Football and Crime
With so much money changing hands and national pride at stake, it is little wonder that football has a long association with crime. The most visible element of this is football hooliganism, which still blights the so-called ‘Beautiful Game’ to this day. Fan violence and sport date back thousands of years, with Pliny the Younger complaining about spectators fighting each other at chariot races, allegiances to riders in which, ludicrously, were decided by the fan’s favorite color. Unfortunately, sporting violence is yet-worse when it isn’t just favorite colors at stake, and some ridiculous fans literally view international fixtures as war.
But hooliganism is not confined merely to international games. Club sides in every country have hated rivals, sometimes local but often simply because of a perceived injustice many years before, and some fans take it upon themselves to beat up, and even kill, fans of the opposition team. England has the worst reputation for hooliganism, which peaked with the tragic Heysel Disaster in 1985 when fighting between Liverpool and Juventus fans led to a concrete wall collapsing and crushing 39 people to death. Fortunately, football authorities are much better at preventing such heartbreaking events today, though fights still occur.
In 1981, the Liverpool manager Bill Shankly quipped that ‘someone said to me “To you, football is a matter of life or death!” and I said “Listen, it’s more important than that”‘. This became disturbingly literal in the aftermath of Colombia’s exit from the 1994 World Cup. The captain, Andrés Escobar, scored his own goal against the United States that knocked Columbia out of the tournament. Barely a week later, Escobar was killed in his car by gunmen, one of whom shouted ‘¡Gol!’ (‘Goal!’) after every bullet. The murder is widely believed to have been because of the own goal.
Another criminal element in soccer is match-fixing. Typically, people bet great sums on the outcome of games, and players or match officials are bribed to ensure that the punter wins. A series of mysterious floodlight failures in England in the late 1990s were even traced to Chinese betting syndicates. In 2006, several of the biggest Italian teams were found guilty of rigging matches by selecting ‘favorable’ referees. As a consequence, Juventus were stripped of the 2004-05 Italian league title, relegated to the third division, and deducted 30 points, with their general manager, Luciano Moggi, banned for life from football.