There are few tell-tale signs of true sports fandom quite like following your team into enemy territory to cheer them on. Unlikely being in the cozy confines of the team’s home stadium, you are no longer in the majority among supporters, thereby forging an even deeper bond as one of the minority of fans to be showing your support for the visitors. It can be an exciting and sometimes satisfying endeavor, but it also comes with its share of risks.
The home fans, after all, don’t always take kindly to seeing fellow spectators sporting the jersey of the visiting team. In certain environments, you can reasonably anticipate some level of backlash. Walk into Ralph Wilson Stadium in a Miami Dolphins jersey, for example, and don’t expect too warm a welcome from Buffalo Bills fans – trust me, I know from experience!
Still, there is a clear difference between receiving some well-humored heckling and, well, getting beat up. As recently as September 16th in San Francisco after a game between the home 49ers and the Minnesota Vikings, there has been a prevalence of brutal incidents of team-oriented fan violence in and outside of stadiums in recent years. Unfortunately, this sort of scene could happen anywhere so long as there is a dangerous mix of booze, conflicting rooting interests, heightened emotions and mob mentality.
Not all stadiums are created equal, mind you. For years, certain sporting locales have developed reputations for the aggressive nature of their fan bases. Beyond simple rivalries and visiting team hostility, particular venues in and outside of North America have come to be known as places that you probably don’t want to be caught supporting the other guys. Here are the worst of the worst:
20. MetLife Stadium
In 2011 before a game between the host New York Jets and the Dallas Cowboys, then-Jets head coach Rex Ryan hinted at the fervent nature of the home fans by saying, “it’s probably not recommended that you wear Cowboys stuff, I would think.” Those words proved ominous, as about four or five Jets fans attacked 59-year-old Cowboys fan Leroy McKelvey during the game, with a cell phone video showing McKelvey lying on the ground in a defensive position while being attacked. Ironically, it was the Cowboys fan who wound up in jail after brandishing a taser that he snuck into the stadium as a self defense measure.
19. Newlands Stadium
For years, Cape Town has been a hotbed for racial tensions. It’s only reasonable to expect those tensions to pour out into heavily populated sports stadiums, with rooting interests centered around the Springboks national rugby team typically existing along racial lines. Newlands Stadium has been a hub for some of those racial tensions, serving host to numerous incidents of racial taunting and violence. In late 2014, a group of khaki-clad men were widely reported to engage in ongoing racist behavior during a Springboks match against Australia, shouting out anti-black chants every time a player of color touched the ball.
18. Wells Fargo Center
It’s no coincidence that three Philadelphia venues make their way onto this list, considering how the City of Brotherly Love can certainly be anything but for opposing fans. The home of the Philadelphia Flyers and Philadelphia 76ers has seen numerous instances of fan violence, including a captured-on-video brawl between Flyers fans and New York Rangers supporters in April of 2014. However, the most famous instance of fan involvement at the venue came when Philly native Chris Falcone fell into the penalty box while lunging at Toronto Maple Leafs enforcer Tie Domi.
17. Fenway Park
Among the many things that Fenway Park is widely renown for, fan violence isn’t high on the list. Red Sox fans tend to be happy-go-lucky, more concerned with discussing curses and singing “Sweet Caroline” than anything else. But that can change in a hurry given the right circumstances, particularly when the New York Yankees come to town. The prevalence of bars in the immediate vicinity of the ballpark, coupled with a boozy, blue collar vibe, can sometimes result in pleasantries exchanged between well-lubricated fans, with one often sporting pinstripes.
16. FirstEnergy Stadium
Few fan forces in the NFL are as fearsome as the Dawg Pound, a notorious army of hardcore Cleveland Browns supporters. These mask-clad fans, situated behind the east endzone in their own bleacher section, have gained a long-standing reputation for terrorizing opposing players and fans with projectiles and, at one time, even dousing rivals with dog food. When they Browns left Cleveland in 1995, the Dawg Pound tore the seats out of the stands in protest and for souvenir collection. Since the team returned in 1999, the Pound has been slightly tamer, albeit still unfriendly to opposing fans.
