Rivalry recipe for disaster

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

The last time these two teams met, Calgary Police finished the afternoon preparing to investigate a homicide.

In the latter stages of a Stamps blowout last October, a fan was found in the stands lying in a pool of his own blood, fighting to stay alive after a vicious beating left him with a skull fracture and broken orbital bone.

Good times at the ol' ball game.

Police never did find out who -- or on behalf of what team -- the savage shellacking was administered, but the important thing is the victim lived.

The ugly incident, combined with a YouTube clip showing an aggressive cop wading into an unruly mob of Rider fans, intensified the gradual crackdown already in place to limit alcohol-fuelled aggression and stupidity in and around McMahon Stadium.

And while a crackdown on alcohol in the parking lot and the increased police presence has improved the safety of fans, stadium manager John Haverstock worries anything is possible in an environment so unique as to see half of a jacked-up crowd cheering for the visiting team.

"Those situations are rare, but I couldn't sit here today and tell you that couldn't happen again," said Haverstock of the violent episodes.

"You put measures in place, but with 35,000 people, conceivably you can have serious incidents. Our goal is to have a program in place to make everyone safe and comfortable, but you've got to count somewhat on co-operation from patrons.

"Certainly, we're in a better place than we were a few years ago."

Which leads us to tomorrow night's soon-to-be-sold-out showdown between the Stamps and Roughriders.

Well aware the Christmas-like scene involving a potpourri of red and green in the stands can turn from festive to frightening with one spilled beer, security will be beefed up by one-third with the addition of 40 cops and 40 security guards.

And that's just to keep an eye on the Stamps kickers.

Kidding aside, with the virtual elimination of open alcohol at the club's once-famous pre-game tailgate gatherings, things have been much calmer around McMahon Stadium so far this year.

However, there's nothing like an invasion of Rider Nation on a hot long weekend to test the patience of a record-number of cops in the stands.

That said, police, stadium and team officials breathed a huge sigh of relief recently when they learned nearby Foothills Stadium will not play host to the pre-game booze bash that allowed thousands of Hopper fans to prime themselves before marching over to McMahon the last few years.

"It's a relief because you're looking at an outside event that spills into ours, and we bear the brunt of the party with no way of policing it," said assistant stadium manager Don Phelps.

"We're pleased its not happening. The parking lot is getting into line and things are moving in the right direction."

Haverstock figures the number of tailgaters has stayed the same, but many have learned to cut out alcohol, which is key as his staff tries hard to appease a crowd made up largely of 20-35-year-old males looking to party amongst 60-year-olds and families with kids.

"Some people will say to me, 'You're taking the fun out of it,' but others aren't comfortable in the atmosphere. We're trying to strike a balance," Haverstock said.

Of course, none of this is to suggest violence at these games is strictly the fault of green-slathered, watermelon-wearing Rider diehards. The intense rivalry between the two squads has the potential to bring out the worst in the odd fan from either side.

In a week that has seen Roughriders fans lash out at their quarterback and Stamps kickers lashing out at one another, it's anyone's guess whether the intensity will rachet up in the stands as well.


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