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A Study On Football Hooliganism Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1812 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Before talking about football hooliganism, it first must be clear how this phenomenon is defined. What is football hooliganism? In the literature many definitions are given, but actually none of them really covers the whole problem, we believe. The main reason for that is that hooliganism is something that has expanded all over the world which makes it is a very complicated problem actually. Between the countries, and even within countries and clubs, there are many differences. For example: some hooligan groups are very well organised, others not; one group is more violent than the other; some violence is directly related to sport, other not, etc. So you can say that hooliganism is many-sited and worldwide, what makes it a very complex problem. Eric Dunning stated that there actually 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” (Spaaij, 2005). We take this as our starting point in this paper, showing that the problem is very complicated and very hard to attack.

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To Guilianotti there are two important ‘types’ of football violence. Some violent behaviour can be called spontaneous, other violence is more organized. The first type, the spontaneous violence can be caused by a ‘wrong’ decision of the referee for example or even by a wrong “word” of someone. These are situations that couldn’t be foreseen and it can lead to total chaos. It is very dangerous and it requires a fast reaction of the police. The latter type, the organised violence, may even be more dangerous and larger of size. ‘The battlefield’ in Beverwijk Holland is a good example of this type of violence. Two hooligan groups (Ajax and Feyenoord hooligans) met each other at an open field and fought with each other. The rest is history; one man died. Even today this event has a great impact. But this is only one example, and so many other examples can be mentioned here to illustrate the problem of well-organised hooligan fights against other groups and the police. Even innocent people, like father and son, are not safe anymore in those situations. Through the years many things had changed and organisation of violent behaviour actually became easier due to the internet and mobile telephones for example. Another point is that the stadium is not the anonymous place anymore as it used to be in the past. The security had become a lot better, so it became harder to riot in the stadium itself. Rioters now find other, more anonymous places where they can still go on with their illegal activities. This makes it of course harder to control for the police. The preceding examples were just given to illustrate how difficult the phenomenon hooliganism is and how many problems it entails.

The above distinction by Guilianotti (spontaneous vs. organised) is a very general one and it does not cover the whole problem according to us. Spaaij makes several efforts to give a more precise definition of football hooliganism. By trying to conceptualize the phenomenon he had to deal with several problems. Below, some of most the relevant problems are briefly described to show how difficult it is to define hooliganism.

1. In the past hooligans mainly fought against other hooligans. Actually, nowadays there are a lot of examples where hooligans attacked the police or other innocent people, like ‘normal fans’. This is very dangerous of course because now nobody is safe anymore.

2. Where the violence used to be in and around the stadiums, now it more and more spread to all kind of other places like housparties, open fields and other locations that are not related to the sport. This shift in violence is probably due to the better security in and around the stadiums. So it really becomes a wider and more incontrollable problem. Like the first problem this is a very important point in this paper.

3. Football hooliganism not always means violence in the way of really attacking other people or demolishes all kinds of stuff. For al lot of so-called hooligans, group feeling is most important and violence is not a priority. To them it is all more symbolic opposition.

4. Like Guilianotti stated already, not all the incidents are well-planned. Actually there are a lot of situations where the violence was not planned at all. Like said before one single event can lead to a big riot. This is dangerous of course because of the ‘surprise element’ and it becomes harder to counter by the police. Many people, like the police, think that hooligan groups are always very well-organised, but this is definitely not always the case. The rate of organisation differs from country to country and even within countries and clubs there are many differences. Some groups have a real hierarchical (criminal) organisation, like in the army, while other groups just fight with almost no organisation at all. This is another point what makes it so difficult to define hooliganism.

Although, there is no precise definition of football hooliganism; almost everybody acknowledge the problem of the violence that seems to go hand in hand with this specific group of football ‘fans’. The last thirty years it really became a sociological problem en many efforts had been made to attack this so-called ‘English decease’. A lot of different prevention strategies led to a decrease of violent behaviour in and around the stadiums in many countries all over the world. But despite all the efforts that are made, hooliganism remains a disturbing problem (Spaaij, 2001). The next chapter describes some good working prevention strategies to counteract hooliganism.

