Drinking and Public Disorder

Drinking & Public Disorder - download the book in pdf format Dr Peter Marsh & Kate Fox 1992

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Drinking and Public Disorder
A report of research conducted for The Portman Group by MCM Research

Cross-cultural comparisons

The cross-cultural material which we present in the following sub-sections is based on limited fieldwork in Holland, Spain, France and Italy, of which the Italian research was the most substantial. We do not pretend that it constitutes a full cross-cultural study, which would inevitably involve more fine-grained research methodologies and involve fuller consideration of the conceptual equivalence of the techniques used in each country. Nonetheless, the information obtained, we feel, is both relevant and informative.

Our principal aim was to test, in a small way, aspects of the theoretical model presented in Section 4.4 – specifically the extent to which cultural traditions associated with drinking may facilitate or inhibit aggressive and disorderly behaviour given the common psychological effects of alcohol such as primary and secondary cognitive impairment.

The research in Italy, in particular, shows clearly that the associations between drinking and aggression which we find in Britain, are almost completely absent in that country. Italians have very different expectations concerning the effects of alcohol and the behaviour which is likely to result even among the young social groups which frequent the birrerias and discotheques throughout their country. There is, of course, violence and disorder in many Italian social settings. The Italian reporting of these events, however, generally fails to attach blame to the consumption of alcohol, stressing social factors instead. Only in relation to drink-driving are restrictions on alcohol consumption usually suggested.

Our discussions on the subject of alcohol and disorder were conducted with people as varied as small-town mayors, bar owners, local ‘punters’, school teachers and police officers. To say that there was little variation in their views would be an understatement. Virtually all of them failed to understand how or why the British could ‘blame’ drinking for youth disorder. Drinking in Italy was a way of life. So too was aggression and violence - you only had to attend a football game, they suggested, to see this. But for them, there was no connection between the two. Drinking, in fact, was seen as positively unrelated to disorder.

The same sentiments were expressed by our French and Spanish informants. They, like the Italians, emphasised the social nature of drinking and the role of alcohol in facilitating positive social experiences. The Dutch, in contrast, took a view which, in some ways, is similar to that found in Britain. Less formal information from Germany, Belgium and Austria lead us to conclude that there may be a very general north vs south divide in European attitudes to drinking and the behaviours which are anticipated of those who drink in groups. To this extent the cultural element in our model, which mediates between the psychological effects of alcohol and overt behaviour, might be seen as highly significant and account for the bulk of the variance in responses to alcohol.

We should also note here that the Dutch have experienced similar problems of drink-related disorder and fights. In Holland, however, approaches to the problems have been very different and, because of the strong cultural similarities between Holland and Britain,  can provide a model for initiatives in this country. These we include in our recommendations in Section 10.


The comparison between Holland and England is perhaps the most significant, both in terms of the strong similarities in our drinking styles and culture, and because many Dutch towns and cities shared very similar problems of town-centre disorder.

Fieldwork in Holland was conducted in four main locations: Utrecht, Tiel, Zandijk and Den Haag, and included observation work, interviews and discussions with a wide range of informants.

Levels and patterns of disorder

The centres of many towns were, and are, populated on Friday and Saturday night by revellers going to the town’s bars, night clubs, fast food outlets and restaurants. The main concern was with the now well documented problems of all those bars and clubs turning out their customers on to the street at the same time and the ensuing patterns of disorder.

There was a big problem with large groups of people on the streets when the bars and clubs closed. The problem was mainly at the weekend…they are not all drunk but they are active! They are in a group and alcohol affects their risk taking potential….shop windows were getting smashed, some taunting between groups and some scraps.

Senior Police Officer, Tiel

It used to be very busy on the streets when the bars all closed at 12 o’clock and there was a lot of noise etc in the town. As well it was a lot more common to see fights on the streets which you might expect when there are so many people who have mostly been drinking and who are all congregated together.

