They are young, unemployed and angry. On game day, they may wash most of the morning away in a pub by a creaky, World War I soccer stadium. Hours before the first goal, they will pay the equivalent of $3 to rush inside to find a spot among fans in the terraced arena. There, they will stand all afternoon, milling among thousands of others, celebrating, drinking, pushing, shoving. They never will sit down. In their sections, there are no seats.
According to a consensus of soccer and sports violence experts contacted by The Washington Post, this is how the typical European soccer fan spends a day at a game. It very likely is the way hundreds of Liverpool fans spent last Wednesday in Brussels, where a riot blamed on the British killed 38 and left hundreds more injured before the European Cup final.
"Most of them are teen-agers who probably have not worked a day in their lives because of the British economy," said Gordon Bradley, a native of England who coached the Washington Diplomats of the North American Soccer League and now coaches at George Mason University.
"They have very little money. This is like Christmas Day to them. They get to travel away from their problems, but it's only a couple hours away, a couple gallons of gas, so it's easy to go. Then they build to a crescendo at the game."
Last week's riot at Heysel Stadium did not come as a surprise to those who know British soccer. A disgrace, yes; a shock, no.
Bobby Charlton, former British soccer great who now is Manchester United director, said, "Over the last seven or eight years, it's gotten really bad. There are lots of reasons for it. You could blame unemployment, the lack of authority in schools, poor policing . . . But you can forget about the politicans and authorities. The individual, his thinking and his reasons for doing what he does, have to be changed . . . In 30 years, I've never seen anything like this."
"It's been happening forever," said John Ellis, formerly director of national coaching programs for the British government and now in charge of the National Capital Soccer League here.
The level of violence in British soccer has fluctuated, beginning with Elizabethan times when London constables were ordered to stamp out the game as a menace to public order. By the Victorian era, soccer rules were codified under the Football Association, and permanent teams were formed.
The Liverpool chief constable told a royal commission in the 1890s, "I think that now, when there is a match on the Everton or Liverpool grounds, a great number of working men, the instant they get paid, rush off home as quickly as they can, get a wash and a change, leave their wages with their wives, and are off to see the football. And I think that it has led to a great decrease in drunkenness."
Drunkenness at soccer stadiums, however, is seen by many officials throughout Europe as perhaps the most direct cause of antisocial behavior. In Scotland, where some of the most violent scenes have taken place in the past two decades, the country's Football Association recently banned the sale of alcohol in stadiums and aboard the special trains and buses in which supporters traveled to road games. The British government says this has led to a substantial decrease in violence at Scottish games. After last week's disaster in Brussels, government officials said similar steps would be considered for the rest of Britain.
The most recent advent of English soccer violence coincided with the 1960s phenomenon of the "skinheads," groups of violent, working-class thugs with shaved heads who terrorized Britain's cities. Since then, it has increased steadily. Only in the past decade, however, has soccer hooliganism been recognized widely in Britain as a sociological phenomenon. As one group of university sociologists put it, "Football became a context in which lower working-class standards of masculine aggression could be expressed."
An accepted corollary is that it has gone on for a long time in the working-class areas where most of the teams and stadiums were located. The establishment did not care much, because it was viewed as a subhuman activity of a subhuman class that was fairly predictable.
Then the British media got onto it, and there is no question it has fanned the flames and helped create a circle of violence. A typical headline reporting on a European soccer brawl is "English Yobs Go on Football Rampage." Yobs is the word in Britain for urban, working-class thugs, as viewed by the middle and upper classes.
There has been a lot of speculation in England that non-sports fans, that right-wing neo-Nazi groups such as the National Front act as provocateurs and organize violence. But, as Football Association Secretary Ted Croker said yesterday, "It's not a problem of just National Front members. Let's not kid ourselves. It goes far beyond that."
There also is ample reason to believe that otherwise normal, young, working-class family men go about soccer violence as a sort of soccer-related sport in and of itself. They go to the games without any kind of weapon, but go with their friends with the express purpose of having a "punch-up."
