Football has become the most popular sport in the world. Emerging in England and spreading throughout Europe, all six major continents now play football with each containing a variety of professional competitions. The FIFA World Cup occurs every four years as largest and most notable football competition in the world. It includes teams competing from every country throughout the world, and eventually crowning a champion which reigns as the top football country. The number of professional football leagues has grown as well. Established major leagues appear in Europe, the Americas, and Asia which include The Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, Mexican Premier Division, Brazilian Campeonato, and many others. Football fans contain intense ties to the teams they choose to follow. Typically, the strong tie occurs from proximity to the club. The greatest rivalries surround neighboring clubs, ones located in the same city or in close proximity. The supporters tend to have opposing values and the football clubs create a split through the city or area. The intense feelings for a club can lead to extreme behavior when fans come in contact with one another. Fans also will put feelings of rivalry and hatred aside in terms of a nationalistic identity, joining together to root for their country on the world stage. Countries then develop rivalries with the areas around them.
Hooliganism includes any form of confrontation between opposing fans which can occur in a variety of ways before, during, or after the match either at the stadium or elsewhere. As few as two or as many as thousands of people involved themselves in the conflict. Less harmful acts include spitting, taunting, and name calling. This transforms into unarmed fighting and then fighting with objects and weapons (workman’s knives, baseball bats, and firearms), a more dangerous result. Fans also throw projectiles onto the pitch (field) and at other spectators. Objects range from harmless paper cups to bricks and concrete slabs which can cause serious injury (Dunning, 1986). Deviant acts of hooliganism result from not abiding to the social norms of sporting events and breaking the law. A hooligan’s improper behavior becomes labeled as deviant (Milojević, 2013).
The subculture consists mostly of young males brought together through their shared ties to a football team and general knowledge for the game. Although aggressive behavior occurs commonly, it is not mandatory for inclusion into a firm. Football hooligans share a similar interest in social spaces and consumption patterns, but most importantly, they all believe in hooliganism as a way of life. Even as the police and government have tried to stop hooligans, their actions continue to persist (Dunning, 1988). Hooligans typically stem from the lower, working-class, but their inclusion to the group gives them a never-before-felt status. Additionally, their status increases through confrontational challenges of an equal (Guilianotti, 2002). Lower class individuals find it difficult to obtain a high status through their schooling or work, so they rely on physical intimidation to establish success within the firm and others subsequently view them with greater esteem. An increase in honor and authenticity/ legitimacy through confrontation resembles an expression of aggressive masculinity. Conflict without the use of weapons and fighting publicly display a more authentic masculinity (Dunning, 1986). Fighting against an ordinary supporter labeled incapable of violence creates a lose-lose scenario. One cannot gain status from defeating a non-equivalent opponent. The use of weapons against the weaponless also decreases status even if one emerges the challenge victorious (Guilianotti, 2002). This also affirms one’s manhood by solidifying the role of both an avid fan and violent actor (King, 1997). A growing number of fans for each team create a more informal hooligan network. Most fans cannot attend every game but stay in touch due to the increase in technology. Cellular telephones allow fans to be away from the action but still view the occurrences and outcomes (Guilianotti, 2002).
Riots, another component of hooliganism, develop more frequently as hooligans travel in firms (fan groupings brought together by the support of an individual team) leading hooligans to encounter one another more easily. As stadium policing increased, firms met in the streets or other public locations to dodge law enforcement, which enabled riots. Psychologically, riots occur when internal aggression reaches a limit and boils over. Emotional events trigger a riot, and in the case of hooliganism, professional football matches (Firestone, 1972). The idea of the crowd/mob mentality, individuals swept up by the sensations of large group interaction and acting differently than normal, has become the media’s reasoning behind football riots, yet scholars disagree. Individuals may take the violence further after felling anonymous in a group setting, but riots originate as planned actions due to the structural and political factors surrounding football. As hooligans participants stem from lower-class backgrounds, they face social exclusion and political powerlessness in their everyday lives. Violent outbursts provide hooligans with a means for coping with daily social problems. The football hooligan subculture allows participants to stand out in society while gaining status and power performing an activity they feel passionate for.