15. US Cellular Park
There’s father/son bonding, and then there’s the heinous scene that transpired at what was then known as New Comiskey Park on September 19th, 2002 when William Ligue Jr. and his son, William Ligue III, ran onto the field for an unprovoked attack on Kansas City Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa. But it isn’t merely once incident that earned this stadium the clever nickname, “the Cell”. The South Side Chicago stadium and home of the White Sox has also been home to violence against fans of the cross-town rival Cubs and, most recently, featured a parking lot attack by fans on a couple who caught the group urinating on their car.
14. Cameron Indoor Stadium
Duke University has long been a college that seems to invite hatred towards their obnoxiously successful sports programs, specifically the men’s basketball team. Much of that hatred can be attributed to the student supporters known as the Cameron Crazies, who have been known to get under the skin of opposing players and fans with clever but often mean-spirited and off-color chants. Even legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has taken exception to the Crazies, publicly asking the group to cheer for the Blue Devils rather than against their opponents. TV networks also have trouble handling their clearly audible chants when broadcasting live.
13. Upton Park Stadium
English soccer rivalries are made all the more intense by the proliferation of teams located in relatively close confines. Take West Ham United, who play out of Upton Park Stadium in East London. Their rivalry with Millwall has become so heated that it resulted in a melee between supporters of each team that broke out two hours prior to a game between the clubs in 2009. Fighting continued throughout the contest and afterwards, spilling out into the surrounding neighborhood after the final whistle. There was at least one stabbing victim amidst the brawling that involved hundreds of fans.
12. Candlestick Park
The San Francisco 49ers moved to Levi’s Stadium in 2014 and the Giants had moved to AT&T Park years before, but the fight-ridden legacy of Candlestick Park lives on. After all, it’s hard to forget an infamous reign of rivalry-fueled battles in which Niner fans locked horns with Oakland Raiders supporters and Giants fans targeted Los Angeles Dodger-jerseyed spectators. In just one 2011 game between the 49ers and Raiders, there were multiple fights in the stands, a bathroom assault and two shootings. And that was just a pre-season game!
11. SAP Center at San Jose
Staying in California, the San Jose Sharks’ home arena has seen its share of cringe-inducing incidents of fan violence. None, though, were as grossly unpleasant as one particular conflict in December of 2011 when Sharks fans opted to gang up on a 16-year-old girl who committed the sin of wearing a Vancouver Canucks jersey. The home fans cursed at and shoved teenaged fan Maggie Herger, who became a Canucks fan after players on the team had visited her in the hospital four years earlier while she battled a brain tumor.
10. Yankee Stadium
Things have gotten decidedly tamer since the New York Yankees changed addresses from one Yankee Stadium to another in 2009, thanks to expensive tickets that have priced out many of the rabble rousers from the past. Those trouble makers weren’t shy about making their mark on old House That Ruth Built during its 86-year existence. Among the most notorious incidents at the old ballpark, there were the two fans who attacked Cleveland Indians outfielder Jimmy Piersall in 1961 and a fan that threw a hunting knife at Wally Joyner of the California Angels in 1986.
9. Citizens Bank Park
Let’s give credit where credit is due. Philadelphia Phillies fans are at least equal opportunity thugs in that they seem to fight each other as much as they fight fans of other teams. Phillie fans have no shortage of rivals, with New York Mets fans chief among them. But they have also shown that they aren’t averse to mixing it up with fellow Phillie supporters, either. Fan violence at Citizens Bank Park turned tragic when David Sale Jr. was beaten to death by three men outside the ballpark in 2009.
8. Rogers Arena
Stereotypically, Canadians are supposed to be well-mannered and polite, just as Vancouverites have developed a reputation for being laid back and easy-going. Those reputations don’t hold up at Rogers Arena, home of the Vancouver Canucks. An ugly scene at the venue captured on video earlier this year saw a Canucks fan engage in brutal fisticuffs with a fan of the rival Calgary Flames. But the most infamous incident involving Canucks fans was, indisputably, the riots that broke out after Vancouver’s Game 7 loss in the Stanley Cup Final, leading to 140 injuries, 101 arrests and involving over 350 suspected rioters.
