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When an English soccer fan was sentenced last week to five years in jail for futilely kung-fu-kicking a police horse after a match, the incident settled, once and for all, a barroom question that had long perplexed mankind: Who would win a street fight between Mr. Miyagi and Mr. Ed?
But the hand-to-hoof combat answered another question too—one that was asked incessantly in the buildup to last week's NFL conference championship games: Who are the most fearsome, most loathsome, most badly behaved fans on Earth?
To hear their unholier-than-thou boasting, you would think it was either a) Philadelphia Eagles fans, who filled the Vet, or b) Oakland Raiders fans, who need a vet.
But the answer, evidently, is neither, when you consider that the Brit—Millwall supporter Raymond (Mount) Everest—is pushing 60 years of age and that he was once an usher at the Millwall stadium, on a London street called Cold Blow Lane, on the city's Isle of Dogs, which sounds alarmingly like Jack the Ripper's return address.
Still, in a perverse game of one-downmanship, countless other groups on the globe are vying for the tide of World's Most Menacing Supporters. Sure, police in Philly have kept fans at bay with German shepherds straining at the leash. But in some English soccer stadiums they wield batons and pack pepper spray. (The spectators, that is. Eight Portsmouth fans were arrested with those weapons before their team's Dec. 14 match against Stoke City.)
True, an Eagles fan left the Vet stands two weeks ago, sat down on the home bench and casually asked quarterback Donovan McNabb how it was hangin'. But in November a fan of Sardinia, in Italian soccer's second division, ran onto the pitch and punched out the goalkeeper for rival Messina, knocking him unconscious. This behavior scarcely separates him from Cro-Magnon man, or even White Sox fans.
It would be unfair to leave the impression that all sports fans abroad are soccer hooligans. For many of them—indeed, the vast majority of them—are cricket hooligans. An entirely unremarkable one-day international match between England and Australia at the latter's Melbourne Cricket Ground last month saw 300 spectators evicted, eight arrested and two, unencumbered by clothing, disporting on the pitch during play.
A month earlier, while playing in India, West Indies cricketers were showered with rocks and garbage in Jamshedpur and Nagpur, whose spectator base resembles a marriage of Cleveland Browns fans (they threw empty bottles at the Windies) and New York Jets fans (they set mid-match bonfires in the stands).
In 1995, during the cricket World Cup, cohosted by India and Pakistan, I passed a 12-hour overnight flight delay in the perhaps too grandiosely named Maharajah Room at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. The room had one ancient black-and-white television with horizontal-hold problems, on which played the semifinal match between India and Sri Lanka, from a sold-out ground in Calcutta whose capacity was larger than that of Michigan Stadium. Laying fetally next to me on a sectional sofa, a slumbering old Indian lady with horizontal-hold problems of her own broke wind mournfully, her sari billowing out like lace curtains in a breeze.
When India appeared to be hopelessly out of the match, despondent fans set fires in the stands. Players were removed from the pitch, play was halted, and when it finally resumed an hour later, the stands were—immediately and once again—set alight like a Bananas Foster. The match was called on account of arson.