The riot in Egypt during a soccer game killed more than 70 people earlier this month and brought global attention to fan vandalism. But violence in the stands is almost taken for granted in many countries.
By Hristina Tisheva
Just a year ago, I was at the Bulgarian soccer version of the Red Sox versus the Yankees. Archrivals CSKA and Levski were meeting for the second time in the season. When these teams meet, fans fight.
Five hours before kick-off, the streets within a 2-mile radius of the stadium were closed off to all vehicles. Fans from opposing teams entered from separate gates.
There was no trouble during the first half of the game. CSKA was winning 3-0 at halftime.
I was among the 3,000 red CSKA fans who were packed in a section intended for no more than 1,000 people. We were overjoyed. People were jumping up and down, shouting and singing.
Levski, the home team, was losing. Their 8,000 fans were motionless, seemingly stunned into silence.
In my section, the happiness quickly deteriorated into bedlam. I was directly behind a group of about 20 teenagers. They were already drunk, with shaved heads, black winter boots and tight blue jeans; some were visibly high.
We call such fans the “ultras.” That term is not new to us, but became globally known after the tragedy in Cairo. They charged the fence separating the fans from the field and began violently shaking it.
That’s when the police came in. Nearly 400 cops swarmed into the red fan section in slow waves. They were armed with nightsticks, riot shields and masks.
They kept walking slowly like a solid wall; their eyes looking through us. They didn’t even give orders. They were just pushing. I was fighting for air and for space.
3,000 people were kicked out of the stadium that night because of those 20 teenagers. The angry fans began rioting in the streets. Some broke windows of nearby stores and cars, others picked fights with the police.
I went home.
That night was the first time fans had been forced to leaving during a professional soccer game in Bulgaria. But riots and fights often happen. Sometimes fans of rival teams will actually arrange through online forums a time and place to go and beat each other up.
I haven’t been back at a soccer match. I still consider myself a CSKA fan. But now I’ll be watching the games on a widescreen TV so I don’t have to worry I’ll have to fight for air again.