7. O.Co Coliseum
Fans of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders easily rank as the most terrifying in just about any sports league, owing to their silver and black face paint, typically spiked game day attire and often aggressive behavior. Although their bark may be worse than their bite (no, this isn’t a reference to the Dawg Pound), they’ve been known to make opposing fans, particularly those in 49er colors, feel unwelcome. I mean, would you want one of these guys on your case about the jersey you’re wearing??
6. La Bombonera
Throughout Argentina, mob-like organizations have assumed control of most soccer franchises and stadiums, taking a significant cut of gate receipts, merchandise, concessions and even player salaries. This arrangement has enabled fan violence to go largely unchecked and security to remain unenforced. Nowhere is that more true that at La Bombonera, home of the Boca Juniors. Riots, mace attacks to visiting players and firebombs are just some of the dangerous antics routines on display on match day. Argentine officials finally took action earlier this year, suspending a Boca game due to fan violence and rescheduling it to be played in an empty stadium instead.
5. The Palace at Auburn Hills
They say that a bad reputation takes years to destroy but mere moments to forge. To verify how true that adage is, just ask those who were involved in the most infamous case of athlete/fan violence in modern history. The “Malice at the Palace”, as it has come to be known, brought fan interaction with athletes to a whole new, low level on November 19th, 2004. During an on-court skirmish, Indiana Pacers forward and known nutjob Ron Artest charged into the crowd upon feeling something being thrown at him by a fan. Teammates Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal soon followed him into the stands, only making matters worse by getting involved in the mayhem. The incident prompted new NBA-wide security measures still in force to this day.
4. Red Star Stadium
The home stadium of the Belgrade Red Star soccer team can sometimes more closely resemble a war zone with a rapid fan base that doesn’t take too kindly towards efforts to control their behavior. This past April, Red Star supporters reacted furiously to being penned in the stadium as a security control measure, hurling rocks, plastic seats and even a stun grenade at security forces in an incident that left 35 police officers injured. This was nothing new for flare-happy Belgrade fans, who have made mass rioting a game day tradition.
3. Dodger Stadium
Dodger Stadium is an iconic gem of a ballpark, albeit one that sits in a rough part of Chavez Ravine. The endless exterior parking lots and empty terrain offer ample space for tensions to play out on the way to or from the stadium. That’s what happened in March of 2011 when Bryan Stow, a Giants jersey-wearing father of two, was savagely beaten outside the stadium by two Dodger fans, who left him unconscious and with permanent brain damage. This story is, sadly, not an unfamiliar one in what is a beautiful but hostile environment.
2. Turk Telekom Arena
Fan violence has simply become normalized as part of the live game day experience at Turk Telekom Arena, soon to be one of the host venues for Euro 2016. Supporters of the home Galatasaray soccer club have grown familiar with the sound of gunshots fired into the air at matches and gangs of booze-fueled young men seeking trouble in the streets. More galling are incidents of violence that include the stabbing deaths of two Arsenal supporters in 2000 and a pre-match brawl in 2011 that sent 34 people to hospital and 44 to prison.
1. Lincoln Financial Field
If you aren’t wearing Eagles colors at a Philadelphia Eagles home game, you are a target. That means you, Santa Clause, who was pelted with snowballs and boos during halftime of a 1968 game. That also means any visiting fans, players or even nearby television crews, who incurred the fans’ wrath alongside the Dallas Cowboys in one memorable 1989 scene. When they aren’t throwing snowballs, Eagles fans have been known to chuck beer bottles, stones and batteries at unfortunate victims. The behavior of Philly fans is so notoriously bad that the old Veterans Stadium actually housed a criminal court, complete with jail cells and a sitting judge.
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