Extremism in Football


Modern football has been around since 1880 and has grown into one of the biggest sports on the planet, with big matches and tournaments attracting millions of viewers worldwide. There are many controversial issues that tarnish the game, ranging from the upper level corruption at FIFA, to the deaths and poor treatment of workers building stadiums for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. However, the recent violence and riots at the European Championships have highlighted another ugly side of football; organised hooliganism.

What is Football Hooliganism?

Football hooliganism has been around since the inception of the sport, with the first hooligans in the 1880’s referred to as ‘howling roughs’ after Preston beat Aston Villa 5-0, causing the teams to be attacked with stones, sticks and one player being left unconscious.

A football hooligan tends to be violent with a destructive behavioural trait that causes them to want to fight and vandalise – all in the name of the team they allegedly support.

Many hooligans belong to a ‘football firm’ – a group of club fans who go to matches to cause trouble with other rival firms. There have been many football firms in England, with arguably the biggest rivalry between West Ham ICF (Inter City Firm) and Millwall Bushwackers – a rivalry so prominent and fierce that it took centre stage in the football hooligan film Green Street, which followed a firm of hooligans based on the West Ham ICF.

The Era of English Hooliganism

The 1970s and 1980s were particularly rife with hooliganism in English football. Riots, thrown missiles, fights, hateful chants and deaths started to damage the reputation of English football resulting in English clubs being banned for five years from European competitions in the late 1980s. Hooliganism got so out of control in England that, due to riots by Millwall fans in 1985, Margaret Thatcher set up a “War Cabinet” to counter hooliganism.

Only when Thatcher introduced the Spectators Act in 1989 did English football’s reputation improve. With a greater control on stadium admissions, known hooligans banned from matches and a heavy police presence at big matches, football violence in the UK has decreased in the past 20 years, only taking place in isolated incidents. Another factor that has been linked to the decrease in football violence is the introduction of ecstasy to the market in the early 1990’s. Rival fans that once spent match days fighting each other instead started attending raves taking ecstasy together – causing the level of football hooliganism to drop to its lowest level in 5 years in 1993.

Euro 2016 Violence

Euro 2016 was marred by the violence of a select few fans. Russian, French and English fans clashed in Marseille, with the Russians described as “savage and organised”, using signs posted around the towns to direct hooligans to meeting places showing that the attacks were premeditated. The aftermath was 35 injured fans, 4 of which were seriously injured. This resulted in UEFA (the football organisation that runs the tournament) threatening Russia and England with disqualification from the tournament if fans didn’t behave themselves.

Sadly, when both Russian and English fans met again in Lille just a few days later, it was more of the same as French riot police used tear gas, flash bangs and baton charges to disperse English fans. At least 36 people were arrested and 16 people were taken to hospital. A lot has to be said about the “outdated tactics” by the French police, who were arguably all too quick to don the riot gear and take to the street – a method now rarely used across Europe with ‘plain-clothed’ officers now able to diffuse violent situations without escalation the preferred method.

Educating Younger Audiences on Extremism

More than 100 child football hooligans are currently banned from attending matches in the UK. The violence at the Euro’s put hooliganism back in the spotlight and it is important that youngsters are educated on the issue before they are drawn in to the “glamorisation of football disorder”.

There is possibly an inconsistency across police forces with several areas implementing no Football Banning Orders (FBO’s) to under 18’s, including Greater Manchester (which is responsible for clubs such as Man Utd, Man City, Oldham, Rochdale and Bolton) which coincidently has had full access to our ‘Prevent’ educational resource, “Where’s the Line?”, since 2009. This inconsistency needs to be addressed in order to educate youngsters about appropriate behaviour when attending sporting events – something that many clubs and supporter groups in Europe already deliver.