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Violence at the Costa Rican Classic

Back in February, referee Rafael Vega blew the full-time whistle to signal the end of a fiercely contested derby match between the two Costa Rican heavyweights, Deportivo Saprissa and Liga Deportiva Alajuelense. It had been a controversial and highly-disputed contest – match that would go a long way to determining the destination of the title. Two red cards had been shown, and tensions were running high. However, nothing had prepared the scene for what was about to unfold.

Following the final whistle, players and backroom staff from both sides began to trade verbal insults, rapidly descending into an all-out brawl between the two sides that split over into stadium security and the media. A television cameraman was badly beaten by private security, but the worst was still to come.

Saprissa’s 34-year old international, Douglas Sequeira, had been celebrating in front of the travelling Saprissa supporters. After kissing his badge and whipping up the crowd, he began to walk back up the touchline toward the rest of his teammates. Suddenly, seemingly struck by an object thrown from the Alajuelense crowd, he collapsed to the ground.

Sequeira needed oxygen and ventilation on the pitch, before being carried off the pitch on a stretcher. It would later be determined that he had been hit in the throat by a rock thrown by one of the crowd. Fortunately, there was no lasting damage and Sequeira was released from hospital two days later.


The clashes between these two giants of Costa Rican football have always been heated. Objects are often thrown from the stands onto the field of play, and outside the ground, nearby residences and businesses brace for the possibility of vandalism or theft. Team buses are often met with a barrage of rocks and stones, while in the past, fans used to bring knives and bags of urine to throw at opposition supporters.

There is no doubt that these are the country’s two biggest clubs. Between them, they have won an astonishing 56 league titles, with both sides claiming to be number one.

Alajuelense are one of Costa Rica’s, and indeed Central America’s, oldest professional football clubs, formed in 1919 and having won their first league title way back in 1928.

Deportivo Saprissa are a newer club, having been formed in 1935 and having won their first title in 1953, only four years after they had been playing in the third tier of Costa Rican football. Their crowning moment was finishing third in the FIFA World Club Cup back in 2005, having qualified by winning the CONCACAF Champions Cup.


Last weekend saw Alajuelense visit Saprissa for the first time since the ugly scenes that marred the match in February. The police and local security forces were out in force, expecting trouble, and they were correct.

Violent clashes broke out before the match between the two club’s famous ‘barras’, the fan groups who generally orchestrate the crowd before and during the matches. Running fights between members of Saprissa’s “Ultra Morada” and Alajuelense’s “The 12”, involving stones and weapons left countless injured, including several police officers.

Despite private security forces protecting the official team coaches, they were still unable to prevent the coaches coming under attack, with several windows being smashed by large rocks and one of the players being cut by glass shards.

The country’s Security Minister, Mario Zamora, took responsibility for the failure of the security forces to cope, announcing that “the operation failed to prevent the riots,” explaining that the barras had “surprised them with new tactics.”

Solutions to the Violence

Since the weekend, both clubs have released a joint statement and plan to try and prevent future repeats of the violence. The main suggestion is to try to prevent opposition ‘barras’ from entering the stadium, or even being in the vicinity. The two clubs will look to work closely with the leaders of their ‘barras’ themselves to try and persuade them to abide by this.

In sport, there is a fine line between passion and extremism. Football clubs invoke loyalty and passion within supporters that very few other institutions in any walk of life can achieve, and this passion is a vital part of making football matches the experience that they are. The atmosphere inside a football ground on a match day can be electric, and the relationships between groups of fans certainly add to this.

However, when this passion spills over into the violence that has been seen at the recent Costa Rican Classics, it is clear that the line has been crossed. The clubs need to work closely together and with the fans to try and prevent these ugly scenes from happening before somebody, whether a fan, a player, a policeman, or even an innocent bystander, gets serious injured, or worse.

While there is no scheduled match coming up between the two, they currently occupy the top two places in the league, meaning that there is a strong possibility that they could face each other in a two-legged affair to decide the title, assuming they both come through the playoff system.

Two matches within a week will prove a major test for the latest proposals to prevent the violence, and the eyes of a country, and indeed, the wider footballing public will be on the two clubs to see how events unfold.

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