While association football fans will always be somewhat louder, more passionate, and a little rowdier than their American counterparts, much of the football violence of the ’70s is a distant memory to most.
However, it is far from gone. In light of the growth of international terrorism, recent incidents are being seen in the harsh light of a world under siege.
Take, for instance, February 2015’s soccer brawl in Rome, during which Feyenoord fans damaged the Fountain of the Barcaccia and a just-renovated Bernini masterpiece, along with city buses and a number of local businesses and buildings.
Football Hooligans: Guide
However, for so-called hooligans, it was never really about destroying; it was a fine mix of a cheap high and an active expression of their passions.
“In my day, there was nothing else to do that came close to it,” wrote Andy Nicholls, a football hooligan for the last 30 years for Everton F.C., in a Bleacher Report article.
“No Xbox, Internet, theme parks, or fancy hobbies. Football was one of the only hobbies available to young, working-class kids, and at the football, you were either a hunter or the hunted.”
"Not everyone who picks a fight at a football derby is a hooligan. Hooliganism typically involves a firm or club loyalist gang actively working to intimidate supporters of a club that their club is currently playing.
"The fighting typically happens away from the stadium to avoid being immediately arrested and the idea is to chase off the supporters or to “run them off.”
Hooliganism has been a part of sports culture since the 14th century and is likely to continue as long as male aggression and juvenile delinquency remain elements in everyday social interactions.
However, as the world grows more terrorism-aware, it is unknown how this particular type of domestic terrorism will play in the modern days’ law and order.
THE RISE AND DECLINE OF BRITISH HOOLIGANISM
Topics covered include:
- Fans Arrestes over time
- Fans Arrested by type
- Most fans Arrested
- Fans arrested for alcohol offences
- Fans arrested for public Disorder
- Fans arrested for violent Disorder
- Most fans Banned
- Infographic - highlights some of the worst incidents of firm violence in the last decade
- Premier League Hooligan Firms
- Hooligan Movies List
Hooliganism in the United Kingdom declined in recent years, as part of a continuing trend that started in the 1990s. This trend is due in part to increased policing and the growing use of bans to discourage mischief at stadiums.
In the United Kingdom, hooliganism hit its height in the ’70s, when firms such as the Red Army (Manchester United), Suicide Squad (Burnley), Villa Hardcore (Aston Villa), and the Herd (Arsenal) started to organise in mass.
By the middle of the decade, every football club in Great Britain had a firm attached to it.
However, it wasn’t until 1974, when Manchester United was dropped to the English Football League’s Second Division, that the Red Army started attacking in force, letting out their frustrations and aggression across the country.
In addition to other hooligan outbursts, this led to a massive spread of hooliganism in the ’80s, which forced then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to set up a “war cabinet” to combat the problem.
Fearing that English football could theoretically no longer continue in the way it currently did with the level of street warfare surrounding it, the conservative government proposed and tried several schemes to make pitches safer. All of them ultimately failed.
However, as the hooligans of the ’70s started to age, hooliganism naturally rescinded. “When I had my first daughter and I got married I completely changed,” said Annis Abraham, the former leader of Cardiff City’s Soul Crew.
“It was unbelievable. My family became my life. Football used to be my life but it seemed irrelevant by comparison. I go to watch Cardiff every week but that’s only because my daughters love it so much.”
DECLINING HOOLIGANISM RATES
As the overall rate of hooliganism has been in decline since the turn of the century in Great Britain, so have indicators of the most disruptive and distasteful parts of hooligan life: alcohol-related arrests, indecent chanting, and public and violent disorder.
However, not all forms of violence faded away.
In 2009, hooligans participated in a riot at a Football League Cup match between West Ham United and Millwall.
The clash was pre-planned and announced on Internet message boards – and one man received multiple stab wounds, bystanders received multiple injuries, and the pitch was intruded on several times in the game.
This incident corresponded to a sharp and temporary rise in hooliganism that was caused by a rise in unemployment, poverty, and social distress among under-19s following the Great Recession.
