English Hooliganism - A Different Social Movement

Term Paper, 2009

21 Pages, Grade: 1,33



I. Introduction

More than 37 million spectators attended football games in 2007-08 while 3,842 people were arrested for disorder connected to matches according to the UK Home Office. Of those arrests, 373 were for violent crimes – an increase of 33 over the previous season. On the other hand, 67% of matches were problem-free and did not result in any arrest. Instead, 60% of football-related arrests took place outside or away from the football stadia (Home Office, 2008). These statistics show that football violence is at least remarkable enough to draw attention of government departments and statisticians. In the past decades, numerous scholars have tried to analyse the roots and dynamics of this violent fan behaviour (Dunning, 2000) that has been labelled ‘Hooliganism’. The name-giving implies that football-related violence is considered as more than just some weekly disturbances. It is regarded as a social phenomenon which needs to be observed, investigated, and defined which can eventually lead to an understanding of and response to this behaviour. In our paper we will expose to what extent this phenomenon can be classified as a social movement. Before, we will look at the rise and growth of Hooliganism exemplifying it with some extreme occurrences. We are going to describe Hooligan behaviour and the people who engage in it trying to pin point typical characteristics and motivations of Hooligans. Doing that we want to justify that Hooliganism can be understood as a social movement which will allow us to apply different social movement models on Hooliganism. In order to arrive at the rationale of Hooliganism a descriptive definition is necessary which will give the further analyses and interpretation a basic framework. With several similar definitions of Hooliganism to choose from, the one meaning that we are going to use as a point of departure terms Hooliganism as “competitive violence of socially organized fan groups in football, principally directed against opposing fan groups” (Spaaij, 2006, p. 11).

II. History of English Hooliganism: Rise and Growth

Even though the denoting term 'Hooliganism' was not born, yet, football violence accompanied the sport in England from the beginning throughout almost all of its existence. Having a closer look at only the 20th century, complaints about “noise, swearing and rowdiness” (Armstrong, 1998, p. 6) were reported first in the 1920s and 1930s. However, it was only after the Second World War when the phenomenon really started to take off. Several explanations might help to understand why at this particular time the old-fashioned and well-recognized English 'fair-play' behaviour, which included the fan groups, gradually vanished. Armstrong (1998) and Brimson (2000) argue that this coincided with the end of English national military service in the 1960s, which altered young men’s horizon dramatically. Now the match-going took over the aura of a credibility test and masculinity would be proved in the context of football. It is also in that time when the term 'Hooligan' became publicly known. As a side note, this is etymologically speaking quite unrelated as it stems most probably from stories about an immigrant Irish family with the surname 'Houlihan', terrorizing East London in the 19th century (Brimson, 2000, p. 81). In the 1962 World Cup in Chile, English fans saw how fan groups of other countries engaged in a much more intense and violent behaviour which again gave the domestic Hooliganism vital momentum. Generally, the development was supported by a new generation that opposed obedience vis-à-vis the authorities, fought against hierarchies and aimed at curtailing the power of the state. In the realm discussed here, it meant of course challenging and fighting the police present at the stadia.

Hooligans in England continued to expand in terms of activists, violence, and destructive behaviour throughout the 1970s. The authorities, powerless and barely able to react, failed in embanking the movement. Hooligans refined their methods, for instance in how to best smuggle objects into the stadia, 'construct' weapons out of newspapers inside the stadium, or they (ab)used missiles to attack opponent fan groups (Brimson, 2000).

