The History of Hooliganism

ADN-Pätzold / 14.4.90 / Schwerin: Leipziger Fans machten sich vor der FDGB-Pokal-Begegnung zwischen dem 1. FC Lok Leipzig und Dynamo Schwerin auf ihre Weise "warm". Die Welle der Gewalt auf den Fußballplätze und nach den Spielen ufert offenbar weiter aus. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1990-0414-009 / Wolfried Pätzold / CC-BY-SA 3.0 / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE]

Football hooliganism has been around for much longer than most people think. The beautiful game has been connected to violence since it first started.

In this article, you will discover the history of football hooliganism, from the earliest incidents on record to the “glory days” of hooliganism in the 1980s.

History of Hooliganism and Football

In the 13th century, football began to gain popularity in England. The matches featured different villages that played against each on religious holidays. At that time, a stuffed pig’s bladder was used as a ball. These encounters were extremely violent and differed greatly from what we call the beautiful game today.

Here’s the odd part, opposing teams would face each other and aim to kick the ball into the other village’s team church.

However, all this came to an end after King Edward III of England banned the game of football by royal decree. He cited that the games had gained a cult-like following and that his subjects were highly distracted from performing their military training. Additionally, he cited the social unrest that was caused by these brutal encounters.

However, not even a king could stop hooliganism. Violence remained a part of the game in the centuries to come.

As years passed, more rules were added to the game but there was a constant factor, violence. Mobs of fans would often raid the opposition’s side and even the players were occasionally thrown into the mix.

The first recorded instance of hooliganism in the modern version of football took place at Preston North End in 1885 when they faced off against Aston Villa. Players of both teams were reportedly attacked with sticks, stones, punches, and kicks.

Another notable incident in the early days of modern football hooliganism took place in Glasgow. An “Old Firm” derby between Rangers and Celtic in 1909 is glued in the history books as having been infamously inflammatory.

Officials refused to add extra time after the clash ended in a draw after regular time. A huge riot followed. The end result included serious injuries to more than 50 policemen as well as immeasurable damage to the grounds.

Post World War II and Organised Hooliganism

After WWII, the social unrest that had been witnessed at football games was given more coverage as the media industry grew. The word hooligan was coined at the onset of this period to describe violent fans.

In the 1960s, the dynamics of hooliganism shifted tremendously. Fans become organised. The media hastily picked it up and came up with a narrative of civil unrest, which spread like a wildfire and garnered widespread coverage.

Whether it’s due to television coverage or not, the 1960s did usher in a colourful change in the styles in which fans supported their teams. Football fans were very much organised with slogans, waving displays, and chants.

Additionally, they became much more mobile. In 1964, the core of people who caused trouble was seen to emanate from groups with allegiance to either team and were not really categorized as overly ardent supporters. These groups named themselves differently from the teams and used matchdays as arenas for confrontations with rival groups.

Groups of football hooligans formed and traveled around the country while fighting with fans of rival teams.

These incidents not only happened in the UK. The trend had picked up across Europe. Hooligan groups had started forming in other European countries. Even though they were hugely accused of copying the English culture, they had their own unique and distinct styles that set them apart.

Hooligan “Glory Days”

In the 1985 FA cup game between Luton and Millwall, a clash ensued that left 81 injured while 31 arrests were made. While the incident in Luton was among the worst, the type of violence witnessed occurred at grounds across the country. The 1980s were glorious days for hooligans.

That was until the Heysel disaster, which changed the face of the game and hooliganism forever. 39 fans died during the European cup final between Liverpool and Juventus after a mass panic.

This tragedy led to stricter measures with the aim of clamping down hooliganism. Seating areas were introduced in many stadiums while the presence of authorities was also increased.

However, this did not stop the violence. Cases of hooliganism still occurred on matchdays. Most fighting simply moved outside of the stadium and onto the streets.

In the decade to follow, hooliganism declined in the UK as increasingly heavy prison sentences were handed out. However, over on mainland Europe, the fighting continued into the 1990s and 2000s.

Football Hooliganism Today

football hooliganism
Image “During a football game hooligans ignite a Bengal fire” by chrs1976 (CC BY 2.0)

Increasing clampdowns on hooligan firms and their “top boys” created a generational changing of the guard. While older lads retired, younger lads who wanted to prove themselves moved up the ranks. That continued in the last two decades and hooliganism never really went away. It simply moved away from the stadiums and onto the streets.

While more CCTV, stricter sentences, and more stadium bans have cleaned up the image of football to make it more “palatable” for corporate viewers and families, you will be hard-pressed not to find football hooligans at the hottest fixtures across the globe.

Like it or not, hooliganism was part of football from day one and will likely remain part of it until the last ball has been kicked.

Midfielder @ Hooligan F.C.

Donald Maloba is a Kenyan football writer and former football player. He eats, sleeps, and breathes football. He supports AFC Leopards.

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