Additionally, the media vilifies these violent outbursts, but it only reinforces their behaviors. As these riots gain public recognition, it causes hooligans to reproduce this behavior at each event to gain more publicity (Waddington, 2008). Hooligans continue to plan riots as a means for dealing with societal problems and factors placed upon the collective group of individuals. After the planning of a riot, it ensues in the hooligan atmosphere. The most common riot occurs in the streets near a football stadium on match day. Classified as promoters, the violent, hardcore hooligans lead the riot to grow in number and overall destruction. Older fans, those less likely involved in the riot, step aside while young juveniles assume their dominant position in the ranks by acting out aggressively. Lastly, calming agents enter, law enforcement (police), to end the riots. Riots reach a conclusion after the police calm the opposing firms down, but police involvement increases the possibility of police brutality. Eventually, the justice system imposes legal punishments of fines or imprisonment when the riot reaches a large enough scale of public damage and injury. Ultimately, riots persist as firms become angry with the police’s brutal treatment and continue their deviant behaviors at following matches (Firestone, 1972).
Football hooliganism dates back to 1349, when football originated in England during the reign of King Edward III. When villages played one another, the villagers main goal involved kicking the ball into their rival’s church. King Edward banned the game as it distracted his subjects and caused constant social unrest. At this point, a pig’s bladder made up the soccer ball, nothing like the game today (Worthington, 2016). Scholars believe modern hooliganism did not begin until the 1880’s in Europe. In 1885, Preston defeated Aston Villa 5-0 in a friendly match. The losing team’s fans went mad and began to attack the players from both teams. They threw stones and even came into direct contact with players, throwing blows which left one player unconscious. Safety provisions for the players did not exist due to both the lack in security guards and little known previous acts of hooliganism. The following year, Preston’s fans once again involved themselves in a scuffle. They fought against the fans of Queens Park, another crosstown rival, at a local railway station (Ingle, 2001; Milojević, 2013). The fight marked the first instance of hooliganism attacks outside of the stadium and entering everyday life. Acts of hooliganism, previously kept in range of the athletic stadium, now entered the public sphere. Citizens not affiliated with firms entered harms way at the risks of danger and injury simply standing as an innocent bystander.
In 1909, a match between Glasgow and Celtic FC, two Scottish football clubs, led to serious destruction inside and beyond the stadium. Referees ended the game as a draw without allowing extra time, infuriating the fans in attendance. A riot broke out containing thousands of participants who ultimately injured police officers, damaged the stadium, and destroyed the streets of Hampden (Worthington, 2016). Hooliganism began to spread from England, reaching the surrounding areas, and developing into a more global phenomenon. During the periods of World War I and II, acts of hooliganism took a decline. By no means did they cease all together, but people spent more time worrying about the overall war effort and their country. The acts of hooliganism which continued through the war periods gained negative stigma and the press justified the actions as performed by “hotheads” or individuals who “failed to abide by the ethics of ‘sportsmanship’ and had lost their self-control” rather than a collective group of individuals attacking other groups (King, 1997). After the conclusion of World War II, with less distraction to the public, hooligan acts once again emerged visibly at higher rates.
As hooliganism increased, media coverage began to focus on the public damage these events caused. For the first time, the media implemented the term “football hooligan” to describe fans conducting violent behavior around football matches in England. Increased attention on hooliganism ultimately led to a proportionally higher report in the deviant acts compared to other news stories, blowing the problem out of proportion (Scott, 2007). The media created a moral panic to better inform the public and make hooliganism appear more widespread and prevalent than its actuality. From then on, reports of hooliganism skyrocketed. After appearing more prevalent, hooliganism increased in its organizational tactics. What had previously been sporadic outbursts transformed into better organized social unrest (Worthington, 2016). Hooligans traveled in groups to the locations of their rivals with the location of the hooligan outburst undetermined. In the moment, hooligans clashed whenever tensions reached a high point. Firms even ventured across national borders. Outbursts increased in violence the further away from the stadium as the fans evaded policing and the mass public crowds (Gow & Rockwood, 2009).
