After the recent ugly return to the media of hooliganism, the majority of people have been very shocked at its ugly ‘supposed’ return. The disgraceful behaviour of Newcastle and Millwall fans has brought some very unwelcome attention on the English game. Scenes of Millwall fans fighting each other at an FA cup semi-final were disgusting, and the now infamous picture of a Newcastle fan squaring up to a horse sums up the attitudes of these cretins. Newcastle fans had 29 supporters arrested at the game. Supporters, who weren’t at the game burnt bins, threw missiles at police and tried to stop Sunderland fans getting onto trains. 5 supporters have been charged with the club promising to hand out life time bans. A Sunderland fan also threw a flare which hit a disabled person; burning them, we shall see if Police can find the fan responsible and charge him or her. Millwall have had 14 fans arrested, with more expected to be arrested after television and CCTV footage is reviewed by the Police. It is a shame that these few supporters spoil it for the rest of the well behaved fans. Images of young children crying, as fans swung punches around them in the semi-final, were shocking and heart breaking. Media and public reaction though seems to indicate that the large majority thought that hooliganism had disappeared from the English game.
Hooliganism first started in the late 1970s and continued through to the 1980s on a large scale. The violence was so bad that English clubs and fans still have a terrible reputation when travelling abroad with foreign police. The late Margaret Thatcher vowed to give “stiff” prison sentences to hooligans arrested in the 1980s as it was such a problem, and was happening on such a wide scale. Going to away games was seen as incredibly dangerous and children would rarely go to matches for fear of violence. Football hooligan films such as “Green Street” somewhat glorify the hooliganism, yet hooliganism is a terrible thing. Firms such as the Inter City Firm have been imitated across the world, and are still imitated today. New weapons have taken hooliganism to a more brutal level, with knives and sometimes guns being used in South America.
While hooliganism was terrible in the 1980s, it is a common misconception that hooliganism has died out of the English game. The shock generated by the Millwall and Newcastle incidents was so large because people thought that hooliganism had disappeared. In reality, it never left the English game. Admittedly, with the modernisation of stadiums, which were equipped with CCTV cameras, hooliganism became harder to carry out. The higher levels of policing at football matches have made people feel safer and also reduced the number of arrests at football matches. However, football hooliganism continues, just on a smaller scale. After England was knocked out against Germany in the Euro 96 semi-finals, a large riot took place in Trafalgar Square, with many people suffering injuries. A Russian youth, mistaken for a German, was tragically stabbed in Brighton. At the France 1998 world cup, 100 English fans were arrested for fighting with the North African residents of Marseille. In Euro 2000, the England team was threatened by UEFA with expulsion from the tournament due to more bad behaviour from England fans. The 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany saw over 200 preventative arrests in Stuttgart with 400 other fans being taken into preventative custody. After the 4-1 loss to Germany in the 2010 World Cup, a German flag was burnt in Leicester Square by a group of hooligans, a Haagan Daaz shop was damaged and a German fan was confronted by the group. The national team’s fans still let down this country’s reputation, with a large cause being the strong drinking culture this country has and also the relationship between alcohol and English football.
Domestically, hooliganism has also happened a lot in the past decade. A steward died in 2004 after Aston Villa and QPR firms clashed after League Cup tie. West Ham V Millwall at Upton Park, in another League Cup tie, on 25th August 2009 saw a return of the violence of the 1980s. The pitch was invaded by supporters several times and the game was almost, and probably should have been, abandoned. Riots on the streets after the game also occurred with one man suffering several stab wounds. On 1st December 2010, another derby, Aston Villa V Birmingham City, again a League Cup tie, saw more hooliganism. A rocket flare was launched in a stand and missiles were thrown onto the pitch. More fighting also broke out on the streets outside Villa Park. There were 103 incidents of hooliganism involving under 19’s during the 2009-10 season while there were only 38 the season before. Cass Pennant, ex-leader of the Inter City Firm said that the rise in football hooliganism was down to unemployment caused by the recession. (There is a film about Cass called “Cass”, which is a brilliant portrayal of the grim reality of hooliganism, not a glorifying one). In 2012, the Sheffield Wednesday V Leeds United league match was marred by a Leeds fan invading the pitch and hitting Chris Kirkland. The fan did this just to celebrate a goal. The fan that did it had previously been banned for life from all football in the UK, showing that there are ways around banning orders. In the same game the Wednesday manager at the time Dave Jones faced chants relating to his wrongly acquitted child abuse charges. Distasteful chants have also been seen from football fans across the country. Some Liverpool fans have mocked Manchester United fans about the Munich air disaster. Manchester United fans have also taunted Liverpool fans over the Hillsborough tragedy. There are other numerous incidents of nasty chanting from supporters.
Death threats have also been a major issue with some football fans in this country. Rio Ferdinand received death threats from Leeds United fans after leaving the club for Manchester United. Peter Ridsdale also had death threats made against him after leaving Leeds in a financial mess under his chairmanship. Swedish referee Anders Frisk felt the need to quit football after numerous threats against his life were made by Chelsea FC fans. While he made many mistakes, in only one game, it is deeply saddening that he felt so threatened and stressed that he quit the game. Chelsea fans in 2006 also sent death threats to Ibrahima Sonko and Stephen Hunt, both at Reading at the time, due to Hunt causing Čech a depressed skull fracture. Sonko received threats after his challenge left Chelsea goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini unconscious. Fernando Torres also received death threats from Liverpool fans in January 2011 after leaving Liverpool for Chelsea.
I myself have seen hooliganism in football. After watching Luton V Wolves, a great cup-tie and historic result for Luton Town, I left the ground. Walking to the station, I saw a man speaking into his phone, saying “bottle him”. Police sirens wailed as I walked to the station and groups of men ran round corners. Even at non-league football hooliganism happens. One example of this would be on the fighting between Chorley and Chester supporters, on 19 February 2011, before and after the top of the table clash between the two teams. Why people are so surprised at the recent hooliganism in this country I am not sure, because hooliganism never stopped. Hooliganism is also on the rise due to the current financial situation. Even if no press coverage is given to hooliganism by the media, or no hooligans are caught, then that does not mean hooliganism is gone. Hopefully one day we can eradicate hooliganism from football, but that is nigh no impossible. Football fans are tribal, they are taught from an early age to support a club. They feel together, a sense of belonging and identity. It makes people feel worth something, however wrong their actions are. “I’ve been a bad lad and I’ve done some good in my life but I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve done or the choices I’ve made. I don’t owe anyone anything. It ain’t nobody’s business but my own…” Cass really sums up must hooligans and ex-hooligans attitudes.