A minor news item in the aftermath of yesterday's crushing loss to the Seattle Sounders is the presence of away supporters outside of the designated away section. A number of Vancouver Whitecaps fans, well-wishers, and observers have been shocked by this and blame is being assigned to what was clearly an out-of-control situation.
It wasn't an out-of-control situation, of course. I was standing not far from a few Sounders fans. They were not obeying what I'd call "far from home and surrounded by thousands of vociferous supporters cheering for the other team" etiquette: they were scarves-up, cheering Sounders goals like Empire was merely the rowdiest part of Qwest Field, and sometimes trying to sledge Whitecaps supporters pretty aggressively. If they were New York Yankees fans in Fenway Park, I would have feared for their safety, but as it was they just came in for a lot of group mockery, down to being pointed at during the "you have X-Box, we have girlfriends" chant.
If there was an incident more severe than that, I haven't heard about it. I'm told a Sounders fan was drenched in beer tossed late in the game in the Southside, but so were lots of Whitecaps fans; this game had attracted a sad number of "party hard" fans there to drink and act like assholes and there were a number of cups flying towards the field in the last ten minutes. There was a security incident at half-time which drew four Vancouver Police officers but it was a group of drunken yahoos (from Vancouver) harassing a bunch of real supporters (from Vancouver). It was as awful a crowd as you get for Whitecaps games last night and a living, breathing advertisement for concentrated supporters' sections where casual fans are discouraged.
Compared to them, what's a few Seattle fans? I've been saying for more than a year that you can trust Seattle and Portland supporters not to get into fights with Whitecaps supporters simply because we happen to be nearby. The Cascadia clubs made far fewer away tickets available than there was demand and the results were predictable. Last night's arrangements were far from ideal but that was all.
It's true, there were pockets of two or three Sounders fans in every section of the stadium, including the Southsiders section where no intelligent away fan would buy a seat. There was no trouble, of course, because Seattle and Vancouver fans aren't barbarians. This isn't the NFL.
However, it was obviously not an ideal situation. At this stage of the season, though, it's hard to see what the Whitecaps front office could have done about it without being assholes. The three Cascadia teams committed to allowing away-supporter sections of 500 tickets each. We know from the word of interested supporters from Portland and Vancouver that Seattle led the drive to reduce the size of the away section; without their conservatism and fear-mongering the section might well have been larger. Obviously 500 tickets was far below the demand for Sounders fans to go see the Whitecaps and everybody knew that from the start.
So what did you want the Whitecaps to do? Refuse to sell tickets to people from Seattle? There's a surprising number of real Whitecaps fans from what would be considered "Sounders country" and, at any rate, expecting the Whitecaps front office to refuse to do business because of the Sounders front office's paranoia is wrong-headed. Traveling supporters are a boon to business: they buy tickets, buy souvenirs, need hotel rooms and cab rides, and generally drink a lot.
Should the Whitecaps have had PNE security kick out 1,000 Sounders fans who had done nothing wrong besides cheer for an inferior team? When did we become the Soviet Union? Are we really going to institute repressive security measures when there's never been an incidence of hooliganism between Seattle and Vancouver which would cause an usher at a CFL game to bat half an eyelash? Having spent months railing that supporters in Cascadia are civilized human beings who deserve better than to be treated like convicts-in-waiting, I can hardly turn around and say "throw 'em out!" just because I don't like their colours.
Drunken louts might have, and occasionally did, cause some trouble with unoffending Sounders fans. In that case, the proper reaction is to throw out the drunken louts, who will happily cause trouble with somebody else if there are no Sounders fans available.
Ideally, those seats should have been filled with Vancouver supporters. But they weren't. If a Vancouverite wanted a ticket then he should have bought one; the game was a sell-out but you could have bought a ticket up until match day (officially) and beyond kickoff (from a scalper). A minority of "fans" who think the Whitecaps were formed in 2011 have been turned off by losing. They will not be missed, although their wallets might be. Sounders fans took their place and did more for the atmosphere than a thousand douchebags waving their BMO cards ever could.
Now, admitting away fans into the actual Southside is reckless. I respect the hell out of the Timbers Army but would never buy a ticket in their section because, respect aside, there's thousands of them and one of me and emotions run high when you're chanting at a soccer game. Seattle fans who ignorantly or maliciously bought tickets in the depths of supporters' territory should be mocked. Unfortunately, for the 2011 season the Southside was set up to accommodate easy single-game purchases like that. Every indication is that the situation will be much better in 2012 and the Whitecaps have already done a lot of work with the Southsiders to make it happen. The front office knew there was a problem before last night, but the last game at Empire Field is a bit late in the day to start changing your ticketing policy.
It's sad that it's up to the club to police something as simple as "hey dummy, don't buy a ticket with the home supporters if you're an away supporter" but it is. This is a known problem, though, and it is being fixed. In the meantime, Whitecaps and Sounders supporters conducted themselves with the good-natured antagonism which characterizes the entire rivalry.