By | April 6, 2016

Soccer has always been an emotional sport and many people feel very strongly about their team. So much so that people are willing to fight the supporters of rival teams. This kind of behavior is called hooliganism and while there have been many fights about other sports, soccer hooliganism is something far different.



Fighting and sport have been intrinsically linked since the creation of the latter. Hooliganism has a long history with soccer but it only started to become a real problem in the 1960s.[1] However, many times the violence was limited to the stadium. From the 60s to the 80s, soccer hooliganism has grown most popular in England, expressly between the fans of Manchester United and Manchester City. A man named Hotshot recalls why:


“You’re in school, and you have your gangs in different areas and you were all reds or blue,” he says, referring to a heady mix of United and City fans. “It’s what you were brought up with. I met a lot of my friends through fighting each other in different gangs from different areas…” “They were against us and we were against them, but when you went to United or City, you had to get on the 53 bus through Manchester. That’s where we got to know each other. You had people from Bury and places like that, and I had a little firm [gang] and things escalated, and we all started meeting at the matches. We were all kids at the time, and we started going to away matches and getting together. When we all went, my young firm, we were the young lads, the new generation coming into the Red Army. To be accepted, a young hooligan had to prove his abilities in fighting supporters of rival clubs. “The buzz about the kick off — you were Man United, you weren’t running anywhere or you weren’t getting into the Red Army. We wasn’t boozing, we’d be out before, ambushing other firms before the match started.[2]




Recently, hooliganism has become less of a problem. “Football stadia today are safe and welcoming places, offering good quality facilities to supporters,” according to the English Football Association’s summary of measures to prevent football violence. “There are no pitch perimeter fences. All stadia in the top two divisions, and many in the lower divisions, are all-seated. Supporter violence inside stadia is very rare. Some hooliganism does take place, but on a very limited scale and usually some way away from the stadium environment.[3]

Now the very large majority of violence is done away from the stadium. Furthermore, local law enforcement has gone to great lengths to prevent hooligan violence, or at least minimize the damage. In a recent friendly match between England and Scotland there was an enormous effort put forth by law enforcement to prevent the two opposing fan bases from meeting, again. When the two sides met, in 1999 there were a total of 230 arrests made[4]. Today, even though they have tried to make activities surrounding the soccer safer, hooliganism will always be around as long as there is passion for the game.




[1] http://www.politics.co.uk/reference/football-hooliganism

[2] http://www.espnfc.us/blog/espn-fc-united-blog/68/post/2193850/hooliganism-in-england-the-enduring-cultural-legacy-of-football-violence

[3] http://www.espnfc.us/blog/espn-fc-united-blog/68/post/2193850/hooliganism-in-england-the-enduring-cultural-legacy-of-football-violence


[4] http://www.espnfc.us/blog/espn-fc-united-blog/68/post/2193850/hooliganism-in-england-the-enduring-cultural-legacy-of-football-violence

4 thoughts on “Hooliganism

  1. Jed Stone

    Nice post on Hooliganism — I wasn’t aware of the history of the word itself. I do find it impressive that policing the stadia have accomplished so much in reducing violence at games, however, it is shocking to see the above fight in such “neutral” territory. On a personal note, one thing I do find troubling about the prophylactic police effort to reduce violence is an example my brother encountered when watching an international friendly match in Chile a few summers ago. After the game, hordes of people were leaving the stadium, and as a means of prevention, the police used tear gas to disperse the entire crowd and avoid violence. Therefore, thousands of people suffered through the negative consequences of such an action, all for the sake of preventing a fight. Now I’m sure one could argue that the short-term pain one goes through might be worth it if it prevents a large-scale brawl, I still don’t know if the ends justify the means.

    On a separate note, I wanted to bring up the use of the word “gangs” to describe these loyal and sometimes violent soccer fans/hooligans. I am not extremely well informed on the history of soccer gangs, but coming from America, the phrase itself almost seems like a contraction. In the US, a gang represents lawlessness and fear and violence. Yet soccer represents play and fun and teamwork. Two combine the two almost lessens the fear and supposed violence I would assume a soccer gang is capable of. I would be curious to understand the extent to which a soccer gang is like that of a street gang in the US.

  2. Marc McFarland

    I think that this is a very interesting point to raise about soccer that most people don’t think about. As a strong Liverpool supporter, I have read about violence amongst fans, particularly in the past between Liverpool and Man United, and how the sport has been trying to rid itself of these Hooligans. I’ve been to a number of soccer games in England now, and while you can definitely see the groups of supporters who are a bit rowdier and out of control, the violence within the stadiums is extremely limited, especially as away supporters are separated into a specific area of the stadium with security set in between the home and away fans to prevent any violence. It seems nowadays that the violence and actions of these Hooligans really only occurs before the matches in bars, where drunk fans decide they want to pick a fight with opposing fans essentially out of stupidity. I read some articles earlier this season when some English fans, like Chelsea and Man City, travelled to away games in the Champions League (in Eastern Europe I believe) and were attacked at bars by roaming groups of hooligans. It is a shame that this kind of stuff still exists, but at least the violence is not as bad in most countries as they were in the 1970s/80s like you mentioned above.

    An interesting story of my own about Hooliganism came when I was living in Zaragoza Spain in 2010 as a 17 year old. Me and a few of my American friends became friends with some local Spanish kids, and one day they invited us to go to a Zaragoza match with them. They told us that afterwards they and the other fans they sat with had arranged a fight with the away fans after the match, as Real Zaragoza was playing one of their rivals, and that we were more than welcome to join in and fight with them (we said no). At the time, I thought I had just misunderstood the guy, as my Spanish was still a bit limited at that point, but when I later met up with our Spanish friends, they told us about the fight that night and how one of them almost got stabbed during the encounter. Very glad we didn’t go to the game with them that night, but a nice story to have of my own about Hooliganism.

  3. Samantha Shapiro

    There are definitely different levels of hooliganism in soccer, with some fans still taking their fandom to such a violent and passionate extreme while others, like those that the English Football Association is describing above, have calmed down to create a more peaceful environment. In one of my other classes, we discussed the Italian Ultras: a prototype for football hooliganism. Notably, the Ultras care about more than just whom their team is playing in any given match; they are also founded on neo-Fascist ideals and their beliefs and actions are known to have racist undertones. While the Ultras provide an example of a fan group that is all the way to one side of the hooligan spectrum, they still highlight how football fandom can spill over into the broader social realm. Not only do the Ultras care about defeating their team’s opponents, but they also present and reproduce prejudice, therefore adding to the violence and hate that already fuels hooliganism in the first place. Hence, while we can sometimes gawk at how crazy football hooligans seem to the outside world, the Ultras ideology is just one example of how this level of fandom can have a negative effect on society and the sports world more generally.

  4. Ben Jackson

    I feel a sport such as soccer that garners so much passion and excitement from its fans will have a hard time ever fully distancing itself from hooliganism. Whether organized or not its easy to frustrate people and that frustration combined with the atmosphere and close proximity to your agitators often can lead to hooliganism. For example, at Duke basketball games the home fans will point and jeer at the opponent’s fans whenever their team makes a mistake or even misses a free throw. Such blind, mass, hatred can rub many people the wrong way and anger them. And though Duke basketball is intense and garners much fandom and excitement I can honestly say due to the number of fans, and the life-long dedication aspect that soccer matches are more passion filled. Therefore, I believe hooliganism is here to stay.


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