In addition to fighting within their own classes, football is also a way, particularly when British fans attend European matches, of fighting other classes and the establishment in general. Another sociologist paints a picture of "a disheveled and disestablished "army" wandering Europe in search of a "just war," ripped off by travel agents, provoked by locals, beaten up by police, reviled in their own media, exploited by games administrators, and staring blankly at the rich continental life styles denied to them.
Around the world this weekend, sports officials are wondering if what happened in Brussels could happen in their nations. Tulane University professor Robert Case, an expert in violence by sports fans, believes a disturbance of similar proportions could erupt during a U.S. sporting event in the next 10 years.
"We've had warning signs over the last few years," he said, mentioning the violence in Detroit following the Tigers' World Series victory last year, in which one person was killed and a police car was overturned and burned.
"There are many reasons why: the sale of alcohol in stadiums; the 'We vs. Them' atmosphere; the win-at-all-costs attitude; the media hype of sports; the fact that sports are an all-day event many places, with tailgating early in the day; and those new scoreboards that often replay violence on the field."
However, Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth said "a real good quality of sports fan" makes it less likely that U.S. fans' behavior would reach such depths. "We can't have those kinds of problems here, not that same type, that same type of mass reaction," Ueberroth said on ABC-TV's "Nightline." "I think we're protected by our effective law enforcement."
In Germany, there also is concern. Nicolaus Gorlach, an official at the Public Prosecutor's office in Munich, said every major soccer game in the city last year resulted in up to 60 prosecutions for breach of peace, bodily injury or robbery.
"It is not altogether impossible that what we saw in Brussels could happen in German league games as well once the mob is let loose," said Karl-Heinz Thielen, vice president of Cologne's top soccer team.
But those familiar with the situation in Britain find profound differences between the sports situations here and there. Of prime concern are the stadiums. In Europe, just 25 percent of those who attend soccer games are seated, according to Guido Tognoni, press officer for FIFA, soccer's international federation. Few, if any, stadiums feature full seating.
The violence in Brussels broke out and was confined to the standing area, Tognoni said. "You don't have riots in stadiums where people are seated," he said Friday from the FIFA office in Zurich.
Often, injuries occur at soccer games solely because the fans stand. John Kerr, director of the Major Indoor Soccer League's players association, grew up and played the game in Scotland. Once, as he was watching a game from the stands, he said he was carried 10 to 15 yards "without even realizing it."
At another game Kerr attended, several children were killed when a brick wall designed to retain standing fans collapsed under the weight of the surging masses. "You can imagine 30,000 to 40,000 people pushing forward, against a wall," he said. "The children were allowed to stand under the wall because it's the only way they could see with everyone standing up."
It seems that an easy answer to the problem would be to install seats where fans now stand. Bradley once had a conversation to that effect with the manager of the Birmingham, England, soccer club.
"He told me, 'If we put seats in our stadium, people wouldn't sit down. People want to stand up and touch each other. It's part of the emotion of the game,' " Bradley said.
Impressed by U.S. stadiums, Jimmy Hill, a former owner of the Diplomats, returned to his native Coventry City, in the English Midlands, and immediately put seats in the local stadium, Bradley said.
"He met with stiff opposition, because it changed the capacity of the stadium from something like 35,000 to 21,000, but he did it anyway and then raised ticket prices," Bradley said. "It's been two or three years now. No other club in England has followed suit."
There are other reasons soccer seems to spawn violence. Although it has been a dismal failure as a spectator sport in the United States, it is the national pastime in more than 100 nations, Bradley said.
"This is not a sporting event. It is a human event," said Alkis Panagoulias, coach of the U.S. national team, who was escorted by two machine-gun toting security guards wherever he went when the team recently played in Costa Rica. "Social backgrounds become equal in this game. Your society is represented by those 11 players."
Kerr added: "When you have a world championship in the United States, it's Detroit against San Diego or L.A. against Boston. In soccer, it's country against country, hundreds of years of history coming together in one scene. A lot of people play each other who are at war with each other."
