Real Madrid, probably the world’s “biggest” soccer team, came to Landover, Maryland yesterday to take on DC United. The Spanish giants put on a fabulous display, defeating the locals 3-0. DC United defended stoutly and, in fact, held Real Madrid scoreless in the first half. The game turned around only with the entrance of Arjen Robben, the mercurial Dutch winger. All-in-all the home team acquitted itself well.
The same cannot be said for the crowd (I won’t call it a home crowd, since so many of the fans came from out-of-town to see the likes of Ronaldo and Kaka and the vast majority rooted for the Spanish side).
Prior to the game, at Real Madrid’s request, there was to be a minute of silence in honor of Daniel Jarque, an outstanding defender for the Spanish club Espanyol (of Barcelona) and the captain of that team. Such observances are common in England to mark the passing not only of major stars, but also old local heroes, former club bureaucrats, etc. These minutes of silence are virtually always “immaculately observed,” to use the phrase favored by British sportscasters.
Not so in Landover yesterday. The crowd managed to keep it down to a dull roar for the first ten seconds, before resuming their fiesta. it was the longest minute I can remember. Heaven only knows what the Madrid team, particularly the veteran Spanish league players some of whom had their heads fully bowed, made of this.
Many English soccer fans drink for hours prior to a match and the rowdiness of English crowds is well known. But no matter how much they may drink, English fans remain capable of honoring the dead. And for all their tribalism, they remain capable of treating a soccer match as a serious athletic contest, not some sort of cultural celebration.
UPDATE: Steve Long, who covers DC United for American Soccer News, tells me that he has witnessed several moments of silence at DC United matches and that the fans have been “uniformly respectful.” That’s good to hear, and I’m not surprised. I rarely attend DC United matches these days, but when I do I find little to object to in the crowd’s behavior.
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