Firms, football hooliganism and middle-aged flab a dying art? Think again!
Football hooliganism has no specific legal definition. The term was created by the media, the tabloid press in particular, in the mid-1960s. Since then, they have been extremely flexible and indeterminate in ascribing the “hooligan” label to different incidents. The perpetuation of football hooliganism can be linked to the high level of drama, aggression and petit mal that overcomes players in the 90 minutes of rigid warfare on the football field.
Often portrayed as the “English Disease,” hooliganism originates in the rich English football culture of 1880s. The first instance took place in a game between Preston North End and Aston Villa, which ended with rival fans pelting each other with stones and sticks…the “second leg” being fought at a railway station the following season.
Today, Britain’s notorious “Barmy Army” militia are members of gangs within mainstream football clubs. The Sheffield derby, the fiery London battles, the Mancunian derbies, the Leeds United Service Crew, the Inter City firm in London and the bitter Welsh rivals of Cardiff and Swansea are products of hardcore footballing skirmishes the support base of which is stretched to the far reaches of one’s imagination. Similarly, the Ultra Factions in Rome, Fenerbahce’s KFY (Kill For You) and the fiery Moscow-St. Petersburg Russian rivalry often depict an ugly picture of modern-day football.
The nature of “Joga Bonito,” the beautiful game, is such that it promotes controlled aggression, not just in a bar 20 miles from a game but on the field itself.
The Chelsea–Barcelona Champions League encounter two seasons ago was a prime example of tempers soaring high amongst players with Drogba, Chelsea’s spearhead, audaciously attacking the referee at the end of the “controversial” game.
The Xavi-Mourinho verbal clash in last year’s ill-fated Champions League game demonstrated ambiguity between the two clubs, with the foul-mouthed Mourinho’s celebrations greeted with sprinklers at the end of the clash at Camp Nou.
Flares rising and violence-filled occasions between rival fans in the world of football are countless…but to curb the rate of excessive violence, it is important to kill factions within the game that promote anarchy.
For starters, the use of technology is important. Football has remained true to its roots: The game is the same as it was a century ago, besides a few notably minor alterations. But to stop chaos off the pitch, it is necessary to avoid controversy on the pitch.
FIFA’s stance on the issue has always been a vague one—it neither deploys nor does it defy change. With important games often ending rather precariously due to “stupid” refereeing decisions, it is now time to bid adieu to the sacred rules and start bringing in changes—positive changes, I might add.
The role of the tabloids’ coverage of hooliganism is an important one. The media play an important part in constructing the public’s understanding and viewing of the phenomenon. Sensationalized reporting of football factions to sell papers is somewhat of a misdemeanor that football cannot afford at the moment.
It is also not helped by the attention hooliganism attracts. The Firm (1988), The Football Factory (2004), Green Street Hooligans (2005) and Rise of the Footsoldier (2007) are prime examples of bright colours used to paint an ugly picture!