Gradually, wide-scale violence exacerbated (Pearson, 2009) even more, making it appropriate to label the 1980s the 'dark' decade for football. Gardner (1996) argues that this is, amongst others, due to the increased violence on the pitch, with brutal fouls on a much more regular basis than today. Illegal destructive and violent Hooligan behaviour took place in such a large and anonymizing mass that even if a criminal action was spotted by the police (difficult enough given the sea of bodies to be found on most terraces), getting the guy out and arrested without retaliation from fellow fans was incredibly difficult. Similar problems arose from the arrival of the “Casual” scene. This meant that Hooligans began to dress in expensive clothes, unrelated to a specific football club making them unidentifiable for the police beforehand. After several incidents with singular persons being killed out of Hooligan violence, 1985 saw the first great football-fan-related catastrophe: at the Bradford City Fire disaster, 56 people lost their lives when a flash fire destroyed one side of Bradford's football stadium. Whereas this was not caused by violent fan behaviour, only a few months later Liverpool Hooligans were indeed mainly responsible for fan attacks and a resulting terrible crush at the European Cup Final in Belgium (Brimson, 2000). The “Heysel Disaster” causing 39 casualties amongst the visitors has arguably been the worst case of football Hooliganism in Europe until today. English Hooligans hit the headlines of every newspaper, and the public demand for finally tackling this movement could not be overheard anymore. However, the authorities, still not capable to genuinely understand the scope of the Hooligan development and momentum, introduced policies that qualify best as cosmetic changes, if at all. The “Sporting Event Act” of 1985 for example, despite its bulky name, merely forbad drunken fans to enter a stadium (Armstrong, 1998). Also, huge metal fences were erected to separate and cage the two groups. “English soccer stadiums began to resemble concentration camps” (Gardner, 1996, p. 202). Eventually, at Hillsborough in 1989, this described similarity turned into deadly serious reality. For a FA-Cup game between Liverpool and Nottingham, fans tried to get in an overcrowded stadium that was already bursting. The police, heavily criticized in the aftermath, opened an additional gate with the intention to relieve the pressure on the tribunes. In contrast, even more fans put pressure onto the fenced-in tribunes from outside. In this massive crush, 96 people were killed. It was “the event that changed everything“ (Brimson, 2000, p. 128), and it had a long-lasting impact – also and especially on the English Hooligan movement.

Prime Minister Margret Thatcher herself called for immediate action. Lord Taylor of Gosforth headed the investigations and presented in his report 78 measures on how to prevent such catastrophes in the future (Pentz & Köster, n.d.). This “Taylor Report” on the one hand put pressure on the clubs to bring their own house in order through major infrastructural changes. This was put into practice for instance with the most visible difference that every English stadium had to become all-seater with no more standing areas. In addition, the authorities demanded more security, which resulted in an increasing number of private stewards in the stadia and CCTV camera set-ups. Moreover, the corralling metal fences had to be removed. On the other hand, destructive fan behaviour and Hooliganism were directly tackled. In order to introduce more diversity and calm groups to the games, football clubs sought to attract families and women. Certain clubs promoted for instance discounted Family Tickets. Contrarily, clubs intended to dispose of the 'troublemakers' from the lower classes attending the games and being considered as the main source for Hooliganism. Consequently, seasonal tickets prices jumped up by 300% within one year or were only available through costly special membership status (Brown, 1998). This “Pricing Out” was thought to support a more civilized atmosphere in the stadium (Armstrong, 1998, p. 124-132) and also strengthened the business character of the clubs. Manchester United made this commercialization particularly recognizable by changing the official name from FC (Football Club) to PLC (Public Limited Company), entering the stock market and attracting investors with the intention to reach a new customer base (Brown, 1998).

Paralyzed from the past incidents and hit by those new policies, Hooliganism kept quiet for the beginning of the 1990s. Above all, the stadia themselves were no longer a dangerous place for the normal spectator whose safety really increased. Yet, as Pearson (2009) rightly points out: Hooliganism changed, it did not decline. We would thus describe that development stage as 'Hooligans going backstage'. Profiting for example from the upcoming mobile phone for co-ordination (Brimson, 2000), Hooligans moved their actions away from the actual football grounds where their behaviour was no longer tolerated. Instead, opponent groups clashed at train stations, in the city centre, or even at remote places which were communicated through phone calls (Armstrong, 1998). No matter if the battles were scheduled beforehand or spontaneous, they occurred at places and at times unexpected for the police and hence, could live on up until today.

The generally improved situation in the English top leagues nowadays has also led to a loosening of the tight regulations and surveillance that existed in the 1990s. Above all, England was of course frightened of an explosion of Hooliganism when hosting the Eurocup 1996. As this event went without major disturbances, despite severe media instigations (Brimson, 2000), afterwards Hooligans, especially of the lower amateur league clubs, have benefited from renewed liberties in recent years. The internet and new media tools allow for an even better coordination of 'backstage' Hooligan action. In conclusion, only the fact that the movement is no longer on the front cover of the print press destroying the stadia does not mean it has lost its momentum. Hooligans have adapted to new regulations, they have learned how to circumvent the authorities – and they are certainly not in decline.

III. Characterizing the Movement

Right at the beginning it should be emphasized that the movement of Hooliganism, and more precisely its members, are a highly diverse group. All major publications agree that, from the unemployed low class worker to the London City investment banker, basically all societal groups are represented. Having this acknowledged, our simplified approach of characterizing Hooliganism is by exploring the “stereotypical” Hooligan, representing the major share of the movement, in particular the persons engaging in the most violent forms.

