Within the 1980s England was undergoing a dramatic change. With Margret Thatcher at the forefront of it. There were many changes in industry affecting the working man, with the proposal to increase mechanisation in mines which led to strikes by the miners. Typically miners came from working class families, who worked hard all week and Saturday mornings and then in the afternoon would go to watch their local football team. Football violence had been on the rise since the early 1970s and really came to a peak during the 1980s and the problems for English working culture probably enhanced this, it was a chance for people to get relief from the stress of their working lives. Football Hooliganism was a big problem for England, with on average 25 major incidents reported each year. This gradually increased with the rise of Firms springing up by the majority of major English clubs. I will be looking at the rise of football hooliganism and what has been done since the 1980s to prevent such serious incidents, and whether that has worked or not, comparing the reports of hooliganism now compared to the extreme events of the 1980s. By prevalent I mean how significant these offences are and how common and serious cases of hooliganism are. By hooliganism I mean violence and discrimination, groups of fans targeting others with the intent of hurting them.
The events of the 70s- One major incident of the 1970s was the stabbing of a young Blackpool fan at their home ground Bloomfield road, by a Bolton Wanderers fan. The victim was only 17 years of age when his life tragically ended on the 24th of August 1974. This particular tragedy heavily impacted on the decision to introduce segregation of fans and fencing at football matches because things were getting far too out of hand. The stabbing changed the lives of so many people, so much so that a memorial was still held 40 years later by Blackpool fans to mark the anniversary of the tragedy. Football Hooliganism was just dealt with incredibly reluctantly by the police during the 1970s, so many people took part in the activities and many were never around for the police to catch them, they had all left the scene of the crime they commit, most hooligan crimes were petty, most commonly vandalism, however sometimes cases were a bit more serious, with assault and Grievous Bodily Harm and like in the case young 17 year old Kevin Olsen, the Blackpool fan mentioned above, murder also took place in what was a dark age for football culture. One major problem was that there were no surveillance of football fans, no CCTV cameras or way of getting evidence for those who committed the crimes, most of the time, if they were caught during the 70s, hooligans would just be imprisoned overnight before release in the morning. Incidents like this and many small incidents led to a huge uproar in the 1980s with English violence becoming much more prevalent at the majority of big games, many incidents occurred that had a major impact on the way society viewed football fans in General. The amount of arrests peaked in the 1988-89 season with 6145 arrests being made across the professional English game, this doesn’t mean this was the exact number of cases, it means this is the number of people who got caught and detained for their actions, and realistically only a small minority actually did get caught.
One major changing point in the 1980s concerned English football fans in European matches. All English teams were banned from playing in Europe in 1985 due to crowd troubles caused by Liverpool fans, at the event the rioting forced a wall to collapse causing the death of 39 people and injuries to over 400. Liverpool were playing a European match against Juventus when the violence broke out and this tragedy happened. This incident highlights just how violent these fights and riots were, it wasn’t just a small scrap between a few people, these events happened on a wide scale and clearly many people’s lives were affected by the tragedy that happened. None of this behaviour of course is justified and rightly so, English teams were banned from playing in Europe for 5 years by the football association. A ban which Prime Minister Margret Thatcher agreed with. This step marked the beginning of realisation to the English Football association marking a gradual clamp down on football hooliganism.
Another clear indication of out of control Hooliganism within the 1980s was the Kenilworth Road riot on March the 13th 1985. It took place at the stadium of Luton town football clubs ground of Kenilworth road in an FA cup tie versus Millwall Football club. The game ended in a 1-0 win to Luton town however the score line was far from what the game was remembered for. In anger at losing, Millwall fans took to the pitch and stormed towards opposing fans, where they then battled with policemen.Millwall fans ripped apart the stadium as they went destroying chairs, tearing them out of stands and using them as missiles to throw at any opposition, on that one night, 47 were injured, 33 of those being police officers. After all of this violence only 31 arrests were made and 29 members were charged. A total of £60,000 worth of damage was done to the ground and nearby railway station. The main issue with this was that much more could’ve been done to prevent so many casualties. The tickets for the game were not all sold prior to the match day, this was a major factor as it meant Millwall fans could easily outnumber police and home fans by buying tickets on the day of the game, meaning there weren’t enough people to control them if violence broke out. Also problems had been occurring all the way through the game with it being stopped 4 times. If the game had been abandoned it could’ve prevented trouble but it could’ve also enhanced it. This was a clear indication that there just weren’t enough safe guards in place to protect the innocent people just wanting to attend matches and clearly things had to change.
