Disorder attributed to football fans has been reported in the media for a number of years. The roots of disorder, as publicised by the media go back to the beginnings of football as we know it, nonetheless the nature of disorder associated with the kicking of a ball go back some hundreds of years. References to kicking a ball can be found on Egyptian relics, on Grecian vases and in the Bible.

In England, disorder associated with kicking a football go back to the 13th century when it is believed that village/town disputes were dealt with by two large groups of men trying to get the ball and kick it against a designated church door. It is alleged that often people would perish in the ensuing battle.

More recently in the 1960s the hooligan groups as we know them today emerged.

It is likely that they were always there, but the media had not grasped, what was, a working class issue, and not very readable to the majority middle-class readership of most newspapers, that wanted to promote British prosperity, and not unsettled people in an impoverished and high unemployment culture.

One of the biggest mistakes made by social scientists and the media alike is to continuously ascribe stereotypical traits to the so called ‘football hooligan’. Please see my research on stereotyping which is downloadable.

The rest has been well documented but please read on. The article below is presented by the Social Issue Research Centre in Oxford.

Robin Manser 03/04/2002

Violence throughout footballs history

The following text is a short summary of the common history of football and violence based on a publication of the Social Issue Research Center in Oxford.

Football as a game has its origins in the 13th century in England. The original “folk” form involved only slightly structured battles between the youth of neighbouring villages and towns. The presence of a ball was almost incidental to this semi-legitimised opportunity for settling old scores and land disputes. Parallels existed in other European countries, such as the German Knappen and the Florentine calcio in costume, but the roots of the modern game football are to be found in these ancient English traditions. These rituals, often accompanied by extend bouts of drinking, quite regularly resulted in serious injuries and even death to the participants. While the sporadic outbursts of violence at contemporary football matches in Europe give rise to sanction, the people in the 13th century found nothing strange or even sinister in these far bloodier origins of the modern game.
It took some hundred years until football became more and more tamed as an result of urbanisation and industrialisation in the 19th century. Rules were introduced and in this form football was exported from England to the continent.

Certainly, the new rule-centered football was not free from violence. However limited the number of players, the feeling that football was a participatory game had not been dispelled. While the upper classes continued their tradition of polite disassociation from the jousting rivalries on the fields of sport, the working man merged his heart and soul with the effort and staked his reputation on the outcome of the game. In 1909 a riot that even today would merit bold headlines, broke out in Scotland after officials declined the fans´ demand for extra-play time to settle a draw between Glasgow and Celtic. The riot involved 6000 spectators and resulted in injury to fifty-four policemen, serious damage to the grounds, emergency equipment, and the destruction of virtually every street-lamp in the whole area.

But the disturbances mostly revolved around the activity on the field and perceived injustices to either the players or the crowd. Reports of fighting between fans in the terraces are relatively few. Between the wars there was an obvious decline in football-related violence in England. The number of women attending matches increased significantly during this period. High levels of national solidarity may have helped to continue this pacific trend after the Second World War and into the 1950s, but by 1960 a new form of zealous patriotism became violently directed at immigrants – an attitude also reflected by many hard-core football hooligans. Many sociologists hold television responsible for the rise of spectator violence, too. They say that television not only allowed fans to watch the games at home, it also graphically publicised fan violence.

Whether due to television coverage or not, the 60s witnessed a colourful change in the style of fan support. Football supporters became more organised with waving displays, chants and slogans. And they became more mobile, too. By 1964, the core of troublemakers was perceived to concentrate in groups with no allegiance to either team, and should no longer be characterised simply as overly ardent supporters.

These groups identified and named themselves separately from the teams, and used matchdays as venues for confrontations with rival groups. The sport of “taking ends” emerged as the favourite pastime of young male supporters. The object was to charge at supporters of the rival team thus driving them away from their viewing area behind the goal, capture as much of their team gear as possible (i.e. flags, scarves etc.) and land a few good kicks and punches before police stepped in. Although on film these charges looked menacingly aggressive, in reality, serious injuries were rare. In other European countries hooligan groups emerged that, while accused of mimicking the British fans, had distinct styles all of their own.

Hooliganism became more and more a problem aloof from the football stadiums in the 80s and 90s. Many supporters went to matches not to see the game but to join a clash with the police or other fans in the cities. In recent years the hooligans discovered the internet as a powerful tool to organize their violence. This confirmed police fears that organised gangs of football hooligans would turn to modern technology, including computers and mobile phones, to avoid police crackdowns.