The English Disease Of Football Disorder Criminology Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

The late twentieth century experienced a slow decline in English football matches being attended, with crowds significantly dropping between World War II (41 million) and the late 1990's (27 million).There were many factors that had led to this sharp decrease in attendance. From the 1950's onwards there was a stronger focus on entertainment involving the whole family. [2] Television and sports coverage led to entertainment becoming more private and encouraged football fans to view matches from within their own homes. [3] Through the merchandising and promotion of global-branded football clubs such as Manchester United, fans had been seduced and strayed away from their lower divisional football clubs [4] ; the Coca-Cola League 2 Division experienced a 60% attendance reduction between 1950-2008. [5] However, football disorder was the most significant factor associated with this decline. [6] 

Football disorder was not identified as a social problem until the 1960's, with hooliganism in particular deterring middle-class and older fans from matches. [7] Perryman conducted a survey of returning West Ham United fans for the 1998/99 season with, "72% citing football hooliganism as the central reason why they stopped watching football at stadiums..." [8] However, social problems are constructed by institutions and labelled for the purposes of public regulation, consumption and debate. [9] Consequently, the approach of conceptualising social problems and subsequent public reaction can create extreme social constructionism. [10] However football disorder is not simply the result of panic constructed by an authoritarian state, it is a highly complex and social phenomenon that is hard to define. [11] 

Over the past decade there has been a significant increase in the number of fans attending football matches. It is estimated that 5-6 million people attend at least one football match in England and Wales every year. [12] Perryman's same study of West Ham United found that "...67% stated hooliganism's disappearance from the English grounds as the main reason on why they had restarted their membership". [13] 

King argued that there are a number of concurrent factors attributed to the perception that hooliganism has declined. [14] These include the decline of youth involvement in football, with young people favouring the emergence of a dance and drugs scene. King cites stadium reconstruction-requiring all-seater grounds as another factor. [15] Furthermore, legislation has had a significant impact on challenging football-related crime since the Hillsborough disaster, [16] such as the Football Spectators Act 1989 [17] or the Football (Disorder) Act 2000 [18] . There is now more focus on crowd management and public safety as well as advancements in technology, through Close Circuit Television. [19] Additionally, there have been policing initiatives and a cultural transformation within football, encouraging a more family-friendly atmosphere. [20] 

These factors have altered this social phenomenon and led to the perception that football-related crime has declined. This is supported by Home Office statistics from the most recent football season. The total attendances at football matches in England and Wales increased by 1% but witnessed a 2% decrease in football-related arrests between the 2001/2002 and 2008/2009 seasons. [21] 

Pearson stated that, "Football Hooliganism has been called the 'English Disease' on many occasions". Therefore, has this type of disorder been 'cured', or due to the lack of 'understanding' towards its deeper, social causes, driven this criminal activity away from society's glance? Furthermore, understanding the role the media has had repeatedly with this phenomenon is important. Its influence extends from the moral panic attributed to the late 1950's to the influence of Rupert Murdoch. It is also worth considering that football disorder is significant to criminologists because predominantly men turn to this criminal activity.

There are two different phenomena associated with football related disorder. Firstly, there is the impulsive, low level disorder that occurs around English stadiums and matches played abroad by English football teams. Secondly, is the more organised, higher level disorder carried out by 'hooligan firms' within England. There have been different tactics undertaken to challenge these two types of disorder, which will be discussed later in more detail. However, have criminological theoretical perspectives enabled an understanding of why this type of disorder exists overall?

Hypothesising on a person's justification for getting involved in football related disorder is problematic because there are varied causational factors. Conversely, by analysing the studies of theorists; Trivias, Dunning et al and Marsh, a demographic framework is seen to exist. The Greek Sociologist, Eugene Trivias undertook a study of Metropolitan Police arrest records. Trivias found that the arrest of adults over 35 was statistically rare (although 'firm' organisers were between 35-50 years old) and that 68.1% of those charged with a football related disorder were manual workers, 12% were carried out by the unemployed and 10% by school children. Dunning et al's earlier studies found a correlation between the working class and the perpetrators of football disorder, a pattern that did not represent the diverse composition of football match attendees. Faulkner concluded that there is a 'common framework', set out in The Marsh Report, that football hooligans were male, white, working-class young adults.