How to prevent football hooliganism?

As mentioned in the introduction, football hooliganism is a very old phenomenon. “Even in the 1870s, when the game got its modern form in England, there was violent behaviour of spectators” (Dunning, 1986). But the last thirty, forty years the problems did become bigger and bigger and the phenomenon became a real societal problem. Something had to change and the authorities did a lot to prevent the violence that comes with hooliganism. But what is a good strategy to prevent this complex problem?

First, it must be clear that there is not a single strategy to fight hooliganism. In the previous chapter it was stated that there are a lot of differences between groups in every country and city. Every group has its own characteristics which entails different problems. So one has to look at the specific problems causes by an group and the

Spaaij gives some good working strategies

It is also important that there is an international and national exchange of prevention strategies. Good-working strategies in one city or nation could then be implemented in another city or nation for example. So, successful prevention of football hooliganism requires cooperation between a variety of institutions and agents, and also between football clubs and fan clubs. Their commitment is very important and the task is to continue the development to make even better strategies for the future .

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Over the years many successful strategies are developed to prevent football violence. Like is said before these strategies came from all over the world thanks to the great effort of many relevant authorities. Now some four forms of prevention are discussed briefly. First, the police forces are discussed. There has been a change in policing football matches. It used to be very aggressive just responding to the problems as they arise. That’s why the police got a bad name, especially in Southern and Eastern Europe and in Latin America (Frosdick, Holford and Sidney, 1999). They used too much violence according to a lot of people and this had a counterproductive effect. So something had to change. The last ten years the policing changed into more proactive and intelligence-led, especially in Britain, The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. This so called proactive and intelligence-led policing is advanced and appears to be very successful in these countries. Special police officers for example are closely monitoring the activities of hooligan groups. So the police forces are now trying really hard to prevent violence, whereas the old way of policing actually was just a reaction to the violence. Nevertheless, significant variations exist in the investments made in intelligence-led policing in different countries and in different localities (Spaaij, 2005). Second, fan projects as a prevention strategy. An important aim of a fan club is to improve the relationship between the hooligans and the club. However, it is difficult to determine the preventative effects of fan clubs. Evidence suggests that certain projects have improved the relationship between hooligans, clubs, youth workers and the police, and have prevented young fans from identifying with football hooliganism (Bieleman, De Jong, Naayer and Nijboer, 2004). But there are also hooligan groups who don’t want to be in a fan club. They want to distinguish themselves from regular fans and they will go on with their hooligan activities. Third, the football club itself has a major role in preventing hooliganism. For a very long time clubs where trying to please the hooligans, by giving them free tickets and an own territory within the stadium for example, because they were afraid of reprisals. All this favours only led to expansion of the group and that couldn’t have been the intention of the clubs (Spaaij and Viñas, 1996). So clubs have to make a statement, they have to take action, just like FC Barcelona did with their zero-tolerance policy for example.

Fourth, and finally, real football fans are important in the prevention of hooliganism. With their supporters’ organizations they can achieve a lot of good for the sport. They are against racism and violence and they cooperate with many institutes. Many of these supporters’ organizations contribute to conferences, debates or educational programmes promoting the positive social functions of sport. This is a very good thing, especially for young fans, because they are learning that violence is a bad thing and that this is not good for the sport.


Dunning, Eric, Murphy, Patrick & Williams, John: “Spectator Violence at Football Matches: Towards a Sociological Eplanation”, 1986

Dunning, Eric: “Towards a sociological understanding of football hooliganism as a world phenomenon”, 2000

Giulianotti, Richard: “A different kind of carnival”, 2001

Spaaij, Ramon: “The prevention of football hooliganism: a transnational perspective”, 2005


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