Another book about football hooliganism – is that really necessary?

Aage Radmann
Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Oslo

Anastassia Tsoukala, Geoff Pearson & Peter T.M. Coenen (red)
Legal Responses to Football “Hooliganism” in Europe
178 pages, hardcover.
Haag: TMC Asser Press 2016 (ASSER International Sports Law Series)
ISBN 978-94-6265-107-4

Yes, certainly. An it’s an important statement that the editors put the word “hooliganism” in the title in inverted commas because there’s is not a common understanding about this phenomenon and how it should be understood, explained and dealt with.

The editors, Anastassia Tsoukala, Geoff Pearson and Peter T.M. Coenen (deceased), representing universities in Paris, Manchester and Maastrict, put a team of eight researchers together to write about legal responses to football crowd disorder and violence. The authors problematize the term “football hooliganism” and point out that the term should be used with “extreme care” since the “these labels that were first created by the British media in the mid-1960s, which then seeped into legal responses to the problem, and were later appropriated by those commenting on the phenomenon in non-English speaking nations” (p. 3).

So, for more than 50 years now, the English term “hooligan” has been used to describe many different phenomena in a broad spectrum of different actions regarding sport-related violence.

The supporter landscape in Europe has changed a lot during these 50 years but the question is if the hooligan concept has been a part of this change or if it is just “same shit, new wrapping”?

In this book, the authors argue that the latest development of how society deals with “hooliganism” has great impact on both civil and human rights

To explain the differences and similarities regarding hooliganism in an international context, the authors use a comparative legal methodology. The eight countries involved in the study are Italy, England and Wales, Germany, France, Greece, Netherlands, Austria and Ukraine.

Mark James and Geoff Pearson write about crowd disorder and violence in British football, which is rare these days, but they emphasize that the changes from the violent years in the 1970s and 1980s only partly can be understood as a result of policing strategy and legislation. They point out that some of the laws introduced have not been effective and even counterproductive and they ask questions the way in which the human rights have been affected by the new legislation and banning orders. When they describe the English fan culture they categorize the hooligans subculture member as “being male, aged between their mid-20s and late 50s and wearing ‘causal fashion’. The size and activity of this subculture varied dramatically between clubs and from match to match. Firms could be formed at all clubs for high-profile matches, but numbers were typically small, with 20-50 core members” (p. 38).

Marco Noli, writing about legal measures in Germany, shows some interesting statistics. In Germany, the police categorize football fans into three categories;

    1. peaceful fans
    2. fans who under certain circumstances have violent tendencies
    3. fans who actively look for violence.

This categorization is quite common among the police forces in Europe, or at least it used to be, and Noli states that “this categorization is secret and is not made public by the police” (p. 57).  So, a lot of police forces use it but it’s not official. The figures from 18 clubs in Bundesliga 2010/2011 show a total of 4 090 fans in Category B and 1583 fans in Category C (p. 57).

One of the most difficult tasks when you do research into “football hooliganism” is to contextualize it and not isolate it as a just a “football problem” – football is part of society and society is part of football. In France, the “hooligan” problems arose after the 1998 Football World Cup, with big fights between English fans, local youth and the French police. Tsoukala explains that the public perception in France regarding football related violence changed after WC 1998. She also contextualizes the “hooligan problem” as part of a macro-change in our society where “hooliganism” is used as a catalyst for ongoing social and political processes. Tsoukala problematizes “hooliganism” in a way that should make her contribution mandatory reading for all people involved in sport, public space and human rights. It’s a long quote but when you have read it twice you will understand a lot more about the complexity of “sport related violence”;

/…/ harsher counter-hooliganism policies may frequently be introduced in the aftermaths of serious incidents, and justified by the seriousness of the latter, but in fact their successful introduction is possible only if they encapsulate relevant ongoing trends and satisfy an array of interest at stake, be it social, political or other. /…/ The rationale of twenty-first century counter-hooliganism was integrated in a rapidly changing security landscape where control of rising domestic social unrest and Islamist radicalism was heavily influenced by risk-focused policies, growing politicization of security, and the legitimized erosion of civil rights and liberties in the name of the “war of terror” (p. 79).

Anastassia Tsoukala must be considered to have one of the most important contemporary academic voices in today’s Europe when it comes to explain and understand the macro-level of “hooliganism”.

