10 November 2009

Football Hooliganism


Football hooliganism has no specific legal definition. The term was created by the media, the tabloid press in particular, in the mid-1960s and since then they have been extremely flexible and indeterminate in ascribing the "hooligan" label to different incidents. Football hooliganism is seen by most to mean violence and/or disorder involving football fans. However there are two very specific 'types' of disorder that have been labelled 'hooliganism':

(a) Spontaneous and usually low level disorder caused by fans at or around football matches (the type that typically occurs at England away matches), and

(b) Deliberate and intentional violence involving organised gangs (or 'firms') who attach themselves to football clubs and fight firms from other clubs, sometimes a long way in time and space from a match. Therefore if you are using the term 'football hooliganism' in your work, be very clear about what it is you are referring to!

Traditionally, football hooliganism has been seen as first occurring in the late 1960's, and peaking in the late 1970's and mid 1980's before calming down following the Heysel and Hillsborough disasters. However, incidents of crowd disorder at football matches have been recorded as early as the 19th Century. During a match in 1846 in Derby the riot act was read and two troops of dragoons called in to deal with a disorderly crowd, whilst pitch invasions became increasingly common from the 1880's onwards. The paucity of accurate figures, official or otherwise, makes it difficult to gauge the frequency and severity of such episodes. The picture is clouded further by the prevalent leniency given at the time toward crowd disturbances that didn't actually interfere with the game. It is often claimed that hooliganism at football matches became much more prevalent in the 1970's and 1980's, with more reported wide-scale violence at matches. However, again it is difficult to know whether the amount of disorder increased or whether the growing media interest in, and coverage of, crowd disorder has meant it is reported far more regularly. Certainly analysis of certain incidents of disorder (e.g. Sweden v England, Sept. 1989) reveals substantial and irresponsible exaggeration of violence involving supporters by both tabloid and broadsheet press.

The issue of the media's coverage of football hooliganism is very important as it is the media that helped construct the public’s understanding and view of the phenomenon. Within Britain the tabloid press in particular have found hooliganism to be an easy target for the kind of sensationalist reporting that boosts their circulation. This sensationalist style of reporting often relies on powerful headlines grounded in violent imagery and war metaphors whilst articles are regularly 'edited for impact'. This style of reporting has developed over the past 50 years sparked by the moral panic of the 1950's at the rise of juvenile crime and delinquency. Some argue that the tabloids’ style of reporting, such as the publishing of league tables of hooligan notoriety (Daily Mirror 1974) serve to encourage hooligans by placing them in the limelight. The tabloids have also been accused of helping to incite hooliganism by promoting xenophobia. For instance prior to England's semi-final clash with Germany in Euro 96 the Daily Mirror ran a headline of 'Achtung Surrender' whilst the Sun went with 'Let's Blitz Fritz'.

Central to the understanding of the media's role in our understanding of Hooliganism is what Stuart Hall calls the 'amplification spiral' of sensationalist media reporting feeding a desire for more stories that can lead to a widespread and unnecessary 'moral panic' suggesting the problem was actually worse than in reality it was. This is in turn often precipitates a call for tougher control measures which when implemented can create further confrontation and draw yet more people in to become involved. The tabloid press in the 1970s and 80s in particular therefore helped to amplify the problem and create a widespread panic over football hooliganism that was completely disproportionate to the actual extent of the problem.

Furthermore, this style of sensationalist reporting has also meant that the press has been able, to an extent, to influence policy decisions dealing with football hooliganism which has resulted in a variety of short sighted measures which have done little, if anything, to improve the situation. Inaccurate press constructions of why disorder involving England fans occured - and suggestions of how to control it - after disorder in Sweden (1989), Marseille (1998) and Charleroi (2000) in particular led to pressure for controversial Football Banning Orders. In contrast to the English press, it should be pointed out that in some countries the press have had a positive effect, as in Scotland and Denmark where heavy and favourable coverage of the 'Tartan Army' and the 'Rooligans' has deliberately set them apart from the hooligan perspective.

Football hooliganism domestically has changed significantly since the Taylor Report of 1990. All-seater stadiums, 'Football Intelligence' and Closed Circuit Television in particular have meant that incidents of violence inside football grounds (particularly in the Premiership) are rare. In addition, arrests for football-related crimes have reduced dramatically since the late 1980's whilst attendances have risen. However, this does not mean that football hooliganism has necessarily reduced. Much football disorder has been 'pushed' from the stadium itself to other meeting places, with groups needing to be better organised. It also now has the potential to be more violent. The location of most serious disorder means that violence is rarely reported and that the Police will be less able to control it and make arrests.