The consequences of the riot were a national debate led by Margret thatcher, she believed a membership card scheme should be introduced to prevent those looking to cause trouble from attending the game. Millwall football club was charged £7500 even though that was repealed after protest by the Millwall manager. The owner of Luton Town football club did not take this lightly, he banned away supporters from attending Luton matches for 4 years, saying that he was disappointed because once again the majority had been punished for the acts of a minority. Luton MP John Carlisle reacted much more drastically saying we must, I believe, inflict upon these hooligans the sort of physical pain that they last night inflicted on others."
I managed to get a first-hand interview with Manchester united fan Jayne Witts (Witts, 2015), who used to be a season ticket holder for Manchester united football club during the 1980s, to get some more information on what sort of things used to happen at these games.One thing that she explained to me was how hooliganism was only common at away games, as she travelled to matches by coach, the only time fans attacked at home games was if away fans got sight of their coach. Incidents like this rarely happened however she could recall one incident of playing against Chelsea at home, when Chelsea fans met the coach as it was leaving Manchester and smashed every window of the bus with bricks and rocks and any rubble they could find, the windscreen was damaged and she recalls how everyone had to duck underneath the windows so they wouldn’t be hit by the enemy fans missiles. She described one incident of where in a 1980s away game against Liverpool, Manchester United fans were held in at the ground by police, to try to prevent problems, however it just gave Liverpool fans the chance to regroup in the streets around the ground and wait for the fans to be escorted away by the police. AS they exited the ground they were set upon by multiple gangs of fans, she describes them as throwing anything bricks to tree branches. Even glass bottles were thrown. She can recall the disturbing image of a man next to her being caught on the side of the head by a glass beer bottle, cutting his ear and she mentioned how the blood seemed to pour from the side of his face. This was no place for a young teenage girl, this was no scene anyone should remember from a football match. During the 1980s, the majority of teams had gangs called ‘firms’, these were essentially gangs who aimed to fight other firms when the two teams football fixture came up. Many firms were just interested in violence and a fight at the game, to show their clubs dominance, however for example Manchester United’s firm The Red Army, also committed other crimes, as explained by ex-hooligan Colin Blaney in his book “hotshot” indicates how certain divisions of The Red Army were known to smuggle drugs, commit armed robberies and even occasionally committed jail break offences. This little piece of information clearly indicates how much of a problem football Hooliganism was during the 1980s, with criminals, hiding behind their football club, using them as a mask for their criminal activity. It was also concerning that young teens, looked up to these people as heroes, and wanted to follow them , this produced a whole new generation of criminals, which was clearly a problem for the police and the public were becoming more at risk by wanting to watch their local football team, more at risk season upon season. With arrest rates becoming higher and higher, change was needed.
During the 1980s, Hooliganism was described as ‘The English disease’ with the violence spreading fast, it wasn’t long before the international game was tarnished as well, with England fans now taking their club firms onto the international stage, this broadcasted England’s problem to the world. Meaning change was becoming more and more relevant.
One factor which began to have an effect on football Hooliganism in England was in fact the development of CCTV cameras, these cameras were introduced for high risk businesses like banks in the 1970s, and throughout the 1980s became much more widely used. The cameras would be situated almost everywhere including around stadiums, covering the entrances to grounds, nearby car parks and public houses. This was vital for the police as it meant they could closely monitor the cameras to see if any football violence was about to take place, and if it did it meant they could get to it quicker, and it provided evidence to begin to impose bans and arrests for the people in question. This in certain aspects was revolutionary for the game as not only did it mean that the police had more control, but with Hooligans realising that more people were getting caught committing hooliganist offences, they themselves would be less likely to commit those same crimes as now they would be punished for it. The effects of CCTV were incredible, with it Still influencing the game today, for example of the First of February 2014, 4 men known to be Queens Park Rangers fans attacked a London pub which had Burnley fans inside it, the four men were caught by CCTV cameras and were arrested in 2015, all four men were given prison sentences and were banding for attending football matches for 6 years under the football spectators act of 1989. I carried out a questionnaire using the smart survey website, I then posted this on twitter, I got 41 replies and 24 of the replies said that CCTV was one of the most important factors in the battle against Hooliganism.
