Rowdy young soccer fans sometimes cross line to crime

Sports are supposed to be good for youngsters, but gangs of fútbol fans frequently mean trouble.

Such was the case in Desamparados two weeks ago when unruly Saprissa fans took over a public bus. They were official or unofficial members of the La Ultra Morada, the sports club’s 15-year-old fan organization.

Business people in downtown San José know about the Ultra. They gather in large groups in advance of Saprissa soccer games. The police know, too, because they bring their mobile command post and extra officers to Parque Morazán where fans await their buses.

A reader wrote in January about being confronted by young soccer fans there:

“No matter how many we took out, within a few more seconds, we would be on the ground, taking sissy kicks and who knows what else from dozens of over-revved teens en route to a soccer match at 8 p.m.  Like the intoxicated fans who tip over police cars after a bowl game victory, the mob converted into its own little team of spastic warriors.”

The reader, Richard Sims, was very pleased by the prompt police response. On my bus there were no police officers.

I boarded the bus in Desamparados Centro shortly after a shopping trip and after a soccer match between Saprissa and Brujas ended. Once again, the young fans, most of them minors, were in high spirits. More than a dozen crowded in to the back of the bus laughing and joking.

Then a young woman pulled a butcher knife and began making threats. The other young soccer fans, most of them minors, starting directing insults at the driver and the rest of the passengers. They were egged on by a man who appeared to be in his late 20s. They all seemed to be going in the direction of Aserrí. Robbery seemed to be in the wind.

Passengers began to beg the driver to stop. Eventually he did, and all but the young fútbol fans got off at the unscheduled stop. The driver closed the door.

The story does not really have an ending because none of the former passengers knows what happened next. Later some policemen said they had responded, but there were no arrests.

Other soccer teams have their own fan groups. Saprissa’s big rival, the Liga Deportiva Alajuelense, is supported by La 12. Generally these fan clubs are called barras, and these are the fans that make a mess in the stadium and sometimes engage in fights, shoot rockets and start fires.

Costa Rican sports hooligans are strictly small timewhen compared to those in Europe. This is not a new phenomenon. Fan violence goes back to the 19th century in Europe and to at least the 1950s in Latin America.

The difference is that Costa Rica’s young population provides numerous candidates for football gangs.

Although the Fuerza Pública keeps close track of the football gangs and even hold meetings with leaders, the agency concentrates on street violence outside stadiums. Maybe they should consider riding on a bus.

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