NEWARK – The owner of a city bar where a violent brawl broke out between members of rival area soccer teams Sunday afternoon said the fight began after one group of fans arrived looking for more than a round of beers.
Manuel Rebelo said Bello's Pub and Grill on Market Street normally plays host to a group of New York Red Bulls faithful, who gather on the bar's second floor to cheer on the team, which plays its home games just miles away in Harrison.
Just before the Red Bulls were set to take the pitch, however, more than 20 fans of their new rivals across the Hudson arrived and began to incite the regulars, according to Rebelo.
"That's what their purpose was, they had mouth guards and all that. They were looking for a fight," he said.
What followed was a raucous melee that included punches, kicks and a flying sandwich board, all captured on video that has made its way to far corners of the Internet in the day since.
The 20 seconds of footage by a Associated Press reporter concludes just as police arrive on the scene, though it is unclear if any arrests were made, or if any of the participants were injured.
In New Jersey and immediately encounter crowd trouble ahead of the New York derby (Red Bulls-City). Video: pic.twitter.com/slY3hYn5aM
— Rob Harris (@RobHarris) August 9, 2015
Newark police have not returned requests for further details on the incident. An NJ Transit police cruiser was captured on video pulling up to the scene during the fight, but spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said the agency only provided assistance to city officers.
Rebelo said the group of NYCFC fans fled the area on foot after noticing the officers, and did not see any arrests made. Nevertheless, he said he's not anxious for them to return, though he said he will be forced to increase security when the two teams face off next season.
Rebelo has owned the bar since 1993, and said he can count the number of violent incidents he's seen on one hand.
"We kind of try to focus on our beer selection as a pub, and our food selection as a pub - that's what we'd like to be known for. That was basically a one-off," he said Monday morning, giving the bar's wooden countertop a pair of firm knocks.
While employees at Bello's are no fans of the footage, it has sparked debate over whether the brawl was something of a crowning moment for soccer's steady rise in popularity in the U.S.
Rebelo, a longtime fan of the sport and a Red Bulls season ticket holder since their inaugural 1996 season, said he enjoys seeing fans be passionate about the sport, but would like to see it expressed a bit more cordially.
"I hope the support is growing, and I think it is because all the kids are playing it," he said. "But that (stuff)? We don't want it here."