CHRISTOPHER MCCOLLUM - Monday, March 5, 2012
In the upcoming YAX written by Mathew Wagner on American Samir Badr playing for Haras El Hodood, the danger that some Americans find themselves in while playing abroad is shown in stark reality.
The atmosphere that Badr painted in the interview was exhilarating and frightening. Even though he was not directly involved in the Port Said disaster, the aftermath that he was caught up in was unlike any situation most soccer players will ever see. It was perhaps the most realistically dangerous situation that an American has found himself in while playing abroad, caught between the military and a revolting populace.
While Badr's situation was unique in the level of Big Picture danger that it presented, he isn't the only American who finds himself in situations where things can go terribly awry. Despite not being as dangerous in terms of possibly being caught in the middle of a Revolution, they are still dangerous in the sense that injury to a player is possible.
Back in October, Danijal Brkovic found himself in a scary situation with Velez Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina. He didn't play in the game, but he was on the sidelines when his team took a last minute lead. Their opponents were intense cross town rivals Zrinjski, whose fans stormed the field after the goal, causing the Mostar players to flee for safety.
The rivalry isn't one of the better known ones in American soccer circles, since the Bosnian league is small and doesn't get much coverage stateside. The roots are found in the Balkan War when the city of Mostar was split down the middle between opposing Bosnian and Croat forces. Up until the war, Velez was supported by both groups, but that harmony was torn apart like the city's Old Bridge.
The rivalry has had such violent encounters that away fans are oftentimes not allowed to travel to games, but that does nothing to help the security of the players, as we saw in October when the field was stormed, and players on Velez narrowly avoided being attacked. Hopefully no other similar events take place for Brkovic.
Arguably the favorite Cinderella story at Yanks Abroad is the success of Hapoel Kiryat Shmona in the Israeli Premier League, with their American defensive midfielder Bryan Gerzicich. At this point in the season with the lead they have, it appears to be a lock that they will be playing in the UEFA Champions League later in the year.
Despite the success of the team, there's an inherent danger present, in that the town of 23,000 people lies within shooting distance of the Lebanon border, and has suffered numerous rocket attacks over the years from terrorist groups. In 2006 alone, over a thousand rockets hit Kiryat Shmona, forcing the evacuation of over half the population of the city.
Fortunately for Gerzicich, tensions along the border have eased somewhat, meaning he hasn't had quite the experience that other residents have. Regardless of where things currently stand, as history has shown in the area, the status quo can chance in a moment's notice.
Ryan Adeleye is another American playing in the Israeli Premier League, with Hapoel Be'er Sheva near the Gaza Strip. The danger of rocket attacks has been much more at the forefront for Adeleye, as the city has actually come under attack while he has been playing there.
In an interview with YA back in September, he made sure to clarify that while stressful, he did not particularly feel in danger as his club provided a secure environment, and friendships with other clubs in Israel allowed them to move their base of operations to safety until the situation with the attacks got straightened out.
Moving from rockets to Molotov Cocktails, the list of Americans facing dangerous situations now turns northwest to Scotland, where a trio of Yanks play for the financially strapped Rangers. The rivalry with Celtic has spiraled out of control on more than one occasion, and is even responsible for a ban on beer in stadiums, after armed cavalry had to stampede the field to break up a riot.
Usually players are not subjected to much physical violence, but that could simply be the efficient security measures that kick into place when it becomes evident that fans are about to go ballistic. This isn't always the rule though, as seen with DaMarcus Beasley when he played with Rangers, and someone torched his BMW that was parked at his house.
Add in the racial slurs that have been lobbed at Maurice Edu by Rangers' own fans, and the volatile situation becomes even worse, as it appears that here is no dividing line between Celtic and Rangers fans when it comes to attacking players, no matter what team they play for.
In a few more months, they seem like they will be getting out of potential danger, but until then, given the bad situation that the club finds itself in, the provocations from Celtic fans will likely get worse, and who knows what will happen after that. That said, great positive steps are being taken by the clubs and the local government to try to end the shenanigans.
South to London, we come to Sebastian Lletget and West Ham, with their well-known rivalry with Millwall. Lletget has appeared to be getting closer and closer to first team action with West Ham this season, but if it happens he will get to feature against Millwall as they have no more meeting this season, and West Ham appears to be a lock for promotion to the Premier League. If the situation ever does come up where they play each other, perhaps in a Cup or league game in the distant future, the history of violence between the two clubs is well documented.
Like with Rangers and Celtic, it's usually confined to the fans, which is bad enough, but sometimes it spills into the players, like in 2009 when riots outside of the of the stadium followed by three field invasions eventually caused the game to be suspended. Dozens of people were injured, some were stabbed, and for the first time in years there was a distinct possibility of players being caught in the cross fire between the two London firms.
With the summer transfer window coming closer and closer, there is a strong likelihood that several of these players will be moving away from the dangers surrounding their current teams. From Rangers alone, Orebro has stated that they want back Alejandro Bedoya, MLS is making gestures to Carlos Bocanegra, and Maurice Edu seems likely to move south, possibly to France where he is still wanted.
There are rumors in Israel that Gerzicich will be pursued by the more traditional giants of the Israeli Premier League, which would take him away from the dangers that the Lebanon border present, but closer to dangers that other areas of Israel present.
It seems unlikely that Lletget is going to move, given the impression he has been making so far leading up to his first team debut, but it's always possible that a promotion back to the Premier League will urge West Ham to move for players who are already top flight quality, dropping Lletget back down the pecking order and possibly sending him on loan elsewhere. Not to mention, West Ham will likely not be playing Millwall in the foreseeable future.
Soccer around the world more often than not has very real life connotations that elevate the game beyond just being entertainment, but being a very serious, sometimes even life or death metaphor for the realities of life. It's entertaining to follow and watch Americans playing abroad, but attention should also be paid to the surroundings that those players have, and the risks that they sometimes have to take, in order to provide that entertainment.