Field Research as well as quantitative evidence (Armstrong, 1998; Brimson, 2000; Buford, 1991; Dunning, 2000; Spaaij, 2006) manifests that this type of Hooligan is usually male, young, and single. He has a low education, but he is by no means excluded from society. This person is employed and, thus, can be classified in the lower working class. Dunning (2000) proves empirically this class belonging by compiling data from various studies, which all find that the majority of Hooligans stem from the working classes. The average Hooligan has also come to the attention of the criminal justice system, though only for minor delinquencies; so this is not about felons that spent several years in prison. A crucial element is of course that an intrinsic conviction prevails that the football contest should not be confined to the pitch. As Wagner (2002, p. 34) illustrates, many Hooligans impatiently wait for the game to end in order to start the “third half” outside of the stadium. Furthermore, alcohol plays an important role for Hooligans, obviously far beyond a sensible level. In addition, muscular torsos and tattoos are often “desirable” (Armstrong, 1998, p. 162) for a masculine appearance, whereas any homosexual leanings would consequently lead to an exclusion of the Hooligan movement. This goes well together with the widely outlined importance for the man to strive for credible masculinity and respect from his peers. What Brimson (2000) calls “Buzz”, or Armstrong (1998) labels “aggressive excitement”, it points at this thrill, which Hooligans experience in their group when they engage in violent actions and, consequently, acquire peer respect by taking those risks. It is the central feature which, in addition to the shared identities of the group members and ardent support for the respective English football club, ties the Hooligan group together and contributes to the keeps the movement’s persistence.

Examining now the movement on the group-level, one can also depict general features that the “firms”, as the English Hooligan groups are also called, have in common. The organizational structure is very egalitarian, consensus-oriented and a rather unorganized than organized collectivity. Armstrong (1998) describes, based on various examples, how a “firm” continuously argues over which actions to take or even which pub to go to before the game. This makes it obvious that there is no formal leader. Singular persons might organize the coach for an away game, but such responsibilities are neither officially stated nor in any way reliable for a longer period of time. One cannot observe a certain body within the Hooligan group that would qualify as senior leadership. Hence, the whole mass is quite anonymous (Brimson, 2000), with mere acquaintanceship level among its members. Basically, everyone is welcome who has free time, money at hand, and the willingness to fight for the ‘right’ cause, i.e. the respective football club. Consequently, the community is characterized by vague and unstable boundaries, as every member can also leave at any point of time. Thus too, a limited degree of trust within the “firm” is observable. One would help the fellow fan who is attacked by the opponents, but there is always an underlying degree of mistrustfulness, since unknown members could also be intruders from either the police or a rivalry fan groups (Armstrong, 1998).

Bearing in mind the listed characteristics of the Hooligan movement, one may rightly classify them as a clique, according to Boissevain (1974, p. 174): “A coalition whose members associate regularly with each other on the basis of affection and common interest and possess a sense of common identity.” In summary, this relatively low degree of integration in a “firm” can be seen as its actual strength, because this makes it so hard for the police to know who actually takes part, what the Hooligans have planned, to pinpoint responsibilities and, generally, to successfully fight the movement.

IV. A Theoretical Understanding of Hooliganism

Although the descriptive approach towards Hooliganism may be quite unequivocal, figuring out the core of this social problem seems to be more ambiguous as numerous scholars from different academic fields such as anthropology, psychology, and sociology differ in their understandings of Hooliganism (Armstrong, 1998; Dunning, 2000; Kerr, 1994). Unlike other social movements that have a clear mission or aim to change their social or political environment, Hooligans with their disruptive behaviour appear to have no purpose or deliberate goal at all. This is why Hooliganism may not be considered as a social movement at first sight. However, in order to indeed relate Hooliganism to the social movement models it is essential to look at these various perceptions of the motivations of fan aggression. For that, an overview of the most prominent theoretical explanations will be provided as follows. It is particularly remarkable that some scientists theorize Hooliganism by placing a deeper meaning in the violent behaviour of the supporters, whereas other scholars see those interpretations as exaggerations of a behavioural pattern that can be explained in a much simpler manner by merely looking at human nature.

Anthropological Approach

Belonging to the latter group and basing their line of argumentation on comprehensive in-depth analysis of the Hooligans in Sheffield (England), Armstrong and Harris (1991) represent the Anthropological Approach. They mainly argue that football violence is not at all organized but rather an expression of male identity rituals. With their contentious behaviour Hooligans tend to seek some kind of accomplishment in a group that consists of diverse members but with common ideals and thus developing a shared identity and sense of belonging (Armstrong, 1998).

