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Hooliganism at sporting events, especially at soccer matches, actually has a long history. As the world's first team sports began to professionalize in Britain from the late nineteenth century onward, young male "roughs" at soccer matches were regularly cited for their drunken misbehavior, gambling, and occasional violence. Local "derby" matches often provoked the worst incidents between fans, but home roughs also attacked and stoned match officials and visiting players, sometimes, literally, chasing them out of town. The British popular press, however, seemed measured in its reporting of sporting hooligan incidents, at least compared to the press coverage soccer violence began to attract from the 1980s onward.

Between the wars, British soccer generally became more "respectable" and crowd problems diminished, but they did not disappear. In Glasgow, Scotland, for example, sectarian overtones continued, routinely, to flavor violent sports clashes between soccer fans who followed ("Irish," Catholic) Celtic and (Scottish, Protestant) Rangers. But in the era of public welfarism and national renewal immediately after the Second World War, English soccer hooliganism declined. Indeed, in the early 1960s the nations of South America and southern Europe were more generally regarded as sources for hooligan soccer fan behavior. Barriers and stadium fences were a feature of soccer cultures in Italy and Argentina, for example, long before they became commonplace in Britain.

The modern variant of what became a new international strain of soccer hooliganism in Europe probably began in England from the mid-1950s, as national youth styles began to emerge: initially with the "Teddy boys" (1950s); then "mods and rockers" (early 1960s); and finally the so-called soccer skinheads (late 1960s). These developments were accentuated by a series of media moral panics about the behavior of young people, panics sparked by rising juvenile crime rates, uncertainty about the future, and growing racial tensions in British cities. In this climate, English soccer became increasingly identified as a stage for working-class masculine status contests, territorial fights, clashes with the police, and other kinds of disorder. Soccer hooliganism also began to take on the more cohesive and organized aspect more typically associated with the phenomenon today. Working-class skinhead fans in England, for example, seemed to see soccer grounds as an appropriate venue for a collective and excessively violent reassertion of the sort of place and community values they felt were now under threat from wider social and economic changes.

From the early 1970s the English also began to export hooliganism to parts of continental Europe. As English fans traveled abroad, often expressing violent nationalisms and forms of patriotism, for both club and country, so foreign hooligan gangs began to respond in kind. Many continental countries track the emergence of their own modern hooliganism problem to the violent English incursions from this period. By the late 1970s the soccer "casual" had also emerged in England and then Europe: a style-conscious and violent hooligan, drawn from a range of backgrounds, and for whom conspicuous consumption and street smartness were key identity struts.

By the 1980s racist political organizations of the Far Right in Britain had ditched their electoral ambitions and attempted instead to mobilize young men at soccer and music events. Racist political connections at soccer of this kind were—and are—also apparent at selected clubs in countries such as Spain, France, Italy, and Sweden. Sub-nationalisms and entrenched ethnic rivalries also routinely flavor violent soccer conflicts around the globe in areas as far apart as the Balkans and Australasia.

In 1985 thirty-nine, mainly Italian, soccer fans died, live on European television, at the Heysel stadium in Brussels, Belgium, following English hooliganism by Liverpool fans. A crowd panic and the subsequent collapse of a stadium wall before the European Cup final resulted in this loss of life. In 1989 ninety-six Liverpool fans were crushed to death after police crowd mismanagement at the Hillsborough stadium in England. Arguably, these two events proved something of a watershed in the history of hooliganism and its management in Europe.

Standing areas (the "terraces") were now outlawed at most major English soccer stadia and for major European soccer matches. In England, stadia were modernized and stadium space was now heavily surveilled, using closed-circuit television cameras. As ticket prices climbed and safety was highlighted in stadia, so the game in England itself was also marketed to a new, more bourgeois, fan base: to more female fans and more older, middle-class supporters. The most difficult days of soccer hooliganism, some twenty years before, were, perhaps, in abeyance. But in the age of the Internet and mobile phones, local and global hooligan gangs are also better able in the twenty-first century to set up their "honor contests" with young men who, like themselves, prefer direct combat to the symbolic contest played out on their behalf on the field of play.

See alsoFootball (Soccer).


Armstrong, Gary, and Richard Giulianotti. Entering the Field: New Perspectives on World Football. Oxford, U.K., and New York, 1997.

Dunning, Eric, Patrick Murphy, and John Williams. The Roots of Football Hooliganism: An Historical and Sociological Study. London, 1988.

Williams, John, Patrick Murphy, and Eric Dunning. Hooligans Abroad: The Behavior and Control of English Fans in Continental Europe. London and Boston, 1984.

J. M. Williams

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