John Harrington's theories have been recognised as the first serious attempt to understand this social phenomenon. The emphasis in the Harrington Report was principally on individual pathology and reactions to the immediate stimuli provided by the setting in which the fans were placed. His report was based on data from football questionnaires, observing matches and information collected from interest groups, such as the Police and Ambulance services.

The phenomenon came under government scrutiny when Denis Howell, the Minister of Sport commissioned The Harrington Report. However, the report lacked understanding; it consisted of terms such as 'loss of control' and 'immaturity' but did little to probe the underlying social factors. The Harrington Report is an example of the way in which a particular disorder is labelled for the purposes of debate and social criticism, but with little interest in understanding the factors behind it.

Ian Taylor criticised The Harrington Report and developed an alternative theoretical viewpoint on football hooliganism. Taylor held a Marxist perspective, arguing that the emergence of football disorder correlated with the transformation of the sport and conflicts between social classes. After World War II, football clubs began to evolve from localised, working class institutions into organised and professional outlets. Football stadiums soon altered from being a central part of a local community to a commercial venue. Embourgeoisement is the process of individuals transferring into the bourgeoisie as a result of their own efforts or collective action, which was apparent in football's transformation. Taylor argued that this transformation "...was part of a more general collapse of the traditional working-class weekend..." Taylor argues then, that football disorder is an attempt by the working-class to reinstate the traditional weekend, with its distinctively masculine, tribal characteristics; channelled through violence. Taylor also argues that so-called 'market masculinity' is the result of a disruptive transition from childhood to adulthood. Working-class labour markets have altered and fragmented, meaning traditional channels of socialisation for young men, namely the family and the workplace, have been undermined.

The Leicester school conducted a sociological study into football disorder during the 1980's. Eric Dunning and his colleagues emphasised that football disorder was produced by, "a particular form of aggressive masculinity, especially in lower-class communities." Within working class communities, adolescent men were socialised at home, work and with peer-groups. They were accepted and rewarded for public antagonism, open aggression and violent expressions of masculinity. Fighting was accepted and enjoyed as a platform for challenge and the physiological and psychological stimulation that was experienced. Furthermore, club football was symbolic of the struggles between rival working-class communities. This struggle has been a common factor of hooliganism over the past 50 years. On a club platform, Manchester United's away matches in the 1970's would be open for all fans to join the Red Army on 'an exciting hooligan outing down south' to prove territorial pride. Internationally, England's descent onto the streets of Holland and Belgium during Euro 2000 resulted in 971 arrests. More recently the violent exchanges between Millwall and West Ham United on the 25th August 2009, demonstrated how old rivalries are resurrected; even after years of not competing. Gary Robson supported the theoretical perspectives of Dunning et al in his studies of the notorious hooligan firm 'the lions'. Robson believed that the violent performative masculinity of Millwall supporters is based on a social awareness of masculine authenticity and the insecurity of being ridiculed by other cities for living within metropolitan London.

Gary Armstrong conducted ethnographic work on Sheffield United's firm 'the blades'. Armstrong disagreed with previous theories of class and gender underpinning football disorder. Armstrong's anthropological stance found that members of 'The blades' came from a wide range of backgrounds and thrived on the sense of belonging a football firm would offer. Competition brought with it the opportunity to inflict shame on opponents, resulting in a sense of social honour.

Finally, Gerry Finn concluded with a societal psychological perspective, arguing that football disorder was a phenomenon that offered an, "emotional and intense experience not usually encountered in everyday life". Finn believed that the banality football hooligans experienced in lower level employment positions was countered by organised platforms of aggression on a match day with an environment that Willis stated "anything might happen".

