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Football Hooliganism

Hooliganism is unruly and destructive behaviour most often associated with football. It is an increasing problem in many countries. In this text we take a brief look at the problem.
Trouble on the rise
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Pre-reading: Have you ever been to a football game, a rock concert or something similar with a huge audience? Think of as many words (adjectives) as you can to describe the atmosphere there.

When it Started

Hooliganism, unruly and destructive behaviour, is today most often associated with football and primarily English football. However, one of the earliest instances of violence associated with sports was in AD 532, when half of Constantinople was destroyed and tens of thousands of people were killed during violence which started at a chariot racing event.

British Hooligans

Even if violence related to football was registered in England from the 1880s, it was not before the early 1960s that British football supporters gained their bad reputation worldwide, and the term hooliganism was created by British media.From the late 1970s, more organized forms of hooliganism emerged with gangs called hooligan firms, such as, Manchester United’s Red Army and Liverpool’s The Urchins.

Disastrous 80s

A shocking football disaster took place in Brussels in 1985 at Heyzel Stadium, when Liverpool played Juventus. Crowds of Liverpool fans got pushed up against a dividing wall, which collapsed under the strain. Thirty-eight people were killed and 257 badly injured, most of them Italian supporters.

Four years later another incident took place, this time on domestic ground. 96 Liverpool F.C. fans were killed at Hillsborough, Sheffield, in a FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. For a long time this incident was blamed on the conduct of the supporters. However in 2014, following years of exhausting legal battles, the supporters were acquitted of all suspicion. Investigations show that the police failed in their handling of the crowd and collaborated on covering up evidence afterwards.

In the wake of these football disasters the UK government introduced a number of regulations to prevent similar events.

A Bad Reputation

British supporters have a bad reputation in almost all European countries, and special precautions are taken whenever England plays. There were several incidents during the European Championship in Belgium and the Netherlands in 2000, but fortunately these did not result in any injuries. England’s reputation has improved in recent years, because of the introduction of all seater stadiums and police use of preventative arrests to avoid trouble. If you search for information about what is termed the Battle of Everton Valley in 2005, you'll see that hooliganism is still prevalent, only now the fighting takes place away from the football grounds.

The Make-Up of a Hooligan

In the 1960s and 70s, hooligans used to dress in skinhead styles, but from the late 1970s they started to adopt a casual dress style to avoid police notice. They favoured designer clothes and expensive sportswear with labels like Burberry, Pringle, Lacoste and Timberland. This gave rise to the term "casuals" about trouble-seeking supporters. A typical casual or football hooligan at domestic matches might be working class, late teens or early twenties, with a manual or lower clerical occupation or he could be unemployed. Most importantly, though, is the feeling of community and tribalism. In football disorder incidents abroad, however, more complex causes are at work. Incidents often involve alcohol and xenophobia (fear of strangers), and the way the police handle this is crucial. If police tactics are aggressive, escalating disorder is predictable.

Hooliganism seems to be at odds with the typical picture of the polite Englishman. Consider how often you hear “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me” when you visit the UK.

Tasks and Activities

Make Questions to the Following Answers

  1. The term was created by the media.
  2. At a chariot racing event in AD 532.
  3. Gangs called hooligan firms.
  4. The fans behave better and the use of preventative arrests helps to avoid trouble.
  5. In order to avoid police notice.
  6. Designer clothes and expensive sportswear.
  7. Tribalism and a feeling of community is important.
  8. Aggressive police methods often play an important part.


  1. The typical Briton is usually seen to be very correct, polite and formal, and yet football hooliganism started in the UK. Discuss this contrast in behaviour.
  2. The rivalry between Norwegian football clubs is fierce. Discuss if what we witness between rivaling football supporters, might be termed as hooliganism. Also discuss whether this type of violent behaviour is on the rise.
  3. Following the Hillsborough incident where 96 Liverpool F.C. fans were killed, supporters were blamed for the incident in the police investigation. It turned out to be a wrongful conclusion. However, this conclusion was very convenient to the police. Who controls the police and what does it take to overturn the conclusions of an investigation? How many years did it take in this case?

CC BY-SASkrevet av Anne Scott Hagen og Engelsk for videregående (Vega).
Sist faglig oppdatert 09.10.2018


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