The football spectator’s act of 1989 (Crown, 1989) was another attempt at preventing hooliganism, bought in to ensure crowd safety it has many branches subsections in which offences are covered and banning orders and arrests are result of committing any of these offences. The biggest ban that you can receive is a banning order in which you receive a large fine, you cannot attend any matches in the country, you cannot travel abroad, and you are not allowed to enter local towns on match days. This would of course lower the chances of hooliganism taking place because if you went against this banning order you could be imprisoned.
Another factor that impacted preventing hooliganism was police having cameras upon their person, this was vital because it was further evidence to start charging those who have committed hooliganist crimes. It meant that when incidents happened, and fans attacked the police, they were already being recorded, as soon as hooligans began to notice this it would immediately make them think twice about what they were doing. It meant that Hooligans stayed clear of the police, so with an increase in police escorts for away fans, it led to a decrease in incidents. This was revolutionary for the police fight against hooliganism. From the questionnaire that I carried out I found out that 17% of the 41 people I asked thought that police with handheld cameras was beneficial, so clearly compared with CCTV this wasn’t in the fans perspective the best option.
As for police escorts these also largely restricted the opportunities for home fans to attack away fans, as security was strong with large numbers of police surrounding away team coaches, allowing a free pass straight to the ground. This was key to preventing small outbreaks of hooliganism and violence on the way to matches. It ensured that overall crowd safety was almost guaranteed on the way to matches, these prevented the original outbreak of trouble, which limited other outbreaks because the trouble often started on the way to the game, so if there wasn’t that original problem then trouble would be less likely to occur. From the survey I personally carried out, 38% of the 41 people thought that Hooliganism was prevented partially by police escorts, this confirms that of the 41 people that I asked, almost half thought that the escorts were beneficial.
Another factor that contributed to preventing Hooliganism was more safety with regards to the stadiums themselves, Football stadiums changed dramatically after the tragic Hillsborough disaster on April the 15th 1989 (liverpoolfc.com, n.d.). With 96 Liverpool fans dying on that day after overcrowding in the stadium. The incident led to the removal of standing areas in all big English football stadiums. Standing areas still remained in smaller leagues for lower teams, but seating was required by all premier league clubs. Not only did this prevent overcrowding within the ground but it also meant fans charging across stadia to attack rival fans much more challenging. With areas of segregation between fans and areas where fans can’t get at each other. This was good because often in games, away fans would attempt to take control of areas of the stadium where home fans were situated, by charging it and violently removing any fan that tried to stop them. This was incredibly common in the 1980s with multiple reports being mentioned in Dougie and Eddy Brimson’s book “everywhere we go” which has multiple detailed accounts of football hooliganism. The changes in safety hugely lowered the chances of violence happening within the ground. From the research that I carried out and the questionnaire I looked at I discovered that out of the 41 people I asked 15 people thought that one of the important reasons why there’s less hooliganism now than there were 30 years ago was because of all seater stadiums, one person even thought that nowadays more safe standing areas should be incorporated because hooliganism has been clamped down upon so much. Another thing to think about is that with the huge re development of stadiums, clubs now needed to raise ticket prices to allow for the huge costs of the stadiums, this meant that the stereotypical hooligan couldn’t afford this ticket price or would refuse to pay such a large amount to watch people play football. Ticket prices rose in some instances by 200% throughout the 90s with an adult ticket ranging from £8 at the start of the decade to £24-30 by the early 2000s, with this still constantly increasing to this day.
Throughout the 1990s, football received an incredible re vamp within England, with television beginning to broadcast games more frequently, and paying large money to do so, the way football was broadcast to the country completely changed, you now didn’t have to travel to the match to watch it, you could watch it from the comfort of your home. This alone decreased Hooliganism as less people would have to attend matches. Not only this but also, the increase in cameras and game poured more money into the Football associations accounts, meaning they could now afford to further police matches, and now that the whole world could see clubs on television, no owners of bigger football clubs wanted their club to be tarnished with the reputation of violence at their matches, so they too attempted to restrict violence because to them the club was a business and they didn’t want their business to be given a bad reputation. Television really put English football on show, it widened the audience of football from people who wanted to cause trouble to new people who were developing a thorough passion for the game, more middle classes were becoming fond of the sport, and who could afford just a little bit more to pay to watch matches.
