Greek politicians are like the legendary Greek lovers of the 70s and 80s: they will promise the sun and the moon, only to satisfy their baser needs and, of course, will never keep their promises. One of the hundreds of promises Greek politicians repeatedly break, is that they will put an end to football violence.
Right this moment, a 46-year-old man from Piraeus is fighting for his life, suffering from severe brain hemorrhage after making the mistake to travel and watch his team in an away game in Crete, where he was attacked by the local team hooligans. Two other fans of the Piraeus team were seriously injured, but since they didn’t make it to the intensive care unit, it is like nothing happened. There were just two policemen in the field. Two more arrived after the victims were lying on the ground. There was no ambulance to carry them, until one arrived thirty minutes later.
Such incidents are so common in the past three decades, that Greek people have stopped paying attention anymore. Every time someone dies in a football-related fight, state officials will repeat the tiring, hypocritical mantra, “the government denounces football violence… we are determined to put an end to it.”
The causes of football violence are many and complex. It has to do with simple human belligerence, fanaticism, lack of life goals, lack of education, poverty, teenage hormones, family problems, social problems, teenagers need to belong to a group, and so much more. Analyzing the reasons behind football violence is like analyzing the causes of a headache. What really matters is how to stop the headache. You take an aspirin and all is well.
Of course you can’t stop violence with an aspirin. But if you focus on stopping football violence, instead of analyzing the reasons behind it, you made a first and important step. And the first step is the arrest and punishment of the culprits. Watching the news on TV, we see hundreds of people fighting inside the football field, fires in the stands, whole squads of riot police running, and the next day we read, “there were three arrests.” Wow, out of hundreds of people fighting and burning, they caught three. We never hear that so and so who was involved in the fight and has injured so and so received 8 years in prison. We never hear of heavy fines. We watch the police acting as spectators while hooligans break shop windows, set cars and trashcans on fire, or fight with each other.
Every time there are violent incidents around football, an absurd vicious circle is set in motion: The authorities will say they don’t have enough manpower to police all games, the private security members in stadiums are supporters of the hosting team so they won’t break a sweat if they see violence erupting, lack of funds and organization leave many football fields without ambulances, some hooligans will say that the referee wronged their team so their actions were morally justified, other hooligans will claim that they can’t find jobs and release their anger during the game, team owners will say that the Greek Football Association doesn’t like their team and wants them out of the league, sports papers will print inflammatory headlines that instigate and justify violence, TV journalists will unleash incredible conspiracy theories about the state of Greek football, people who bet on football and lose money will say the games are fixed so the anger of fans is justifiable, opposition parties will accuse the government of exploiting football violence for distracting people away from the real issues, referees will say they receive threats. And in the end, of course, the government will renounce football violence for the hundredth time.
The economic crisis of the past few years has been a convenient excuse for football violence. “The poor kids have no jobs and no future, so this is an outlet to their frustration,” is something you hear when things are light, i.e. when there are no dead victims in the fights. Still, football violence has been present even in times of prosperity for Greece, in the 1990s and early 2000s. There are enough football-related deaths during those times to prove that the problem is ongoing.
Like in many other sectors, the Greek governments of the past thirty years took a series of ineffective (if not outright ridiculous) measures to stop football violence. I’m sorry, but it is outright ridiculous to spend millions of euros to put cameras in football stadiums without staff to monitor the cameras! Not once there was an arrest based on those cameras’ tapes. The cameras are still there, lifeless reminders of the kickbacks received by the politicians involved.
Another such measure was the famous “electronic ticket” that bears the name of the ticket holder and the seat number. Supposedly, if there is trouble during the game, the cameras will identify the spot of the trouble and police will rush there to arrest those seating in the specific seats. Only in the movies! Not once I was asked to present an ID when entering a stadium holding a ticket with my name on it.
Another ingenious measure, in case of violence during a game, is to punish the hosting team by playing without spectators in the next game(s). Taking into consideration the fact that the people who cause trouble in stadiums go there just for that, and not to watch their team, I wouldn’t exactly call it punishment. They can attack their opponents on the streets. Not to mention that the ban will fuel their anger and (in their mind) justify more violence.
The General Secretariat of Sports keeps legislating but sports laws are rarely enforced. There is a paradox in Greece: If I start smashing a car as an individual, I will be arrested. If it is a Sunday outside a football field and I am with a couple of friends wearing our team’s colors and we start smashing a car, no one will come near us. It is amazing how some acts that belong in the penal code are justified when they are taking place around a football game.
Football violence, however, is a global phenomenon and it is certain that Greece has much fewer victims than some countries in South America or the UK where fanaticism is rampant. Thank God we haven’t started shooting referees, bring firearms to the games, or counting dead. The phenomenon in Greece is still manageable. But judging by the state’s inefficiency in other sectors, it seems that football violence in the country will end around the time tax evasion ends. If you get my drift.