In the chapter about Netherlands, note 1 (p. 108), is a good example of how hard it is to define and deal with “hooliganism”. Coenen states that this book is “limited to professional football matches” so he can’t write about the big problems with violence around amateur football. One example is where a linesman was killed in a fight after a youth match. He concludes his chapter with a statement that the Dutch “Football Law has not delivered the expected effective instrument to address hooliganism” (p. 123).

Therefore, it’s a sad mystery that the supporters themselves so seldom are part of the discussions and the solutions when it comes to football-related violence.

Ukraine became part of the “European football family” while co-hosting Euro 2012. Alla Shvets writes that the supporters in Ukraine are divided (also) into three categories; Supporters, Fans and Football hooligans. The hooligans are organized in “firms” consisting of up to 20 males, most of them students or workers between the ages of 15–25 (p. 149); thus a bit younger than the English hooligans. In Ukraine, they call the fights between firms for “makhach” and these fights are “held under an internal code of conduct”, according to Shvets (p. 149). An interesting development in Ukraine is that public order and security inside the stadiums has been transferred to private security forces. And the question is if this will be the future of football security in Europe?

Common for the articles in the anthology is that they depict a strong wish to control public space.

Arianne Sale conclude that in Italy there is a “new paradigm of control”: the applications of measures for situational prevention focussing on pacifying a space and not the disciplinary treatment of the individual offender” (p. 32). James and Pearson say that football matches are “some of the most tightly-regulated social spaces in British society” (p. 39).

Social media has a crucial role in how we understand and navigate in our contemporary society; so also when it comes to “hooliganism”. The “hooligans” themselves use social media to create an impression management about how big and dangerous their own firms are, using platforms as YouTube or create their own hooligan-sites, e.g. . But even the police use social media to better understand the fan culture and to communicate with different supporter-groups. Twitter is used to engage with supporters in England and Wales, for example (p. 51). The authors also discuss the gap between the (old) media coverage of “hooliganism” and the real situation – the media picture is still that “hooliganism” is a big threat to football and to people watching football.

When it comes to public spaces and violence it’s interesting to notice that at the famous beer festival “Oktoberfest” in Munich 2011, the police recorded over 11 000 injuries and reported 2175 incidents and 499 violent offences (120 serious offences) (p. 59).

A few days ago, the football season started in Sweden – there’s an enormous interest for (men’s) football in Sweden these days and the supporters are devoted and enthusiastic. Football in Sweden and in Europe is one of the key cultural components bringing people together to share something important for those involved. Supporters of different ages, sexes, ethnicities, class-backgrounds, abilities, political leanings, incomes – one of the few arenas in our society where your background is not the important issue, it’s the club and the football which define your place in this Gemeinschaft. Yes, I know that European football has some major challenges when it comes to right-wing supporters, hyper-commercialization and other serious issues, but overall, football is maybe the most successful Esperanto so far.

Therefore, it’s a sad mystery that the supporters themselves so seldom are part of the discussions and the solutions when it comes to football-related violence. The authors conclude: “In many of the countries analyzed in this collection, representatives of football supporters’ organizations are excluded from negotiating processes and strategic meetings regarding football crowd management strategies” (p. 174).

Legal Responses to Football “Hooliganism” in Europe is an important book that give a good overview over contemporary legal issues regarding European hooliganism.

Copyright @ Aage Radmann 2017


Table of Content

Legal Responses to Football ’Hooliganism’ in Europe—Introduction
Peter T.M. Coenen, Geoff Pearson and Anastassia Tsoukala
Return to ‘Radio Nostalgia’: Twenty Years of ‘Anti-Violence’ Legislation in Italian Stadia
Arianna Sale
Legal Responses to Football Crowd Disorder and Violence in England and Wales
Mark James and Geoff Pearson
Legal Measures and Strategies Against Violence at Football Events in Germany
Marco Noli
Regulating Football-Related Violence in France
Anastassia Tsoukala
Punishing and Monitoring the Greek Football Fans: Civil Liberties at Stake?
Diamantis Mastrogiannakis
Football-Related Disorder in the Netherlands
Peter T.M. Coenen
Legal and Policing Responses to Football Crowd Disorder in Austria
Ireen Christine Winter
Legal Responses to ‘Football Hooliganism’ in Ukraine
Alla Shvets
Conclusions: Social Control at the Expense of Civil Liberties and Human Rights
Anastassia Tsoukala, Geoff Pearson and Peter T.M. Coenen
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