Banning orders were the only real legislation introduced to attempt to prevent hooliganism, the aims of the orders were to catch those committing hooligan crimes, fine them and then put a ban on them which prevents them from attending football matches, certain offences come with different banning orders, for example one ban is a season ban from attending home and away matches with the club you were caught by, and then also a warning will be sent out for other clubs to deny you entry, or you can have the same ban for a longer sentence. For example on the 18th of April 2014, 4 fans were given lifetime bans for invading the pitch at Wolverhampton wanderers versus Rotherham united (wolves fans are banned for pitch invasion, 2014). Wolves decided to press charges on the men, and they were later fined and given the banning order. The most extreme banning order that can be expressed in English football is as mentioned above, a ban on attending any game across the country for 6 years,(only individual clubs can ban you for life) not being allowed to attend the local town centre on match days, and not being allowed to travel abroad at all (Rossitter, 2014). This of course changed people who actually did want to support their team, and separated them from those who were just out and out criminals, it changed many peoples opinion and gave them a more level head, especially if their team was in European competitions, and they wanted to travel abroad to follow their team, or enjoyed watching the national team. From the questionnaire that I carried out, banning orders were the most popular answer with regards to why Hooliganism has lessened in the last 30 years (Didcote, 2015), with 29 out of the41 people saying it’s the reason why, that’s 74%, this clearly shows that when put in place in the late 1980s it was incredibly influential.
So how much of an impact did these changes towards the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s have on football, looking towards football now. 21st century football is still showing massive improvements from that of the 90s, more money is being invested now than ever before. Arrest rates have dramatically lowered since the 1980s, for example in the 2007-2008 season 3616 arrests were made in the top four professional divisions in England, this is still definitely a large number, however its dramatically lower compared to 6185 in the 1988-89 season (Conn, 2009). This shows that arrests rates have nearly halved. The figures from 2007-8 represent that only 0.01% of those who attend matches are being arrested for hooliganism. This clearly shows that some of the methods of prevention that I have talked about have worked, or are ongoing and still working, but clearly with 3616 arrests still made there is clearly still room for improvement. However from another statistic from 2008, we see that the police are confident that hooliganism is on a decline, this is because 41% of matches in 2008 had no police even attend them.
Arrests then further decreased in the 2012-2013 season, with only 2456 arrests made across all 4 professional divisions in England, with 589 new banning orders, so clearly the banning orders are working, we can conclude from these two sets of data, with the 2007-08 statistics and 2012-13 statistics that Hooliganism is still being further prevented, with police doing everything they can to stamp it out of football all together. However, the lowest season of arrests ever recorded was the previous year, the 2011-2012 season, where only 2,363 arrests were made (Cockerton, 2013), so does this mean that from the 2012-2013 statistics that hooliganism is on the rise? I shall look at some instances of recent times and see how they compare to the extreme events of the 1980s.
Looking at the questionnaire that I created, only 17% of people who answered knew of a hooliganist incident in the last 10 years, that’s 7 people out of the 41 asked. When later asked to explain what this was, one fan spoke about ‘fans clashing in the Champions league in Rome’ and another spoke about domestic hooliganism with ‘nearly all premier league teams having a “firm” which controls that aspect of the club, for example Manchester City’s blazing squad who have caused numerous amounts of trouble in the last few years.’ These were the only two detailed accounts which the people I asked knew about, this clearly indicates that hooliganism isn’t really a commonly known thing, in most circumstances, only those who are involved with the groups know about the events taking place, and wouldn’t be so happy to speak about them. Another thing I collated in my questionnaire was whether people thought hooliganism would ever be wiped out completely, and 95% said no it would always remain a part of the English game. This indicates that even though people don’t know of cases of Hooliganism they can clearly see that it still exists.
These incidents are now less common, but they still happen. For example, not that long ago, on the 9th of March, the daily telegraph had an article entitled ‘Football has not regressed but the FA needs to react’ This follows an FA cup pitch invasion by Aston Villa fans at their home ground of Villa park after a local cup victory over rivals West Bromwich Albion. Villa fans invaded the pitch whilst some West Brom fans reportedly hurled seats at them, some West Brom players were also seen to be assaulted by Aston Villa fans as they attempted to leave the pitch, with one player Callum McManaman reportedly punched. The article points out how CCTV will catch out those who invaded the pitch, and it states that it does not mean we are returning to the darker ages of the 70s and 80s.However it does mention how The FA really needs to hit this publicised action of crime hard, to prevent those who may attempt to do the same sort of thing.
