Football hooliganism refers to unruly, violent, and destructive behaviour by overzealous supporters of football clubs, including brawling, vandalism and intimidation. Unfortunately, over the past few months we have seen more and more incidents of this nature in Britain. The latest was in a match between Atherstone and Barrow in the FA Cup Third Qualifying round when some 30 home fans ran across the pitch and invaded the Barrow tunnel. One fan even got as far as the Barrow dressing room door. Although the incidents are small, these things are happening more frequently.
In April, there was violence at the FA Cup Semi Final match between Millwall and Wigan, although it appears that the Lions fans were fighting amongst themselves. On the same weekend we had fighting between Newcastle and Sunderland fans with 30 arrests being made. Finally, we had 12 arrests and three police officers requiring medical attention as Bristol City fans spilled onto the pitch as they beat their fiercest rivals, Bristol Rovers, 2-1. Are these isolated incidents or is the hooligan element that blighted the game in the 70's and 80's returning to our shores?
It is fair to say that these incidents are insignificant compared to the scale that we used to see thirty years ago, but hooliganism actually started a long time before that. In the 1880's it was individuals called "roughs" that caused trouble at football matches. It started to escalate in the 1970's as organised hooligan firms started to appear. Birmingham had "Zulu's, Zulu Warriors", Chelsea had their "Headhunters" and West Ham United had the "Inner City Firm". In 1975, fighting between Spurs and Chelsea fans made the national news. Leeds were banned from Europe for fighting in the European Cup Final against Bayern Munich in Paris and Manchester United were banned for two years in 1977 for fans rioting before, during and after their UEFA Cup match with St. Etienne. A full scale riot broke out between Millwall and Ipswich fans as debris fell from the sky and many innocent people were injured.
As we moved into the eighties the scale of the rioting intensified. In 1985, Millwall fans were again involved in a full scale riot at Luton's Kenilworth Road, bringing a response from Margaret Thatcher as she set up a "War Cabinet" to combat hooliganism. On 29 May 1985, 39 Juventus fans were crushed to death during the European Cup Final between Liverpool and Juventus, an event known today as the Heysel Stadium disaster. English clubs were banned from European competition for five years, with Liverpool getting an extra year, something that took a long time to recover from, if at all.
The introduction of the Spectators Act, which was implemented by Margaret Thatcher in 1989 and involved controlling the admission of spectators, saw violence move away from grounds and England's reputation across Europe improved.
The last 20 years have seen a huge reduction in the instances and numbers of people involved in hooliganism. This reduction is due to certain measures that have been implemented over time. Security checks are now carried out with stewards confiscating items that could be used as missiles and identified hooligans are now banned from attending matches. All seater stadia have reduced the ability for fans to move around freely, and the introduction of segregation to keep fans away from each other has helped as well. Escorting away fans to their destination reduces the risk of violence between opposing fans, but there are still "fans" who will always look for a fight.
Is it still a problem? It is clear that although the instances are increasing all the time, the scale of the violence is insignificant compared to twenty to thirty years ago. Whilst we have moved away from fighting in the stands or on the pitch, it has been replaced with racism and other forms of abuse. The introduction of social networks has brought with it abuse of a different kind and individuals are often targeted on Twitter or Facebook. The Crown Prosecution Service are already working with the FA and Players Union to tackle internet trolls who abuse footballers online and anyone caught will receive a Football Banning Order. These Banning Orders will also be given to fans who let off flares and invade the pitch. They will also prevent offenders from travelling to the World Cup and Euro 2016, as well as other European fixtures.
It is likely that hooliganism will never be eradicated completely and therefore it is the level of tolerance that we need to focus on whilst we tackle other forms of anti-social behaviour.
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