Next week sees European football play its last Champion's League the UEFA Champions League round for the year, so let us consider the most tragic face of the continent's football. To paraphrase von Clausewitz, European football, or Soccer symbol of European soccer as some know it, is the continuation of war by other means. Many fans overseas watching games and reading news of football hooligans do not realize that the rivalries on the field are often expressions of age old conflicts. Some of the conflicts are so old that many fans often do not understand the origins of their antipathy for the other teams.

Religion and History

Starting in what is now the United Kingdom many of the rivalries reflect the religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants and marked a bloody period in its #history. Many know of the bitter clashes of fans between Catholic Celtic and Protestant Rangers in Scotland.

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What many have forgotten is that many other rivalries have similar roots, the cross town rivalries of Hearts and Hibs in Edinburgh, Manchester United and Manchester City and Liverpool with Everton reflect the religious split within those cities. In the same fashion Tottenham Hotspur has a traditional Jewish fan base and this has caused clashes with fans of other clubs.

In Spain, a country marked by independence movements by the Catalans and the Basques from Castilian Spain, the rivalry is much more openly political. During the period of the Francisco Franco dictatorship when the two languages were officially suppressed, Real Madrid became the symbol of the suppression for the two rebellious regions, also because one of its fans was Franco himself. The games between Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao against Real Madrid are even more expressions of independence as they are of sporting rivalry.

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In Italy, a country deeply split politically since Roman times, the football rivalry very often reflects the backgrounds of the fan bases. The cross town rivalry between Roma and Lazio is often very heated and acts of violence between groups of fans are not rare before and after games. The cause of this rivalry is the openly fascist leanings of the Lazio fans, whereas the traditional fans of Roma tended to be communist. Livorno fans were a thorn in the side of Milan’s Silvio Berlusconi due to their communist leanings and their games were often marked by the protests of the fans against the magnate’s politics. Many other rivalries between Italian cities have longer histories and many go back to the historical battles between the Guelphs and Ghibellines which inspired Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’.

In Germany much of the rivalry towards Bayern Munich is as much due to the Catholicism of Bavaria by the other Protestant regions as to its success on the soccer field. In Belgium the rivalry is mainly due to the historic split in the population between the French speaking Walloons and openly to the Dutch speaking Flemish.

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European football's most troubled zone

Naturally the area of Europe with the greatest potential for violence Soccer unifies in war due its History is the Balkans with many games between teams from the many rivalries more than capable of sparking violent conflicts between fans. To the many rivalries that filled our newspapers for years we must add the centuries old clash between Turkey and Greece with which every game between these countries, in any sport, is considered high risk by all the authorities.

For these reasons and many more fans of European soccer overseas should know that when they watch their favourite teams play that they are not only watching sport, but also History in motion. Unfortunately, for the very reason that Football is the people’s game and therefore with the highest profile, it is also a History that many fanatics still use to justify violence which should have disappeared long ago. Now it is up to History History has clearly shown that these walls are useless to give us the solutions to end these hatreds. #Soccer violence #Champions League