Fans began the “taking of the ends” which involved the fans of one group all seated together at one end of the field while the rivals sat on the opposite end. At first, fans felt solidarity with one another in a small location, but this did not hold for long. Pretty soon, rivals began to infiltrate the opponent’s end, which lead to fights in the terrace. Holding an end became synonymous with power. The away group desired to undermine the home team’s seating section to lessen their opponent’s power and prepare for a pre-match brawl in the stands (Guilianotti, 2002). This developed as another method of conflict during the match, yet became particularly visible to law enforcers. The police watched the ends, knowing hardcore fans sat in these sections, and took notice of any unordinary behavior. Hooligans began to wear casual clothes, no longer depicting their fandom, as to not give away their hooligan identities (King, 1997).
1985 marked the greatest European football tragedy in terms of fatalities. Liverpool and Juventus matched up in the European Cup final. The Liverpool fans charged their enemy causing an entire stadium wall to collapse on the Italian fans. In total, 39 Italian spectators died with many more injured (Gow & Rockwood, 2009; Worthington, 2016; Milojević, 2013). Authorities had to clamp down before the problem of football hooliganism got out of hand. Political and legal action enacted to lessen the ability and actions of hooligans in the public sphere, including the policy of segregating rival (Dunning, 1986). This created a serious decline of in-game hooligan acts. Also, the implementation of stadium seating took away from the firm mentality as less members could gather in one area together. The seats placed fewer people in each row and section, forcing the members to spread out. Also, police expanded their presence at the sporting events. Their methods helped deter individuals from starting hooligan acts in public. Additionally, legislation passed stiffer penalties of fines and jail time to limit the unruly behavior (Gow & Rockwood, 2009). Yet, this did not stop hooliganism. The events simply moved further from the stadium and occurred in local streets before or after the match (Dunning, 1986).
In recent years, hooliganism fatalities have decreased. It is more likely to have small injuries or no damages at all than killings of fans. Still, the rare occurrences of extreme violence occur which lead to serious injury and death. Police forces also play a significant role in the deaths and injuries of fans. Police Troops opened fire at a match in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1998, ultimately resulting in four casualties (CNN, 2001). In 2000, Galatasaray fans stabbed two fans of the opposition the night before an important match (Gow & Rockwood, 2009). A 2001 match in the capital of Ghana marked the most-deadly act of hooliganism on the African continent. As fans began their destructiveness, police fired tear gas into the crowd. Fans attempted to escape the fumes, creating a stampede, which killed over 100 viewers (CNN, 2001). The fans between Brazilian rivals Guarani and Ponte Preta destroyed a large stadium railing during the 2002 season. As police attempted to intervene, the fans hurled stones in the direction of the police, keeping them away. Eventually, fans collapsed the railing and fell thirteen feet into a pit between the bleachers and the field, leaving 30 hooligans injured (BBC News – Brazil, 2002). A fight between rival Syrian clubs in 2004 eventually transformed into a full-scale riot, leaving 25 dead and many more injured (BBC News – Syria, 2004). In 2007, a pre-match riot in Sicily led to the stabbing and eventual death a policeman. The Italian league temporarily suspended all matches to show that hooliganism needed to cease their violence for matches to continue (Gow & Rockwood, 2009; Milojević, 2013). Recently, competitions at the World Cup and EURO 2016 have been suspended due to flares and other chemicals thrown onto the field, interfering with players and injuring referees. EURO officials gave the countries of Russia, England, and Croatia warnings of disqualification. Despite the injuries and tragedies, hooliganism continues as the fan’s love for the game and their team remains the most important aspect of their identities and these actions are the methods for showing support.