It is apparent from many of the stated theoretical perspectives that a lack of emotional stimulation and masculine insecurity are common themes. However sociological explanations are interpreted as a method of linking hooliganism to the social mainstream, without sufficiently understanding why predominantly young men carry out this type of disorder. Armstrong argued that although he attempts to define football disorder, understanding why it exists is 'problematic as far as downright impossible'. The problem with this criminal phenomenon is that there is no singular causational factor behind it, which flaws how it can be understood. This area is complex, which makes understanding difficult; nevertheless authorities have implemented various legislation, created intelligent policing tactics and used new technologies in an attempt to tackle it.

There have been numerous attempts over the years to tackle football disorder using legislation. Standing terraces were phased out in 1989 after Lord Justice Taylor's report into the Hillsborough tragedy. During an FA Cup semi-final match involving Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death because of over-crowding. However, unlike the Heysel Stadium tragedy of 1985 this did not transpire due to hooliganism. The Taylor Report's purpose was to; "...make recommendations about the needs of crowd control and safety at sports events." Football disorder decreased significantly due to the enactment of all-seater stadiums. Incidents of violence within stadiums became rare as designated seating allowed football fans to be managed more effectively.

The Football Spectators Act 1989 was enacted in response to the Hillsborough disaster, as well as the The Heysel Disaster in 1985 and The Bradford Fire in 1986. Section 1 (5) summarised that if you wanted to participate in an away match you needed to be part of a membership scheme. Section 4 (1) summarised that you would have to submit your passport number to become a member. This Act enhanced the possibility of identifying known football hooligans and prevented them from entering stadiums. The idea of football identification had existed for some time, with Prime Minister Thatcher believing it would tackle "the enemy within". Lord Justice Taylor had stated that the I.D card scheme was like 'using a sledgehammer to crack a nut' and was abandoned after his report into the Hillsborough Disaster.

During the Euro 2000 football tournament, which was held jointly in Holland and Belgium, 971 English football fans were arrested for participating in hooliganism, with 474 of these fans being deported. The incidents caused huge embarrassment to the Football Association with the Home Office stating that:

"Events during Euro 2000 (which resulted in 945 English detentions and expulsions) demonstrated that the existing powers were not sufficient to prevent English fans from being involved in serious incidents overseas."

The Football Disorder Act 2000 amended many of the stances underpinning the Football (Offences and Disorder) Act 1999. Section 14 (B) of the 2000 Act allowed courts to ban fans from football matches on the basis of 'reasonable grounds' that a banning order avoided violence. This was an amendment to the 1999 Act that used a 'criminal standard' to impose the ban. The 'banning order' was an effective tool with which to tackle football disorder as hooligans with previous convictions could be banned for 10 years. The purpose of the amendment was to:

"...remove the ongoing anomaly of individuals misbehaving overseas in the expectation of avoiding any punishment while abroad and any consequences on their return."

The provisions within the 2000 Act were strengthened by The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006. Section 52(1) of the 2006 Act abolished the time limitations of imposing banning orders, which had been contained within Section 14 of the 2000 Act. The uses of domestic and international banning orders, as well as stadium advancements, have enabled authorities to tackle the problem of football related disorder.

The UK Football Policing Unit was set up by the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers in 2005. It brought together an assortment of football policing bodies. This included the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the Football Banning Orders Authority, British Transport Police, the UK National Football Information Point and the Football Policing Support Team. The aim of the overall unit was to allow football matches to be carried out;

"...without spectators being subjected to anti-social or criminal behaviour."

Section 3(3) of the Home Office 2005 report to Parliament suggested that specific advancements had tackled football disorder:

"At the time of the review, effective public order policing operations, the introduction of in-stadia CCTV, more effective stewarding, an array of other in-stadia safety and security measures and lower tolerance towards violent behaviour by the overwhelming majority of club supporters had all helped to transform the extent and character of domestic football hooliganism."

Advancements in legislation, technology and policing have enabled authorities to tackle football related disorder more effectively. Perryman stated that his personal experiences of visiting football matches "have changed quite dramatically" and that he endures a safer experience "unlike the 1970's and '80's".

