Aug 07 2007

Why soccer inspires hooliganism…even in gentle Sweden

I haven't written any "Tales from the Commute" for a while, but yesterday's journey home from the office is certainly blog-worthy.

It started when I boarded the MOST crowded train I've ever been on is Sweden…and I'm on trains ALOT. I knew I would probably be standing at least as far as Lund as the train approached the station…because it had only half the number of cars it usually has at that particular time of day.  Still, I held out hope that if I managed to be one of the first people to board the section containing the Quiet Car…I might have a shot at getting a seat.

So I took up a position on the platform that would make me first in line to board if the Quiet Car was the LAST one on the train. This was a gamble because the Quiet Car is interchangeable with the 1st Class Car in terms where it falls in the series of passenger compartments.  It's always the first or the last car, but you don't know which until the train arrives at the platform.

Unfortunately, I chose the wrong end, and consequently was one of the LAST people to board.  Not only did I end up standing…I ended up standing just inside the door crammed sardine-like between one of the conductors and at least 30 of my new best friends…several of whom were in full deoderant failure.

Of course didn't help matters that it had been one of the warmest days of the summer so far, and that I'm just vertically challenged enough for my face to be precisely at the arm-pit level of most other adults. (Something Dr. Darling loves to harrass me with…usually just before she's going to get in the shower.)  And the particular area where I was standing in the train car is not climate controlled in any way (presumably because the doors stand open for a period of time at every stop…why bother?) so the there's no air circulation what-so-ever.  It reminded me very much of tavelling on London's Underground system during rush hour…except with fewer drunks.

Or so I thought.

Turns out that the other reason the train was so crowded was that it was loaded with Helsingborg supporters on their way to Malmö for a soccer match (known here as football).  It was also full of police officers carrying riot helmets…which I didn't realize until they all started filing off the train at Malmö's central station.  The police presence was even greater outside the station, where I counted at least eight police vans.

I decided to walk home by way of Stortorget since that's the direction that most of the crowd was heading, and there were even more police officers there, including at least a half-dozen on horseback.  Turns out there's a bar just off the square where Helsingborg fans gather to party before the game.  As I passed, there was definitely a crowd spilling out of the bar and a lot of singing and chanting going on…but it didn't seem especially unruly or threatening to me. (Though it was only 5 p.m. at the time and the match didn't start until 8.)

Now I know there's a rivalry between the Helsingborg and Malmö teams, but I had no idea it required the such a huge security force stationed nowhere near the stadium on a game night.  (I'm guessing the number of on-duty cops there was even higher.) It was more than a little unsettling, which is why I made a point of reassuring a Japanese tourist who clearly did not expect to come face-to-face with the mounted police while shopping for Swedish souvenirs.

Still, I was kind of surprised there were so few reports of vandalism or assaults in the paper this morning, and not because there wereprobably two armed police officers on duty for every 12 people attending the match…but because it ended in a 1-1 tie.

I'm not a fan of either team and even I was pissed off!  Especially since my "tax dollars" paid all those cops overtime FOR NOTHING.

Feed my ego!

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