COLLARING THE HOOLIGANS
Some of the Premier League’s best-known clubs number among those with the most arrests: Manchester United, Newcastle, Manchester City, and Chelsea are among the top five.
Sunderland, arch-rival of Newcastle, also made the list – no wonder every meeting of the two teams causes law enforcement endless anxiety.
You don't need betting expert betting tips to know that the two north east teams share a loathing for one another.
Both sides possess such a rough history that police called their October 2015 match a “derby to be proud of” when only 10 people were arrested for crimes such as “throwing missiles at sports ground” and “going onto the pitch during the match.”
ALCOHOL AND FOOTBALL
Public drunkenness and the nuisance activity that usually surrounds it are significant public safety concerns.
Similar to the general arrest rate, the clubs with the most passionate fan base tend to lose control of their drink faster. This includes Manchester United, Newcastle United, and Sunderland.
The question about the correlation between alcohol and football violence has been a difficult one to answer.
Take, for instance, Aston Villa, who in 1982 participated in a “natural” experiment in which pubs that served Villa hooligans switched – without announcing their intentions – to alcohol-free lagers.
Following this, there were no significant perceived changes in fan violence for Aston Villa. This, however, did not stop talks of banning alcohol at U.K. football derbies.
LOUD AND UNRULY
Speaking of nuisance activities, the clubs that have the highest rate of fans arrested for public disorder include Manchester United, Arsenal, and Manchester City.
While fines and jail time are common sentences for serious public disorder charges, such as endangering the public or destroying property, most football public disorder arrests result in the temporary or permanent banning of the fan from attending a club’s game.
These bannings, which are justified under the Football (Offences and Disorder) Bill, are questioned as a violation of civil liberties due to the fact that they can be imposed without a court order.
Additionally, those currently banned may be required to surrender their passports to the police whenever their clubs play abroad or face immediate arrest.
The clubs with the most fans arrested for violent disorder are some of the clubs with the most active and infamous firms: Newcastle United, Chelsea, and both Manchester squads.
While the police’s approach to football fans’ general rowdiness can be critiqued as being objectionable, violent disorder is another issue entirely.
While public disorder – which can range from throwing litter and public urination to pushing and shoving without the intent to harm – may be the results of heightened passions and an alcohol-fueled lack of public modesty, violent disorder at football pitches is almost always seen as a sign of hooliganism.
Take, for example, the September 2015 incident in which a 34-year-old man attempted to punch Crystal Palace’s bald eagle mascot.
The incident, which occurred during a matchup with Capital One Cup rival Charlton, was just part of a larger commotion that saw flames set near young children, bottles thrown across the crowds, and numerous scuffles stretching from the pitch to the train station.
ON BEING NOT WANTED
Considering the various points previously discussed, one would suspect that the bans would match the rate of public disorder.
As previously stated, the primary cause of bannings in U.K. football is public disorder, and, as the law empowering the police and the clubs to actively ban is a national one, it would follow that the correlation between public disorder and bannings would be obvious.
The problem is that it isn’t, and this is one of the leading complaints about how bans are handled in the U.K. Depending on the “enthusiasm” and whims of a club’s local police, bans can be virtually unheard of or given out freely.
As of September 2015, Newcastle United has the highest number of banned fans: 132. Chelsea falls second at 79, and West Ham United third with 67.
Banning orders can last between three and 10 years. Violations of the order can result in six months’ imprisonment, a fine of £5,000, or both.
Before zooming in on the individual firms, it’s worth taking a look at some of the bigger hooligan-related incidents in recent memory.
The infographic below highlights some of the worst incidents of firm violence in the last decade and how law enforcement dealt with – or, in some situations, failed to deal with – these cases of violent disturbance.
Punters will be following the latest football hooligans news as we enter the new upcoming season.
THE HARDEST FIRM IN ENGLAND
The Bushwackers, a hard-nosed firm that started as a group of East London dockworkers rooting for their local club, have never been afraid to fight if needed.
