“Hooliganism” is the term used broadly to describe disorderly, aggressive and often violent behaviour perpetrated by spectators at sporting events.
Since the birth of the sport, disorderly behaviour has been common amongst football supporters. It began to be perceived as a serious problem in football in the 1960s.
Football hooliganism had been with the sport since its earliest development, although it only rose to widespread public attention in the 1960s. In the late 19th Century, concerns were frequently voiced about groups of “roughs” causing trouble at matches by attacking not only opposing supporters but also players and referees. Sociologists pointed to football’s origins in working-class Britain as a factor distinguishing it from the majority of sports popular today and contributing to its links with aggressive and disorderly behaviour.
Talking about the modern game, then look no further than the 1880s and, in particular, Preston North End. In 1885, Preston’s 5-0 friendly win over Aston Villa sent the supporters – who were described by press reports of the time as “howling roughs” – into a frenzy. The two teams were pelted with stones, attacked with sticks, punched, kicked and covered in spittle. One of the Preston players was beaten so severely that he lost consciousness.
The following year Preston fans notched up another first-fighting Queens Park fans in a railway station. Another milestone of sorts was reached in 1905 when several Preston supporters were tried for hooliganism, including a “drunk and disorderly” 70-year-old woman, following their match against Blackburn.
In the inter-war years there was a break applied to such incidents, but in the 1950s – along with the Mods and the Rockers and Elvis – came the second wave of hooliganism. In the 1955-56 season, Liverpool and Everton’s fans were involved in several train-wrecking incidents and by the 1960s an average of 25 hooligan incidents a year were being reported – and hooliganism as we know it had been born.
In the 1960s, football violence was considerably worse in many other European countries than in the UK. This made the Football League seek to pull English teams out of European competitions for fear of the threat posed by foreign fans.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, football violence was largely confined to football stadiums, but the trend since then has been increasingly to move outside. In the 1990s, following the introduction of all-seater stadiums, in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster, nearly all large-scale football violence occurred outside stadiums.
In 1985, a “charge” by Liverpool fans at rival Juventus supporters caused a wall to collapse, resulting in 39 deaths. It was the Heysel Disaster of 1985 in English football history.
English teams were banned from European club competitions until 1990, and during this time, substantial efforts were made by the police to bring the problem under control. Simultaneously, considerable efforts were also made in the 1980s by football clubs themselves to eliminate racism amongst fans.
Measures are taken to eliminate the canker
The Public Order Act 1986 permitted courts to ban supporters from grounds, while the Football Spectators Act 1989 provided for banning convicted hooligans from attending international matches.
The Football (Disorder) Act 1999 changed this from a discretionary power of the courts to a duty to make orders. The Football Disorder Act 2000 abolished the distinction between domestic and international bans.
The Football Offences Act 1991 created specific offences of throwing missiles onto pitches, participating in indecent or racist chanting, and going onto the pitch without lawful authority.
In Scotland, a new law was introduced in March 2012 to deal with the growing problem of threatening behaviour, particularly in relation to inciting religious hatred.
The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 creates two new offences: Offensive Behaviour related to football and Threatening Communications. The former covers expressing or inciting religious, racial or other forms of hatred and threatening behaviour at, or on the way to, a regulated football match. The latter relates to threats of serious violence and threats intended to stir up religious hatred sent via the internet or other communications.