Female punter, Tiel

The main problem in Utrecht is with the 20-25 year olds but obviously not all of them. When they leave the bars and discos and they have been drinking those who are aggressive are looking for trouble. Usually the police are around and tell them not to make so much noise or something like that and then their aggression is turned against the police.

Male punter, Utrecht

The Dutch have localised powers to determine licensing issues, whereas in this country, central government dictates the law for the whole country. Having said that, the Dutch towns and cities seemed to work to a general rule that all the bars in any particular locality should close at the same time, even though the actual time differed from one town the next. The closing times for bars ranged between 11pm and 1am, with 12pm the most frequently adopted. There were similar approaches to discos and night clubs, although in the majority of towns the official closing time was around 2am. Essentially, then, the patterns of disorder and problems of crowd dispersal from the centres were identical to those experienced in Britain.

Alcohol and aggression

In contrast with Southern Europe, our questions on the relationship between drinking and aggression were readily understood, and the responses of our Dutch interviewees were very remarkably similar to those of our English informants:

I think drink is a major cause of the problems but particularly when drinks are mixed ie: beer and spirits.

Male punter, Tiel

In any group of 100 people you will always find 1 or 2 who are bad and will want to fight when they have been drinking. People dare to do more when they have been drinking…when sober they would not do it.

Male punter, Utrecht

The association between alcohol and violence depends very much on the people themselves … what their personal circumstances are … for instance if everything is good at home or work then it takes a lot more to get you angry or aggressive.

Male punter, Utrecht

It also depends on what is happening on the particular night…if you have had an argument with somebody or somebody has made a fool of you etc. All these things have an effect on your mood and so alcohol in combination with these other factors obviously has an influence.

Male punter, Utrecht

You are much more influenced by the sense of the group. If you go in a group you probably do and say things that you wouldn’t if you were alone and if you drink a lot then the effect is even more so.

Male punter, Zandijk

There is an association between alcohol and aggression but in the sense that it disinhibits and so things are distorted.

Bar Manager, Tiel

‘Free closing’ experiments

Just as in this country, the issues of rowdy, boisterous and sometimes violent behaviour moved up the agendas of police and local authorities, fuelled by some often sensationalised reporting. Multi-agency meetings were to follow with bar owners, police and local authorities recognizing that something would have to be done to improve the situation.

The approach taken by many local authorities was essentially a pragmatic one. If the main problem arose because everybody left the various premises at a particular closing time , what would happen if that fixed closing time was removed?

In 1987 a number of local councils decided to experiment with ‘free’ closing times. In some areas all licensed premises were allowed to trade at any time they wished. In others, this permission was granted only to certain operators who met a number of requirements. These were mainly related to noise levels and the potential impact on residential areas.

We talked with a number of police officers in various towns in Holland and their views on the experiments have been, without exception, in favour of continuing the arrangements. They have referred to a few towns in Holland where the schemes have been less successful, and have pointed out specific difficulties in some residential areas of Amsterdam. In our principal research locations, however, (Utrecht, Tiel, Zandijk, Den Haag) the police remarked on the distinct decline in late-night public disorder which they attribute directly to the changes in licensing regulations.

Before the closing time experiment there was a big problem with large groups of people on the streets when the bars closed.

Now you don’t see aggression, fights etc on the streets.

People drink as much now but we don’t have the problems.  

We were against the idea at first but agreed to the council’s idea of an experiment. Our concern was with how we could distribute manpower through the whole night. But we tried it and it has worked well and has not caused a major manpower issue. If you can demonstrate that this method of working prevents problems for the police, then the police are more willing to change their style of working.

Senior Police Officers, Tiel

We discussed the issues with the bar owners and asked them to take responsibility for what people were doing both inside and outside their bars.

We now have a good relationship with the bar owners whereby we cooperate … we are no longer seen in such a negative light … we see them for positive reasons in mutual cooperation and the system works.

If there is a problem now we will arrange a meeting straight away with them bar owner and resolve the issue earlier rather than letting it escalate. We have the power to impose a closing time for any bar who doesn’t cooperate or which continues to cause problems.