This circumstance is clearly one that is relatable to those events of the 1980s, especially with the throwing of seats and violence towards players, however, the reliability of Newspaper sources does have to be questioned because they do have to make the event appear extreme to ensure that people buy a copy of their newspaper, so that needs to be taken into account when analysing this source. However with the evidence that we have, it is fair to say that this particular event was similar to one of the 1980s, however there was such an uproar about it, and the football association were immediately called into action, which emphasises that there is now no place for this sort of activity in the game and every incident is treated incredibly seriously, to try to prevent anything like it happening again, which is clearly a good sign.
Another incident in the same month was the case of Cambridge United fan Simon Dobbin, who was left in intensive care on the 24th March 2015 after being in a fight after his clubs 0-0 draw with Southend United (sport, 2015). The man aged 41 was reportedly set upon by a group of 15 rival men who gave him a serious head injury, three arrests were made as the police used CS gas to break up the brawl.
This is clearly an incredibly serious incident, one which cannot be stopped by CCTV or increased banning orders, because it took place outside of the ground, 2 hours after the match had finished. This is the problem with Hooliganism, its moving. It’s often no longer just a competition to try and better a rival firm during a game or trash the teams local pub, its moving much further away from the police at stadiums and into towns and cities, and they are timed attacks and assaults from hooligans who just cannot keep themselves out of a fight. This is a huge problem for police because with nearly 350,000 fans attending just premier league games alone every week, how can the police track what every fan is going to be doing two hours after these games, despite it being only the small majority that want to go out and commit these crimes, it’s still a major concern because like in the situation of Simon Dobbin, he nearly lost his life just because he attended a football match, which shouldn’t be the case.
Another incident took place on March the 8th 2015, with a Watford fan this time being attacked by a group of Wolves fans walking back to the train station with a group of friends after the game, the group were heavily outnumbered and the 44 year old was left in a critical condition after the attack (association, 2015).
This is another prime example of where the violence isn’t at the ground, it’s in the surrounding areas, where it’s more hidden and people are further away from the protection of the police, in streets where there aren’t as many CCTV cameras and where fans are vulnerable, which is exactly why it’s done. The problem is that there is very little that the police can do to prevent these attacks that can happen anywhere, other than making all away fans be picked up directly outside a ground by bus, which would obviously cost a vast amount of money and use a lot of police time. Policing and preventing hooliganism at football matches is already costing a huge amount of money, around 25 million pounds is spent on policing football events every season, with these numbers rising as more fans attend matches.
From the cases that I have looked at I am quite surprised at what I have discovered. I have found out that ultimately, preventing hooliganism completely will be nearly impossible, and despite arrests at matches lower than the 1980s, I still feel Hooliganism is a problem within football that can be limited further. I feel that Hooliganism has not so much slowed down, although of course arrest figures show that it has, but I think it’s developed around the legislation that has been put in place. For example the reason for so much violence at football grounds within the 1980s compared to now is because back then fans could get away with that, a group of fans could get into the home fans stand without other fans realising until it’s too late and a big brawl has broken out. However they cannot do that now as they will get caught, so they have moved further away from stadiums and areas where the police are likely to expect trouble, and have moved into nearby town centres or perhaps quiet streets that lead to railway stations which fans need to get on. Its developed from a small scrap between fans that they see as a good bit of fun on a Saturday afternoon, to an event run by organised criminals, aiming to target fans at their weakest to boost their reputation amongst other fans, despite not being on such a large scale as the 1980s events have become much more planned and sinister. It is also important to remember that it really is the smallest minority of people who commit such offences, one in every 14000 in 2012-2013. But this does not make it okay, as I have explored many of the cases recently are incredibly serious and extreme, leading to long prison sentences and life changing scenarios for those who are victims to these attacks, which shouldn’t be happening and is tarnishing English Football.
Another important thing to take into consideration is that events surrounding hooliganism are sensitive topics, these events have affected lives, and of course clubs do not openly want to reveal about their fans being violent so some events may be toned down so not to scare the vast majority of football fans who enjoy watching their local teams.
To conclude, hooliganism is still incredibly prevalent within the English modern game, it has changed since the 1980s and there have been significant improvements, however events of a different kind now take place, although there may not be as many participants involved in these events, and there may not be as many arrests, the event still happen and still change lives, which should not be the case.