HARRISON — What started out as a friendly soccer match at Red Bull Arena between two clubs from Honduras Sunday, Aug. 1, ended more like an MMA match, as wild brawls broke out, police from all over the area were called in and used riot gear and at least three people were stabbed, one critically.
The soccer matches were part of a doubleheader featuring two teams from Honduras playing each other in the first match and two teams from Colombia squaring off in the nightcap at the 25,000-seat arena in Harrison’s south end. The matches were billed as “friendlies,” a usual soccer term. But what ensued during and after the first match was nothing close to “friendly.”
Videos on social media revealed a chaotic scene, with some police clad in helmets and riot shields as they worked to push the out-of-control crowd away from the stadium and out of the area. Game attendees, some draped in the flags of Honduras and Colombia, could be seen giving police the middle finger while some threw rocks and bottles at them.
Reports indicate the four clubs paid the Red Bulls to rent the stadium for the soccer exhibition. The single-admission matches were sold out.
Police officers from Kearny, East Newark, Jersey City and every other Hudson County municipality, plus Newark, the New Jersey State Police, NJ Transit, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office, state correctional police officers and elsewhere were brought in as mutual aid to assist the Harrison Police Department.
In all, three stabbings were reported and one victim is in critical condition, George King, the chief of the Kearny Police Department, who was on-scene in support of his officers who were deployed to the arena, and in support of the Harrison PD, told The Observer.
While some cops were banged up, no police officers were seriously injured, King said.
A resident who lives in a nearby apartment complex told News 4 New York she believed the brouhaha may have been sparked by a tug-of-war over a flag.
One attendee told The Observer security at the matches appeared to be strong, but when large numbers of people get out of control — mix soccer rivalries, alcohol and testosterone — it’s a recipe for exactly what unfolded Sunday night.
“It was just wild,” Fernando Vidal, a resident of New Brunswick who attended the matches, said. “In the early part of the night, I saw a lot of security around the stadium. But man, you know what happens when people get drunk and there’s intensity. I am more surprised it took as long as it did to get crazy. And it was crazy.”
Authorities in Harrison will work to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.
Mayor James A. Fife, who was not in town when the incident occurred, says he and the council must look at ways to make certain there’s never a repeat.
“We have had very large crowds before, but never has anything like this happened,” Fife said in a phone interview with The Observer Monday, Aug. 2. “We’re going to have to re-evaluate the situation with gameday security with the Red Bulls.”
The Observer called and texted Harrison Police Chief David Strumolo, who was the incident commander Sunday night, but we were unable to reach him. We also reached out to the New York Red Bulls, who did not return a call seeking comment.
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.