Two separate events proved this: The first was the 1985 Kenilworth Road Riot, in which a double-capacity crowd during a hotly contested FA Cup match led to multiple pitch invasions, fighting in the stands, and numerous objects thrown in what resulted in an inter-firm war among the Bushwackers, the Luton MIGs, the Chelsea Headhunters, and the West Ham United Inter City Firm.
The second was the 2009 Upton Park riot, in which frustrations over the number of tickets available to Millwall fans being halved led to a confrontation in which 20 people were injured, one was stabbed, and the pitch was intruded on three times.
From 2010 to 2015, the Bushwackers were responsible for 248 arrests with 152 being for violent and public disorder offences. 64 Bushwackers are currently banned from attending a Millwall game.
THE FIRST HOOLIGANS
For many, their first introduction to this infamous firm was the 1988 film “The Firm,” which featured Gary Oldman as firm leader Bex Bissell.
Others have learned of it by reference in the 2005 film “Green Street Hooligans” or the 2009 film “Green Street Hooligans 2: Stand Your Ground,” in which the firm was thinly veiled as the Green Street Elite.
For the unfortunate, their first taste of this firm was after being left a calling card following a mugging or beating which simply stated, “Congratulations, you just met the ICF.”
While the heydays of this legendary firm are behind them, the firm is still one of the most famous in existence, and its active rivalry with the Bushwackers keeps it relevant and in the news.
Despite failing to return to the violence of the 1970s and ’80s, the ICF was still responsible for 202 arrests, with 67 banning orders, and 112 arrests for violent and public disorder from 2010 to 2015.
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
In 1975, during the European Cup Final against Bayern Munich, Leeds F.C. lost on a disallowed goal and two turned-down penalties from referee Michel Kitabdjian.
This led to Leeds’ firm, the United Service Crew – so named because they tended to travel to away games in service trains in large numbers – to rip out seats and throw them onto the pitch, fight with the police in hosting Paris, and start a brawl that would lead to Leeds’ being banned from playing in Europe for four years and would make legends out of the United Service Crew.
Listed among the five worst firms by the BBC Six O’Clock News in 1985, the firm is unique in the extent that its club works to distance itself from the firm.
This is, in part, due to the fact that the firm’s actions in the 1970s and ’80s almost permanently crippled the team. The reality of the Paris incident is that Leeds would not play again in Europe until 1992.
By 1987, the team’s reputation was so bad that the team’s third-round game in that year’s FA Cup had to be held in neutral territory because the hosting Telford United refused to have Leeds fans in their stadium.
A BLOODY PAST
“I have never liked football and I never will,” said Mark Mennim, a former member of Newcastle United’s firm the Gremlins to the Chronicle Live. “I’ve had more fun paying my council tax, but I just loved the fighting.”
For the most part, the Gremlins are mostly a fixture of the past, with most of Newcastle United’s recent fan arrests being for alcohol-related issues.
But this doesn’t change the fact that some of English football’s bloodiest moments came at the hands of the Gremlins. In 2002, for example, the Gremlins clashed with Sunderland’s Seaburn Casuals in a scenario the BBC likened to a scene from the movie “Braveheart”.
According to reports following the fight, pools of blood were visible, one man was left permanently brain damaged, and scores of weapons were left scattered.
The Gremlins’ last major incident came in 2005. During an FA Cup match between Newcastle United and Coventry City, several men identifying as Gremlins attacked Coventry fans at a nearby pub. As of 2015, the Gremlins had 132 bans.
THE SHED BOYS
Chelsea’s firm – which was once the Chelsea Shed Boys but is now the Chelsea Headhunters – is arguably the most racially motivated and overtly violent of the English firms.
Although traditionally not racially motivated, the modern-day reality of these questionable associations was seen last February when – in Paris to watch Chelsea play Paris Saint-Germain – Headhunters were videotaped stopping a black passenger from boarding a Metro train before breaking out in a racist song.
This type of action supports one of the firm’s mottos: “When we’re good they never remember, when we’re bad they never forget.”
