehend the overreaction by officials in response to a few bad apples. Moreover, I don’t understand why some fans spend a lot of money to go to a match and, essentially, not watch it in order to shout abuse for 90 minutes. Occasional banter between fans is fine and part of the culture surrounding the sport, but ignoring what’s happening on the pitch in favor of verbally abusing the opposition support is something completely different.

I respect how passionate English supporters are, but a line has to be drawn somewhere. This being said, would I trade the atmosphere at an English football match for its sterile American counterpart? No way.

Do certain English supporters need to take a step back and ask themselves why they attend matches, and do the authorities need to reexamine how they treat fans? Definitely.