Furthermore, they accuse the police and media for falsely claiming that Hooligan violence is a product of deliberate group structures that are even built in hierarchies. These conspiratorial allegations result from the shortcomings of both the media and police in how to cope with, classify, or encounter Hooliganism (Ibid.). It would make intuitive sense to confirm that this provocative behaviour is a means of creating bondages between the Hooligan group members. By having this common goal to not only have their team win against the other team, but even more importantly to triumph over the other team’s supporters and show them that they are stronger, they grow together. It is this feeling of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ giving the members strength that Armstrong (1998) emphasizes and that supports the perspective of regarding Hooliganism as a collective action which again is not far from being classified as a social movement (Braun & Vliegenthart, 2008).

Even though this approach has been criticized for underestimating the gravity of the violence and generalizing behavioural motivations by relying on individual testimonies of only one club, it shall still be highly valuable for our attempt of linking Hooliganism to models of social movements. The qualitative data provided by the author should not be ignored as it actually reflects the personal motivations of fans in the Hooligan scene.

Psychological Approach

Another theory which does not differ so severely from the anthropological one is Kerr’s (1994) Psychological Reversal Theory. Here, it is argued that Hooligans seek to escape from their boring every-day life by engaging in violent delinquencies deviating from social norms in the football environment (Kerr, 1994).

Kerr explains that the Hooligans’ confrontations with the police as much as with other Hooligan groups, and the attention of the media generates a feeling of arousal and excitement in them. This ‘acting against the norm’, breaking the rules and engaging in destruction stimulate their need to change their emotional state from boredom to their adventurous ‘kick of the week’ (Ibid.). Kerr is criticized for neglecting the significance of the role of masculinity having a great impact on the motivations of Hooligans (Dunning, 2000). Moreover, Dunning is not impressed by Kerr’s reasoning regarding the need to change the ‘boredom’ state which he sees to be not sufficient to explain the quest for excitement (Ibid.). Claiming that he developed a similar but much more comprehensive interpretation years before Kerr, Dunning values ‘routinisation’ rather than ‘boredom’ as the motivation for the adventure of violent actions (Elias & Dunning, 1986).

Sharing Kerr’s view, Finn (1994) goes even beyond the aspect of emotional arousal of the individual. He emphasizes the Hooligans’ quest for ‘flow’ or ‘peak’ emotions that are experienced in a collective, and thus enforce the common group identity (Finn, 1994). It would be reasonable here to refer to Zimbardo’s deindividuation and the psychology of mobs (1970). Although he does not specialize in Hooligan groups his theories about certain dynamics in large groups are very relevant in this context. Zimbardo (1970) states that people in groups give up some sense of responsibility or assessment of their current situation. This lowers their threshold to engage in impulsive and radical activities which they would usually avoid when acting as an individual. That applied to Hooligan groups would lead to the understanding that Hooligans are more susceptible to violent actions in their Hooligan groups. This is because these actions are taken in a collective and the members will not be held liable individually for the consequences. Also, in these groups it is easier to generate this emotional arousal as the members can push each other developing collective dynamics.

Marxist Approach

Before the publication of these psychological view-points, sociologists have already tried to arrive at the causes of Hooliganism, one of the pioneers being Ian Taylor (1987). With what is later called the Marxist Approach (Frosdick & Marsh, 2005) he explains the emergence of fan aggression through the ‘’embourgeoisement of football” (Taylor , 1971, p. 372).

Owing to the increasing popularity of football worldwide the various clubs became more organized and thus commercialized. Consequently, football was not merely a game any longer but developed into a profitable industry that was run by entrepreneurs. The players received higher, if not even tremendous salaries and attained celebrity status. All this alienated the majority of the working-class football fans who felt excluded from this mainstream approach to the game of football and lost their connection to their local clubs. Therefore their involvement in Hooligan activities can be interpreted as a “working-class resistance movement” which is driven by the desire of regaining control over their favourite sport (Ibid.). Although all this may sound very plausible and generate some empathy for the Hooligans who were supposedly suppressed by the football elites, the theory lacks empirical data and is not in accordance with the testimonies of Hooliganism.


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English Hooliganism - A Different Social Movement
Jacobs University Bremen gGmbH
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english, hooliganism, different, social, movement
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Anonymous, 2009, English Hooliganism - A Different Social Movement, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/176307


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