Supporters | Material evidence of unruly rooting

Barcelona | An exhibit of more than 400 pictures and artifacts of football fandom’s recent checkered history occasions surprise not for its place within the halls of culture but that the material evidence has been so lovingly preserved.

Can one believe that the pig’s head, launched toward Luis Figo at the Barcelona–Real Madrid derby in Nov 02, has been kept for such display more than five years later—still looking like it has had the last laugh? Or that museum curators have dutifully cataloged the charred scooter, parked on its kickstand, that supporters heaved over San Siro railings during a 2001 match between Internazionale and Atalanta?

Conjuring associations with high school biology lab, the preserved head of a pig (cerdo) floats in a beaker of preservative at the Barcelona exhibit. Not just any pig’s head, exhibitors claim this as the specimen hurled toward Figo at the Camp Nou during the “Partido de la Vergüenza” (Game of Shame). (Antonio Moreno | El Mundo)

We imagine the latter entry on the glossed catalog pages of the “Pasión en las gradas” (Passion in the Stands) exhibit, ongoing through Apr 20 at the Barcelona galleries of the Espai Cultural Caja Madrid: “1 Vespa PX, moto scooter (blackened [by flame?]), 97kg, single cylinder, electric and kick starter, pressed steel monocoque on a two-wheel frame, 8-liter fuel capacity (empty). On loan from FC Internazionale.”

Also gaining entry are effigies of Spanish and Italian provenance: again, Luis Figo, a so-called Judas after his 2000 transfer from Barça to Madrid, receives abuse in the form of a pink-skinned blowup mannequin, shown from the rear, perhaps engaging in unspeakable deeds in areas hidden from view. The Brigate Gialloblù of Hellas, with whom author Tim Parks associates in A Season with Verona, claim responsibility for the horrific mock-up of a lynching victim dressed in the team’s cheerful blue and yellow.

The black figure, meant to communicate to Verona’s directors the ultra group’s views toward a planned approach for well-traveled Cameroonian striker Patrick Mboma, dangles from a noose near the entrance to one of the exhibit’s six themed sections, “Violencia.” The startling image ensures that the exhibition, in present form, could never be mounted in the American South.

The visitor must journey through a murderer’s row of sporting excess and sickness. Curated by Klaus Littmann of Basel, Switzerland, in combination with the Madrid-based PopArt Acción Cultural, the displays of photography, newspapers, video as well as signage and weaponry confiscated from Europe’s terraces break down into categories of fascination, words, masses, discrimination and prevention.

One review mentions that exhibit organizers have tried to balance the impact of images of bellicosity and death with humor—part of one room dedicated, for instance, to the Borussia Dortmund–themed line of funerary products—as well as with the massed colors and joys of spectator sport. The online virtual exhibit, with text in Spanish, Catalan and English, alludes to the “structured happiness” of the mass wave, said to have originated at the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico. So even moments of glee contain a less-than-spontaneous component and might even morph, according to the exhibitors’ narrative, into more sinister expressions:

The stadium becomes a place of cult where feelings and emotions are collective, and simultaneously, a place that is on a fine edge between emotion, excitement and fascination on the positive side, and aggression on the dark side. Thanks to that positive side of the coin—which is lived collectively for instance when celebrating the joy of a goal—that energy can become the complete opposite: an experience of collective suffering.

As the final image in the online “Masas” section demonstrates—of flowers and scarves laid in 1989 in the goalmouth at Hillsborough—the stadium serves well for exposing such extremities. While supporters in Liverpool are singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” those in Utrecht are chanting “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.”

This video tour includes some of the violent ephemera on view, such as the brass-knuckle and nunchaku collections. To view video, copy the provided link into your browser’s address bar. (Europa Press)

Such themes are taken up in an extensive menu of forums tied to the three-month-long display. These include panels with journalists from El País, La Vanguardia and Catalan daily Avui, anthropologists and photographers (link to schedules). Some of the forums address the place of the media, in particular the Spanish football press, in throwing wood on the fire of such rivalries and in distorting the meaning of football such that it becomes an outlet for societal dysfunction.

These lazy repetitions of half-truths or outright falsehoods contrast—one of the themes in the “Palabras” area of the exhibit—with a growing minority of anti-racist activists who try to bring sport into its proper frame. For example, former Spanish minister of health and consumption Ernest Lluch Martín, a Barcelona supporter, decried any associations between Barça and violence. In rough translation, he wrote, “A violent Barça supporter is not a Barça supporter, he is just violent. A violent Nazi is not a Nazi, he is just violent. A violent anti-fascist is not an anti-fascist, he is just violent.”

Lluch died in 2000, shot twice in the head at home by members of the Basque separatist group ETA.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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  2. Bet Blogger says:

    An interesting article, and it offers a glimpse into what would be a fascinating exhibition. We see so many displays of photos, memorabilia, replica kits, etc. that it’s refreshing to see something different. Some of these artefacts are bizarre but have so much history and stories behind them that they deserve a platform and to be shared for others to see.

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