The English Disease. An Analysis of British Football Hooliganism

Term Paper, 2016

20 Pages, Grade: A-




Thesis Statement

Theoretical Framework

Analysis and discussion


Works Cited


In 1984, Manchester United reached the semi-finals of the Cup-Winners Cup. In the semi-finals, they drew Juventus. The first leg ended in a 1-1 draw setting the scene for the second leg in Turin. However, The Old Lady proved too strong for United, who were defeated 2-1. Juventus went on to win the tournament but before that triumph, the British fans wanted to give the Italians a reminder that they were not pushovers.

American journalist Bill Buford was among the Manchester supporters as they spilled out into the Turin night eager and intent on fighting any and everyone. "There was a roar, everybody roaring, and the English supporters charged into the Italians. In the next second I went down. A dark blur and then smack: I got hit on the side of the head by a beer can - a full one - thrown powerfully enough to knock me over. As I got up, two policemen, the only two I saw, came rushing past, and one of them clubbed me on the back of the head. Back down I went. I got up again, and most of the Italians had already run off, scattering in all directions. But many had been tripped up before they got away.

Directly in front of me - so close I could almost reach out to touch his face - a young Italian, a boy really, had been knocked down. As he was getting up, an English supporter pushed the boy down again, ramming his flat hand against the boy's face. He fell back and his head hit the pavement, the back of its bouncing slightly.

Two other Manchester United supporters appeared. One kicked the boy in the ribs. It was a soft sound, which surprised me. You could hear the impact of the shoe on the fabric of the boy's clothing. He was kicked again - this time very hard - and the sound was still soft, muted. The boy reached down to protect himself, to guard his robs, and the other English supporter then kicked him in the face. This was a soft sound as well, but it was different: you could tell that it was his face that had been kicked and not his body and not something protected by clothing. It sounded gritty. The boy tried to get up and he was pushed back down - sloppily, without much force. Another Manchester United supporter appeared and another and then a third. There were not six, and they all started kicking the boy on the ground. The boy covered his face. I was surprised that I could tell, from the sound, when someone's shoe missed or when it struck the fingers and not the forehead or the nose. Eventually eight Manchester United supporters surrounded the boy, kicking him from all sides. His face was covered with blood. His hair was matted and wet, blood was all over his clothing".[1]

Having attended a match a couple of years earlier in Wales, Buford had his first glimpse of football hooliganism or as it came to be called "the English disease". Buford became fascinated by the phenomenon and sought to explore it further which lead him to ask the simple, and yet complex to answer, question "who are the football hooligans and what unites them?"

Thesis Statement

"Analyze British football hooliganism as a subcultural activity that "performs" part of an identity or a whole way of life. Your analysis may be based on depictions such as those in Bill Buford's book Among the Thugs (1990). Who is attracted by the strong in-group identity (cf. Tajfel) of such a subculture, and why might specific violent ritual appeal to individuals looking for social, cultural or national validation?"

Theoretical Framework

The following section introduces the central parts of Henri Tajfel's observations on intergroup discrimination as outlined in his article "Experiments in Intergroup Discrimination" (1970). Subsequently, this understanding of intergroup behaviour and discrimination and its consequences will be used in the analysis.

According to Tajfel, drawing on the work of sociologist Lewis Coser, distinguishes between two types of intergroup discrimination: the "rational" and the "irrational". The rational discrimination, says Tajfel, can be seen as a means to an end. In such cases, the conflict and the attitudes accompanying it reflect a genuine competition between groups with divergent interests. Opposite to this is irrational discrimination, which is explained as being an end in itself, which serves to release emotional tensions towards a unifying scapegoat. Having said this, Tajfel reminds us that although these polarities are significant, "most cases of conflict between people reflect an infinitely intricate interweaving of social and psychological causation."[2]

Tajfel notes further that prejudice and discrimination carry a set of common characteristics making it similar across different constitutions of in-groups and out-groups. He also points out how most discussions and studies of intergroup prejudice and discrimination stresses conformity: "Conformity contributes to hostile attitudes and behaviour toward specified groups of people in situations that are usually characterized by a history of intergroup tensions, conflicts of interest and early acquisition by individuals of hostile views about selected outgroups."[3]

Moreover, norms are important when it comes to discussing prejudice and discrimination, he says. Norms in this context is understood as "an individual's expectation of how others expect him to behave and his expectation of how others will behave in any given social situation".[4] Norms are also closely linked to conformity, which can be an important determinant of attitudes of prejudice against other groups.

To make this point, Tajfel uses children as an example, observing that at an early age they learn not only whom they should like or dislike in their social environment, but also that they reduce the complexity of their social environment by dividing the subjective social order into the simple classified groups of "us" and "them" – or, put another way, as in-groups and outgroups.

There are several consequences to this, according to Tajfel. One is that there may be discrimination, even when there is no obvious reason for it: people will automatically discriminate against those who are not part of their in-group. Following on from this, there can be discrimination towards an outgroup even in the absence of any previously existing attitudes of hostility towards this group. This leads to the third consequence, namely that hostility may show itself directly in the behaviour towards an outgroup before any attitude of hostility or prejudice have been formed, and thus, that outgroup discrimination is extraordinarily easy to trigger off.[5]

From Tajfel’s observations, then, it can be said that that discriminatory intergroup-behaviour can be expected from individuals, who are not involved in any actual or imaginary conflicts with one another or has no history of intergroup hostility, precisely because it is a learned process, which, once it has begun, reinforces itself in an endless loop, where the different causes shift continuously.

Analysis and discussion

Years before his trip with the Manchester United supporters to Torino, American journalist Bill Buford was standing in a train station outside Cardiff when an unscheduled train came to the platform. The train was a football special, and it had been taken over by the supporters. They were Liverpool supporters, and there were hundreds of them on the train, and they were all singing in unison: "Liverpool, la-la-la, Liverpool, la-la-la. The words look silly now, but they did not sound silly."[6] As Buford stood mesmerised on the platform watching the spectacle, listening to the song, sung with increasing ferocity he was suddenly struck by the realisation that "the police was frightened. For that matter, I was frightened (...) this display. I thought that it was intended for us, that this violent chant was a way of telling us that they, the supporters, were in the position to do anything they wanted".[7] Buford was hooked; he wanted to know more. Was the violence a protest, an outlet for frustrations of a powerful nature, was it a rebellion and if so against who?

Wandering the ground outside Old Trafford Buford tried to find some hooligans that he could interview. However, he could not find any because initially he could not tell the hooligans apart from the average fans. Instead, Buford saw thousands of fans all behaving in the same manner; singing, dancing, shouting, drinking and celebrating, and he realised that the hooligan fan in many ways behaved exactly like the average fan.


[1] Buford, B. Among the Thugs (London, Warburg 1991), page 86.

[2] Tajfel, H. "Experiments in Intergroup Discrimination" in Scientific American Vol. 223 No. 5 (1970), p.96.

[3] Ibid, p.98.

[4] Ibid, p.98.

[5] Ibid, p.99.

[6] Buford, Among the Thugs, p.13.

[7] Ibid, p.14.

Excerpt out of 20 pages


The English Disease. An Analysis of British Football Hooliganism
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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British Hooliganism, Henri Tajfel, Bill Buford, Among the Thugs, Subculture, Male masculinity, Ingroup, Outgroup
Quote paper
Martin Lausten (Author), 2016, The English Disease. An Analysis of British Football Hooliganism, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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