Traced back to the 14th century, football hooliganism is described as violent, disorderly, or destructive behavior by spectators of football events. A conflict that is often involving of gangs, or football firms, hooligan firms can even be referred to as an “army,” “boys,” a “crew,” or “casuals.”
These conflicts often occur either before, during, or after football matches. They typically occur away from the stadiums to avoid being arrested or further complications. Locations would be selected prior to the interactions even occurred.
Some of the behavior involved in football hooliganism includes taunting, spitting, throwing of objects, unarmed fighting, fighting with weapons like rocks, knives, machetes, firearms, bats, and bottles, and disorderly crowd behavior.
Some of these actions can even include fences, fixtures, and walls to collapse, due to the incredible force of pushing, fighting, and attempting to flee.
Three decades after football hooliganism first began to arouse major international concern, the so called ‘English disease’ continues to generate official and public anxiety. In spite of all the efforts made and resources invested over the past decades, it seems that football hooliganism remains, to varying extents, a disturbing social problem.1 However, important variations exist in the level and nature of football hooliganism in different localities. Although international structures and concerted responses are required, prevention strategies should ultimately be based on local practices and designed to fit local needs. The prevention of football hooliganism requires the continuous and long-term commitment of a variety of institutions and agents, including local clubs and fan communities. The purpose of this paper is twofold. First, it aims to provide some insight into the main cross-national and cross-local resemblances and dissimilarities in the patterns and forms of football hooliganism. Second, the paper attempts to stimulate the transnational exchange and dissemination of prevention strategies by discussing some of the ‘good practices’ carried out in different countries and at different clubs.
The Concept of Football Hooliganism
There is no precise definition of ‘football hooliganism’. It lacks legal definition, precise demarcation of membership and is used to cover a variety of actions which take place in more or less directly football-related contexts. To account for some of the phenomenon’s main features, a distinction should be drawn between spontaneous, relatively isolated incidents of spectator violence and the behaviour of socially organized or institutionalized fan (hooligan) groups which engage in competitive violence, principally with other hooligan groups. This distinction is historically observable through a shift from a pattern in which attacks on match officials and opposing players predominated over attacks on rival fans, to a pattern in which inter-fan group fighting and fighting between fans and the police became the predominant form of spectator disorderliness.
This shift has taken place in various European countries, but at different times. Regretfully, the ideal typal distinction cannot account for the complexity and versatility of the phenomenon with regard to the nature of the violence as well as the degree of organization involved. At least five conceptual dilemmas can be identified. First, while football hooliganism primarily consists of competitive violence between rival fan groups their violent behaviour is not restricted to inter-group fighting, but may include missile throwing, vandalism, attacks on the police and regular fans, or racial abuse. Second, the violent behaviour of hooligan groups takes places not only at or in the immediate vicinity of football grounds, but also in other contexts, for example city centres, pubs, clubs or railway stations.