Gender and Masculinity
Within the football hooligan subculture, gender and masculinity exist together. The knowledge from gender cannot function without the understanding of masculinity and vice versa. The subculture’s roots in the blue-collar, working class background facilitate male dominance among participants. The lower class socially accepts violence more frequently, and these individuals grow up viewing aggressive behavior in a more positive manner than individuals higher on the social class ladder. Violent acts transform into normalized behavior, eventually reaching the public atmosphere as masculinity norms (Dunning, 1986). Hardcore fans internalize “the masculine trait of ‘hardness’” by acting out in violent manners (Guilianotti, 2002). Additionally, “there is a tendency for males to enjoy fighting” as an “important source of meaning, status, and pleasurable emotional arousal”. As males compose the majority of hooligans, the probability of violent outbreaks increases when opposing, hardcore fans come in contact with one another. These individuals desire to engage in conflict with the opposition, so they seek out opportunities to release physical aggression upon others. The depiction of men as manlier after a fight, whether a win or loss, proves they have the capability to stand up against others and fight for the good of the firm. On the other hand, females tend not to engage in public expressions of aggression due to its stigma. Other hooligans view females negatively when acting too violent or masculine, forced into roles of hardcore supporter without any violent tendencies (Dunning, 1986).
The subculture also demonstrates the tendency to emasculate individuals, whether within the firm or towards their opponents. Top-tier lads regard the actions of chanting and singing in the stadium as soft. Hardcore hooligans leave singing and chanting for the “softer” fans who do not necessarily partake in the violent aspects of the subculture. Yet, harder fans begin to sing and chant only when the songs involve aggressive messages towards the other firm. The lyrics convey violent threats and physical challenges, generating more violence and hatred between the firms. Also, symbolic demasculinization of opposing fans occurs, especially in the stadium’s terraces. Rivals refer to each other as “poofs” or “wankers” (Dunning, 1986). A poof refers to a homosexual male while wanker represents one performing the male masturbatory act. These terms perpetuate the dominant male ideal through the idea of name calling with stereotypes of homosexuality and anti-manliness.
Authenticity, although a social concept developed by philosophers and sociologists, determines the position of both individuals inter-firm and firms compared against one another in the social hierarchy. Authenticity determines the construction of hooligan’s identities within the subculture. Hooligans and firms earn status, authenticity, and legitimacy through the incorporation of meaningful violence. On match day, enhancement of status through confrontation becomes the biggest objective. Top boys possess the greatest status via successful confrontation (Guilianotti, 2002). Individuals express aggressive masculinity through violent means to increase honor and authenticity. Certain forms of conflict deemed more “authentic” than others lead to a greater increase in status, such as conflict without weaponry. Hooligans view other as more “hard” by fighting solely with their fists, a mechanism of directly inflicting injury upon another with their own body (Dunning, 1986).
Additionally, hooligans only earn honor when challenging an equal. The unwritten rule equivalates to the common phrase “pick on somebody your own size” within the hooligan community. Ordinary supporters or non-hooligans, “those considered incapable of violence”, present a lose-lose scenario if conflict arises. Either one defeats a supporter ill-prepared to fight or loses against the common fan. Each outcome reflects negatively upon the hooligan, therefore, status cannot be gained from defeating a non-equivalent opponent. Alternatively, the use of weapons against the weaponless decreases one’s status, even if emerging from the challenge victoriously. Using a weapon in this scenario presents an unfair advantage, leading to a loss in the hooligan’s legitimacy (Guilianotti, 2002). Lastly, an individual becomes more authentic not by the number of football events attended, rather, the amount of meaningful conflict engaged. Understood like quality over quantity, a hooligan who attends less frequently but always engages in fighting owns more status than a hooligan who attends each match but rarely involves in the violence (Dunning, 1986). The media also helps strengthen a firm’s authenticity in the public. By presenting the stories surrounding the violence of hooligans, they depict the successes and failures of individual firms. Firms gain public authenticity when media outlets continuously report their violent, but successful, attacks on others.