As stated above, there are two different phenomena that have been labelled 'hooliganism'. First is the spontaneous and usually low-level disorder that takes place in and around stadia and when English teams travel abroad. In the UK, this is relatively rare considering the number of supporters attending matches. However, abroad, English fans have often been involved in disorder (e.g. Marseille 1998, Charleroi 2000, Slovakia 2002, Albufeira 2004, Stuttgart and Cologne 2006 and Rome 1997 and 2007). Often the extent of this disorder is exaggerated by excessive media reporting and in many cases English supporters are the victims of attacks by local fans/police rather than the aggressors. The press has typically claimed such disorder is the result of 'hooligans' traveling with the intention of fighting and being able to draw drunken English fans into disorder. However, analysis of incidents from 1990-2007 in Stott and Pearson's 'Football Hooliganism: Policing the War on the English Disease' (2007 Pennant Books) criticised this view and suggested that external factors such as indiscriminate policing and the presence of aggressive local youths were usually the cause of rioting involving english fans abroad.

Second is the more serious disorder caused by hooligan 'firms' in the UK. Domestically this is still a huge problem, with most football clubs having groups of 'risk supporters' who wish to fight rival firms. UK police have to deal with the problem of organised firms trying to confront each other on a regular basis, although the disorder is rarely reported (due to the lack of coverage of incidents) and as it usually takes place far from the ground, 'normal' fans do not tend to be directly affected by it. One example of high-profile disorder between firms (which was reported), was the clash between Everton and Manchester United 'hooligans' in 2005. Footage of this can be found on 'YouTube' under the search term 'Everton Valley'.

It is difficult to speculate on what makes a person become involved in football-related violence because there are so many possible causational factors. It is impossible to claim that all "football hooligans" are of a certain age or class or possess a particular "psychological make-up". Also, as we have stated, football hooliganism is not a single phenomenon - as such it does not have a single cause. In terms of organised violence between 'hooligan gangs', a feeling of community, tribalism and sheer enjoyment of being involved in football disorder is obviously in evidence.

However, the causes for spontaneous disorder abroad (e.g. France 98, Euro2000, Rome 2007) are more complex; alcohol, xenophobia and a minority of 'hooligans' have traditionally been blamed for disturbances, but the role of the police is probably most important of all. Whilst aggressive and confrontational policing tactics in Charleroi in 2000 escalated minor incidents into widescale disorder, more progressive models of policing saw only one arrest at England matches in Euro2004 in Portugal, despite an estimated 250,000 English 'football tourists' being present. In Germany for the 2006 World Cup, it was actually possible to predict when disorder would break out depending on the way in which different police forces handled the same groups of English fans. When asking why hooliganism occurs abroad involving English fans, it is just as important to ask why disorder does not usually occur, despite large numbers of drunken (sometimes xenophobic) young English men and the presence of hooligan fans!

It is unlikely that football will ever be totally free of crowd disorder. Whenever large groups of predominantly males get together, often under the influence of alcohol, there is the potential for disorder, regardless of whether there is a football match taking place or not. All manner of legal means and policing tactics have been tried to control hooliganism, including deterrent sentencing, legislation (such as the Football (Offences) Act 1991) and the creation of the Football Intelligence Unit. During the perceived height of football hooliganism in the 1970s and 80s, successive governments implemented a series of aggressive policies that contained little evidence of an understanding of hooliganism. Many served only to worsen the problem, create an increasingly confrontational attitude between fans and police, and merely drive the violence away from the immediate environment of the football ground. This culminated in the proposed I.D. Card Scheme that was described as 'using a sledgehammer to crack a nut' by Lord Justice Taylor, and abandoned after Hillsborough.

Attempts to prevent hooliganism have seen draconian legislation such as the Football (Disorder) Act 2000 introduced to prevent suspected hooligans travelling abroad. Such moves obviously have serious civil libertarian consequences for innocent fans. Furthermore, there are serious concerns about whether Banning Orders have any serious effect in reducing disorder involving English fans abroad in the light of evidence suggesting it is not "known hooligans" who actually become involved (see Stott and Pearson 2007).

However, disorder in and around English stadia has reduced spectacularly since the 1970s and 80s, and English football grounds are now certainly safer than the average town centre on a Saturday night. Furthermore, disorder abroad can be reduced by appropriate methods of policing: It IS possible to police a crowd of drunken football supporters in a way that prevents serious disorder, as was demonstrated at the 2004 European Championships in Portugal and the 2006 World Cup in Germany.