The latest Home Office statistics from the 2008/2009 football season support this:

"The total number of arrests represents just 0.01% of all spectators. The last 5 years have seen the lowest number of football-related arrests since records begun. This trend is continuing, but there is no complacency".

However the Home office conclusion in their 2005 report stated that;

"Whilst by no means eradicated, levels of domestic football disorder had been reduced and much of the disorder displaced away from grounds."

Consequently the authority's methods of tackling this crime may have pushed this type of disorder away from the view of Close Circuit Television and the police. There is a danger that contrary to the Home Office and media reports, football disorder still exists away from the police and the media's glance.

The role of the media and 'hooliganism displacement' are two significant factors which influence whether football related disorder has been 'understood' and 'cured'.

Perryman suggests that there are two theories on why the media has a "relative lack of interest in today's football hooligan incidents". Firstly, the disorder has been displaced away from the media's glance. The disorder has been 'pushed' away from stadiums into other meeting areas, such as industrial estates. The advancements in technology such as Close Circuit Television have deterred violence surrounding the stadiums but devices such as mobile phones have made organising confrontations easier. Therefore a location is rarely revealed until the last minute by 'firm' organisers, which makes policing problematic and allows potential for more violence. Due to confrontations being held in isolated areas there are no witnesses or innocent bystanders and incidents are therefore not reported to the police or the media. If the incidents are not reported then it is very challenging to judge whether the disorder has been 'cured' or simply displaced. Perryman argues that legislation intensified confrontations between fans and police and drove the hooligans away without understanding why primarily hooligans took part in the activity.

Secondly, Perryman attributes the lack of interest to Rupert Murdoch and his BSkyB Channels. It is suggested that due to Murdoch's control over large sections of the British press, briefs to ignore or 'play down' hooliganism are constructed to shield Murdoch's vital television investments and to strengthen the 'family-friendly' aurora of the modern game.

The media's coverage of this disorder is significant as it shapes the public's understanding and views towards it. Pearson argues that the tabloid press have used hooliganism " be an easy target for the kind of sensationalist reporting that boosts their circulation". The media's outlook has developed over decades and was triggered by the moral panic of the 1950's, when juvenile crime and delinquency occurred. This combined with league tables of hooligan notoriety being published established new and strengthened old 'firm' rivalries. This sensationalistic reporting was similar to the reporting into confrontations between the 'mods' and the 'rockers' of the 1960's. The media's style of enhancing rivalries pushed hooligans into the public eye. Stuart Hall argued that the more the press reported on incidents, the more frequently the disorder would occur, which caused a circular pattern. The publishing of rivalries incited hooliganism, which occured on a club and international level. The Daily Mirror created headlines of "let's blitz fritz' and 'achtung surrender' during England's clash with Germany in Euro 96. More recently the 2009 clash between Millwall and West Ham United was partly due to the sensationalistic reporting of past incidents and the historic rivalry, within the English tabloids. Hall suggested that the 'amplification spiral' of the media's reporting, established a craving for more stories, leading to a lurid and preventable 'moral panic', which makes this disorder seem worse than it actually is. Consequently, more methods of control are promoted which can cause further incidents and publicity, which draws more impressionable youths to it. The media therefore influences policy and causes a disproportionate course of action to the actual extent of the problem.

As explained earlier 971 fans were arrested in Euro 2000, with a large proportion deported, which was highlighted by the media. The most infamous incident concerned 200 English fans being arrested for a confrontation with Belgian Police in Charleroi. The Sunday Express on 18th June 2000 stated:

"Charleroi's main square, the Place de Charles II, which should have been the centre of celebration, resembled a battleground. More than 200 English yobs attacked German rivals, hurling chairs and sticks as they went".