In the late 1950s and early 60s, the European press created a moral panic surrounding the actions of hooligans at football events. During the previous years engulfed by the World Wars, the media focused much of their coverage on the war effort, leaving little press visibility for hooliganism. Post WWII, the media escalated reports of hooliganism to the public (Dunning 1988). Acts of violence and physical aggression have accompanied the game since its modern emergence in the early 1800s, but post WWII resembled the first occurrence of widespread media attention on the subject. The increased attention towards hooliganism led to reports at a proportionally higher rate, blowing hooliganism out of proportion to enlighten and scare the public on football violence (Scott, 2007).
During the wars, the press described acts of hooliganism in individualistic terms. Rather than a collective group performing violent actions, singular “hotheads” carried out violence against the sport’s “code of ethics”. After the war, the press depicted these actions as collective, performed by the entire firm rather than a singular person. The media justified the public scare as a method to promote change within the sport, and began using language to dehumanize participants as “animalistic”, “barbaric”, and “lunatic”. The rationale for coining these individuals as non-human stemmed from their violent behavior (King, 1997). Also, England prepared to host the 1966 World Cup. Officials wanted to clean up the sport in Europe before holding the world’s most prestigious soccer tournament. International media outlets focused serious attention on the English crowds at matches instead of reporting on the game itself. The media advertised football stadiums as places containing more than the sport, but a location of regular violence and aggression (Dunning, 1986). The panic intended to increase the legal aspects around hooliganism and cease the violence altogether.
The media’s goal of increasing attention to limit hooliganism ultimately failed. Instead, actions surged due to the enforced panic. The coverage reinforced and glamorized hooligan behavior, making it more desirable for firms to act violently and gain national publicity. The amount of media attention pleased the hardcore fans. Regarded as dangerous, their level of violence must be extreme, leading to more status and legitimacy placed upon the firm and their participants (Gow & Rockwood, 2009; King, 1997). The media’s panic also developed an ongoing cycle. Increased media attention led to a raise in crime, and increased crime led to an increase in policing and legal measures. Hooligans found new violent methods which dodged the recent legal enactments and ultimately gave the media more items to cover (Armstrong, 1991). The events continued, and hooliganism never slowed, the opposite of the public’s wishes when creating the panic.
Early Hooliganism in the 1900s focused on the local as firms did not leave their home village or surrounding areas. As time passed, the increase in technology and machinery allowed for the spread of hooligan ideals. Originally, media helped spread hooliganism publicly around the globe. Heightened press and television coverage increased individual’s access to the football hooliganism scene. The media’s widespread coverage only boosted accessibility to hooligan news which ultimately aided the spread of the ideals to new members (King, 1997). Then, the development of the internet and mobile telephone skyrocketed accessibility to the hooligan subculture. Phones and the internet provided easy methods of communication between fans of the same or rival firms at the touch of a button through text message, forums, blogs, and websites. When planning strategies for hooligan conflict, these web sources provided anonymity through the use of usernames on public sites (Guilianotti, 2002). Additionally, hooligans that live further apart have the ability communicate via cell phones and the internet. These means of technology allow for interaction and the share of ideas between firm members, creating a larger network of hooligans for an individual firm.
Fans also travel with more ease compared to early hooliganism. The accessibility of air travel allows fans to travel great distances when their team performs in another country or even continent. The increasing commonality of automobiles provides fans with the ability to drive to matches. Yet, if one has no access to a vehicle of their own, the growing network of public transportation in cities transports a fan directly to the event. Football matches now contain more away fans in the stadium than ever before. They harass the opposing team and their fans, while creating property damage in an area beside their home city, establishing their firm’s global position beyond their home turf.
Published by Anthony Gulve
Hooligans: The Untold BBC Documentary (2016)
Aired 10 years later, an undercover filming of the 2006 World Cup in Germany reveals many behind the scene incidents of violence throughout the crowds. Secret cameras depict England’s fans fighting against themselves and other nations.