This has been a month of unprecedented carnage. On May 11, 53 people died when a fire engulfed the main stand during a game in Bradford City, England. Many fans died when they were trapped inside gates that were locked to prevent them from coming onto the field during games.
Also in May, eight died in Mexico City, site of the 1986 World Cup, when fans stampeded to get into a game, and riots broke out in Peking after Hong Kong beat China.
"Unfortunately, it seems to have become the fashion to go to soccer matches with a knife in one's pocket," said Salvatore Pennuto, head of the "Black and Whites" fan club in Turin, Italy.
Most of the dead in Brussels were Italians, fans of Juventus, Liverpool's opponent. So it is to be expected that the harshest criticism of the riot -- and the game -- should come from Italy.
"It has come to the point that every important match is inevitably accompanied by a death or a wounding," sociologist Franco Ferrarotti wrote in an editorial Friday in a Rome daily, Il Messaggero.
What can and should be done? England's professional soccer authority withdrew all its teams from European competition next season to "put its house in order," a decision that drew little opposition in England. It is viewed as a kind of national penance, for what happened in Brussels and as a way of admitting to themselves that they looked the other way while a significant segment of public life here was turned over to the dregs of society.
It is likely there also will be some sort of identification system for fans, requiring them to present an ID card at each game. Troublemakers presumably would be caught at the gate and not allowed in. Metal detectors, X-ray machines and searches of purses and bags may be next, not just at soccer games but at all sporting events.
Almost everyone is calling for increased security. In Brussels, 780 police officers were at the game, although many were outside the stadium when the riot began before the game. By contrast, before last year's Roma-Liverpool game in Rome, 3,000 police, including 800 plainclothes officers inside the stadium, were assigned to the soccer beat two days before the match.
Alcohol was banned from the stadium (there are no uniform policies on alcohol in England or Europe) and the area around the stadium, and Liverpool fans were kept inside the stadium after the game until the Roma fans had dispersed. In addition, a huge TV screen was set up at the Circus Maximus so those without tickets could watch.
Switzerland, which is not known for soccer violence, still takes precautions. Last year, when Juventus fans arrived at the Zurich airport for their team's game with the Zurich Grasshoppers, police stopped all spectators and searched their bags.
Many nations order police escorts for visiting fans from the airport or train station to the stadium and back.
Although FIFA now has a plan to ban a team from playing at home for one game if its fans create a disturbance in a stadium, there are no plans to curtail the game itself. "I don't think this is a soccer problem," said Panagoulias. "This is a society problem."
The World Cup -- which is perceived by most nations to be the world's most important sports event -- has not been beset recently with the kind of violence lesser matches have. Security is airtight, according to those who have gone through it, and fan violence is practically nonexistent.
"There are so many different countries that you tend to have only a limited number of people from each country, not a stadium filled with just two sides," Ellis said.
The Cup competition lasts for about a month, which also precludes the "road trip" atmosphere. "Most people cannot afford to stay for a month," Ellis said, "and they sure can't be drunk for a month."
The sports world's tolerance for fan disturbances obviously is wearing thin. When fans in the Tiger Stadium center field bleachers persisted to chant obscenities this spring, Tigers President Jim Campbell temporarily closed all 11,500 bleacher seats (they are to be re-opened today). Also this season, team management decreed that all beer sold in the stadium must be low-alcohol beer.
"What Jim Campbell did in Detroit (with the bleachers) was the right thing," Ueberroth told The Post this week. "The Detroit fans should cheer him."
He also said baseball might well eliminate the 32-ounce beer cups and might not allow stadiums to sell beer after the seventh inning.
It's that same family atmosphere that legislators in Foxboro, Mass., sought after drunk New England Patriots fans fought into the early morning hours following a Monday night football game in 1976. For that reason, the politicians said the Patriots are not allowed to play on Monday night, and they don't.
But, much more common nowadays are hockey fights, managers kicking dirt on umpires and drunk fans fighting in the stands.
"Violence on the field begets violence in the stands," Tulane's Case said. "The incidents are increasing and becoming more intense. Violent crime is a huge problem in our society. We can't divorce sports from society."