The British Government and the Football Association were heavily criticised which in turn sparked amendments to the Football (Offences and Disorder) Act 1999, which created international and domestic banning orders. However, rival reports by the media and academics suggested that the violence was perpetrated more by the Belgian Police, which televised footage suggested and that many of the arrests were undertaken as a 'precautionary measure'. The Independent stated on 19th June 2000:

"…there was no riot in Charleroi. There was no 'pitched battle'. There were no 'rival mobs baying for blood'. The fighting between English and German fans in the main square lasted for about 60 seconds. .."

However it would be unfair to state that football disorder is purely over exaggerated by the media and has not decreased due to the authority's tactics. There have numerous implementations of banning orders such as the cases of Director of Public Prosecutions v Beaumont & Anor and Brown v Inner London Crown Court. These cases used the amendments of section 14(B) contained within the Football Disorder Act 2000 to secure a ban.

The Home Office stated that:

"Banning orders work - since 2000, 92% of individuals whose orders have expired are assessed by police as no longer posing a risk of football disorder."

The leading case is Gough & Anor v Chief Constable of Derbyshire. Gough left the stadium during a Derby v Burnley FA Cup game and undertook a common assault on a Burnley fan. Within this case a banning order was given, using section 14(B). However the civil liberties group Liberty heavily criticised the orders, stating they were "...hopelessly over-inclusive". In other cases, 'banning orders' are as logical a progression as "night follows day". Therefore even if there is no criminal prosecution, the police may process a civil application for a banning order against an individual they 'suspect' is involved. Whether mistaken or not the lack of a criminal framework, which was apparent in a 1999 Act is a serious deprivation of liberty given by "a draconian authority" and echoes similar flaws to Anti-Social Behaviour Orders.

The Euro 2000 pressure on the Police was intensified by the media, which created harsher policing tactics that displaced the disorder, not 'curing' it. Furthermore the media influenced legislation that again displaced the disorder away from the public eye.

In conclusion Home Office statistics have suggested that whilst football attendance is increasing, the level of disorder has significantly decreased. There is a two-fold criticism of the assumption that football-related disorder has been 'cured'. Firstly, the media has influenced the phenomenon for 60 years; developing rivalries, creating xenophobia, sensationalising incidents and thrusting the disorder into the limelight. Consequently the task of 'curing' the disorder is problematic as the level of extent is distorted. Secondly, King has argued that authorities have been influenced by media amplification and social pressure to develop legislation and policing tactics that have simply displaced the disorder away from our view. Therefore it is difficult to assess whether the disorder has been 'cured' as the general public have minimal interaction with incidents. The fact remains that disorder in and around English stadiums has decreased enormously since the 1970s and 80s, and English football grounds are safer than a town centre on a Saturday night. Pearson labels the disorder is an 'English disease' but other countries have more significant problems. The Ultra factions in Italy have been involved in many incidents such as the violent attacks on English fans in Rome during 2007. Eastern Europe, Holland and Belgium have more severe problems with hooligans than England, despite their criticism in 2000. Furthermore the most serious disorder exists in sub-Saharan Africa and South America, where Police have been killed, rioting takes place and weaponry is used, compared to predominantly 'fists' in England. Despite this 'positive perspective' for the disorder to be 'categorically cured' it has to be 'categorically understood'. It is improbable that football will ever be 'categorically' free of disorder. Whenever large collections of predominantly males get together, under the influence of alcohol, there is the possibility for disorder, regardless of there being a football match. For the English disease to be 'cured' it has to be 'understood'. There are various theoretical perspectives outlining why this disorder exists. There are issues of class, belonging, masculinity, insecurity, prejudice, stimulation, challenge and entertainment. The possibility of exploring the causational factors, with a common theme of identifying masculinity, was ruined by numerous administrations with agendas aiming to tighten hooliganism control with little endeavour to understand it. One hopes that England's positive reputation in the past 3 international tournaments (2002, 2004, 2006) will still be in tact after this Summer's World Cup. Furthermore one hopes that the 2009/2010 football season Home Office statistics will again suggest that disorder is in decline. There still remains a concern that until the media consistently portrays the reputation of football fans in a positive light, and causational factors are considered, this English disease will be never be 'understood' and consequently 'cured'.