A popular pick for matches in 888 sport prediction articles this season, the firm had 358 arrests between 2010 and 2015, with 79 bannings active last year.
A FIGHT AMONG WELSHMEN
Cardiff City’s firm, the Soul Crew, is unique for a multitude of reasons.
First, there’s the name: a not-so-subtle recognition of the music the firm’s founders loved. It has been publicly alleged that Don Cornelius – producer and host of the American television show “Soul Train” – personally gave the firm his blessing to use the name
Then, there’s the firm’s stance on racism: One of the founders, once he was discovered to be a white supremacist, was ostracised and permanently excluded from the firm.
Finally, the Soul Crew is unique due to the firm’s primary focus.
The firm’s one and only target is Swansea – a reflection of the animosity the fellow Welsh football team has historically shown for their uptown neighbors.
“Swansea hate Cardiff with a passion I couldn’t begin to explain,” said Tony Rivers, co-author of “Soul Crew” (Cardiff’s hooligan guide), as quoted by FourFourTwo. “The feeling is mutual but not as deep: They really do seem to despise us more than we despise them.”
THE MEN IN BLACK
If you are a fan of Manchester United, you may be surprised to find out hooligan violence has lessened elsewhere.
In August 2015, for example, 57 Manchester United fans were arrested in Belgium during celebrations over their team’s win over Club Brugge.
What started as around 30 Brugge fans attacking a group of unticketed Manchester United fans at a pub escalated into a fight that spilled out on the streets, culminating with fans throwing glasses and chairs at one another.
The club with the most arrests from 2010 to 2015, Manchester United fans are known for being hard-hitting and hard-partying.
The allure of this firm – fueled in part by its portrayal in the movies “Hooligan” and “The Real Football Factories” – has led to allegations that many of the firm’s subgroups, such as the Inter City Jibbers, are involved in major crimes, such as smuggling drugs to Europe and Asia, facilitating jailbreaks, and committing armed robberies.
With Manchester United qualifying for next season's major European competition, we will see the Red Devils travelling across the continent once again - though our Champions League predictions will be focusing purely on the football.
SILVER SCREEN HOOLIGANS
Want to get an inside look at hooliganism? Here at 888sport, we try to give football betting tips and insight on all angles - so browse the table below for a closer focus on specific football hooligan firms.
A few movies and documentaries have taken to the big screen to shed light on the unknown world and realities of hooliganism, including the Green Street films, which center around the infamous Inner City Firm of West Ham United.
A majority of the movies are available, based on U.S. availability, on iTunes, while the documentaries can be seen on YouTube.
FOOTBALL HOOLIGANS: CONCLUSION
If you were to ask a politician if hooliganism is still a problem today, you would likely be reassured that the problems of the past bear no meaning today.
“Football stadia today are safe and welcoming places, offering good quality facilities to supporters,” reads the English Football Association’s summary of measures to prevent football violence, as quoted by ESPN FC.
“There are no pitch perimeter fences. All stadia in the top two divisions, and many in the lower divisions, are all-seated. Supporter violence inside stadia is very rare. Some hooliganism does take place, but on a very limited scale and usually some way away from the stadium environment.”
Gone are the all-city brawls that travel from stadium to stadium as the competition series move along.
In an era of ever-vigilant policing and stadium bans, gone is the notion of the “hardcore” hooligan; instead, any controversy from fans is relegated to social media and occasional expressions of frustrations that are quickly extinguished.
Using data from the U.K. Home Office on football banning orders and arrests by type, we were able to compare teams and infractions associated within the Premier League and British football more generally.
All assets on this page pertaining to arrest and banning orders utilize data from the 2010-2011, 2011-2012, 2012-2013, 2013-2014, and 2014-2015 seasons, unless otherwise labeled. In addition we used various news sources to find mentions of each English hooligan firm and events linked to them to construct a timeline of events and headlines associated with each.
In addition, the Internet Movie Database was utilized to construct a list of popular hooligan related movies and their availability on U.S. versions of common streaming websites.
*Credit for the main photo belongs to Alastair Grant / AP Photo*