Derby Daze: Supporter Violence Mars Hudson Derby

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Harrison, NJ (August 9th, 2015) – It’s been a rivalry in the making – a pressure cooker created by results and an MLS original meeting the new, rich, noisy neighbors.  After only a few months and three matches, the rivalry between New York City Football Club and New York Red Bulls took an ugly turn prior to the third and final meeting of the 2015 regular season, going further than the smoke bombs and flag waving pictured above.

The incident seems to have started in Newark’s Ironbound district where many Red Bulls fans traditionally gather for pregame festivities.  The storefront pictured in the above video is Bello’s, the “home” bar of Red Bulls supporters group Garden State Ultras. Tensions between the clubs’ supporters groups have been building for weeks since the City supporters group, The Third Rail, had received sanctions from both the league and the Red Bulls for throwing flares on the field and garbage on the fans below them in the inaugural match at Red Bull Arena.  Instead of being allotted 1500 tickets for away support, Third Rail was told that they would only be allotted 500 tickets, and receive no exceptions to stadium policy.  These exceptions traditionally allow clubs to bring banners, drums, and other items associated with supporters sections.

This is another in a series of violent incidents this season.  In March, several fans took to social media to report that Orlando City supporters assaulted some Caps supporters . As a result of these reports, Orlando City’s home venue, the Citrus Bowl, made changes to their security policies to make it easier to get a hold of security if needed.

The Citrus Bowl acted quickly and effectively to make changes to their policies to ensure that these types of incidents, often associated with the hooliganism that seems to be a regular occurrence in Europe, and even throughout CONCACAF.

For instance, many US National Team supporters likely will not attend the Confederations Cup play in a match scheduled to be held at the Rose Bowl in October. Because of incidents similar to those reported in Atlanta, where Mexican National Team supporters dumped beer and garbage on Panamanian players.

Dating back to 2009, it seems that certain groups of supporters have  a reputation for taking a rivalry too far.  In Columbus, Toronto FC fans made the news for ripping out a railing at then-named Crew Stadium. However, Toronto FC supporters downplayed the incident, writing it off as a product of alcohol and large crowds. However, these reports seem to rear their ugly heads every time the visibility of the league goes up. With the influx of higher profile players come into the league, MLS continues to grow it’s fan base. As the fan base grows, so do the amount of families coming to these matches to see the product on the field. Is this really the way MLS wants their product displayed? Especially with two of the league’s marquis franchises, the stakes are high.

Fortunately, Sunday’s incident, which was reported on by major television news outlets in the New York area, did not happen inside Red Bull Arena. However, there were several reports that there were isolated incidents of fan violence around Red Bull Arena. One fan stated that he saw a couple of City fans looking to start fights on the way out of the arena. Of course, City supporters from Third Rail, and Hearts of Oak, have been at odds with the New York Police Department, and an NYCFC writer accused the police at Yankee Stadium of “criminalizing soccer support.”

The Third Rail itself has had it’s share of issues, even within the supporters group itself. Empire of Soccer reported in April that there was major unrest within the membership. In addition to that, there were reports of racist and ethnocentric, specifically anti-semetic, issues in the stands early in the season. Whereas these issues have been muted of late, it seems that tensions erupted on the streets of Newark today bringing up all of these things, and spotlighting the darker side of sport on a day that should have been about the play on the pitch. Whereas it was unclear if membership from any supporters groups were involved, one thing is for certain – the pregame brawl in Newark is a bad look for a sport that is fighting for a foothold in a market that is challenging for any team, but especially one that wishes to put itself out there as the family friendly alternative.

Featured Pic: Bill Twomey/Bill Twomey Photography

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