London’s Real Football Factory (Published 2017)
This documentary focuses on the prominent firms in London. Interaction with current hooligans (top boys) gives a detailed insight on the life and recent incidents in the scene.
Hooligans: No One Likes Us (2002)
Another documentary which uses undercover cameras to capture hooliganism. While many believed hooliganism disappeared from the football scene, this team uncovered the truth: the ugly side of the game, hooliganism, appeared very much present.
An interview between current hooligans Andy Nicholls and Niell Williams as they speak of previous hooligans encounters in the culture
Published by Anthony Gulve
Armstrong, Gary. 1998. Football Hooligans: Knowing the Score. Oxford; New York: Berg.
An in depth look at the role of males in hooliganism along with the assumption of violence as the main factor. The book provides other reasons for hooliganism beyond the identity of violence, although violence stands as the root of the problem.
Dunning, Eric, Patrick Murphy, John Williams. 1988. The Roots of Football Hooliganism: A Historical and Sociological Study. New York: Routledge.
An examination of disorderly crowds at European football matches, mainly in Britain, throughout the past 100 years. It explains the scholarly and popular reasoning behind the aggressive problem.
Milojević, Saša, Branislav Simonović, Bojan Janković, Božidar Otašević, and Veljko Turanjanin. 2013. Youth and Hooliganism at Sports Events. Belgrade: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
A look at the prevalence of hooliganism in Eastern Europe focusing on the countries forming the former Yugoslavia. It deals mostly with the preventative measures for hooliganism including police control and the legal system.
Pearson, Geoff. 2012. An Ethnography of English Football Fans: Cans, Cops and Carnivals. Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press.
16 years of ethnographic research reveal the behaviors and motivations of footballs fans in England. It focuses on the ‘Carnival Fan’, a distinct subculture within hooliganism, characterized by traveling support.
Armstrong, Gary, and Rosemary Harris. 1991. “Football Hooligans: Theory and Evidence.” The Sociological Review 39 (3):427-458
Dunning, Eric, Patrick Murphy, John Williams. 1986. “Spectator Violence at Football Matches: Towards a Sociological Explanation.” The British Journal of Sociology 37 (2):221–244.
Firestone, Joseph M. 1972. “Theory of the Riot Process.” American Behavioral Scientist 15 (6):859–82.
Gow, Paul, and Joel Rockwood. 2009. “Doing It for the Team—Examining the Causes of Hooliganism in English Football.” Journal of Qualitative Research in Sports Studies 2 (1):71–82. Retrieved September 13, 2017.
Giulianotti, Richard, and Gary Armstrong. 2002. “Avenues of Contestation. Football Hooligans Running and Ruling Urban Spaces.” Social Anthropology 10 (2):211–238.
King, Anthony. 1997. “The Postmodernity of Football Hooliganism.” The British Journal of Sociology 48 (4):576–593.
Stott, Clifford and Geoff Pearson. 2007. “Football Hooliganism: Policing and the War on the English Disease”. Pennant Books.
Waddinton, David. 2008. “The Madness of the Mob? Explaining the ‘Irrationality’ and Destructiveness of Crowd Violence”. Sociological Compass 2 (2):675-687.
Worthington, Daryl. 2016. “A History of British Football Hooliganism.” New Historian. Retrieved September 26, 2017
Ingle, Sean. 2001. “When Did Football Hooliganism Start?” The Guardian. Retrieved September 13, 2017.
Nicholls, Andrew. 2017. “I Was a Football Hooligan for 30 Years, and I Loved Every Second of It.” Bleacher Report. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
Wen, Tiffanie. 2014 “A Sociological History of Soccer Violence.” The Atlantic. Retrieved September 13, 2017.
BBC News – Brazil: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/2375033.stm
BBC News – Syria: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3519222.stm
Professional Football Leagues: https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Football_(Soccer)/The_Leagues_and_Teams#Confederations.2C_Leagues_And_Teams