Licensing Officer, Utrecht

The owners and the managers of the bars are responsible for behaviour on their premises and in their neighbourhoods. The bar owners accept it - it is law. The area they are responsible for is the street that the bar is in.

Senior Police Officer, Utrecht

We also interviewed officials in the Ministry of Recreation; representatives in the Union of Municipalities and the Mayors and senior officials of towns participating in the experiments. Their analyses, based on intimate knowledge of the effects of ‘free closing times’, confirmed the views expressed by the police. The experiments had, with only a few exceptions, been very encouraging and had now, in most towns, become extended practice.

Bar managers and ‘punters’ were equally enthusiastic about the experiments, and commented on the dramatic reduction in street disorder following the introduction of ‘free closing’:

Street disorder was a problem here when there was a closing time but since the no-closing law things have been fine and much quieter. There are no problems any more except the odd problem with the small discos but generally things are good.

Bar Manager, Tiel

If you compare the difference now you can see how quiet the streets are as people drift from one bar to another or on their way home. It is so quiet you would hardly know that it was the weekend.

Female punter, Tiel

Things here are much better since the licensing changes…much quieter on the streets.

Bar manager, Utrecht

The closing times in England are crazy and are causing many problems on the streets and for the pub managers.

Bar owner, Tiel

The manager of the Metropool Club in Zandijk was also interviewed. This, it is claimed, is the biggest discotheque in Europe and can accommodate over 3,500 people. Prior to the introduction of ‘free’ closing there were numerous problems at 2.00am – many of them related to a lack of transportation. It now stays open until 6.00am, when the first trains begin from the nearby station. (The club  offers free breakfast to their customers.) This, claims the manager, has drastically reduced the problems both inside and outside of the club. His view has been supported by the local police and by members of the Zandaam council who supervise the licensing arrangements.

The licensing arrangements in Holland are, of course, rather different to our own. As mentioned earlier, local authorities have wide discretion in the granting of licenses and can fix opening and closing times as they see fit. There is a central appeals tribunal which can rule on disagreements between operators and their local council. This tribunal does not, however, have the authority to restrict licensing hours in a particular area, nor does it issue national guidelines.

When the experiments were first proposed, some concern was expressed for the bar managers, in terms of possible difficulties in removing people from their bars at their chosen closing time. The bar managers we spoke to had in fact experienced fewer problems in persuading customers to leave than under the previous system, and ‘punters’ seemed happy to respect their wishes:

There is always somewhere for someone to get a drink in a bar so when it is late at night and I want not to serve somebody I can simply explain that the bar is closing and they can go somewhere else.

Bar manager, Tiel

Most of the bars in the town centre shut their doors at around midnight but they are still open and will let people in but it gives them the opportunity to refuse admission on the door by telling the person that the bar has closed. This way the customer is not offended and knows that there are other bars in the town that will be open. There is no need for frustration.

Female punter, Tiel

Management style

It must be emphasised that, even in towns where no initial conditions were attached to deregulation, the ‘free closing’ license is dependent on good management. Licensing officers have the power to withdraw the privilege from bars where trouble continues, or where street-disorder is not prevented. The bar owners and managers we interviewed were very much aware of their responsibilties. They had definite views on the prevention and management of aggression, and their methods were characterised by a non-aggressive approach to potential troublemakers:

Fighting is a social problem but with a multi-agency approach you can control things as long as the bar owner takes a responsible attitude.

Violence provokes violence. They are thinking about changing the style of doorstaff in the discos to a much less threatening image and even using women on the door. A much calmer approach creates a much calmer atmosphere and good results.

Disorder is largely controlled by the bar owners themselves. We are here not just to sell beer but to have a relationship with our customers. You have to be a manager, a social worker and all things to all people.

Sometimes people with problems come here but if you look after them and treat them right then the problems can be avoided. Never be a macho bar owner as this can make matters worse.

These views are, of course, shared by the most effective of the pub managers we have interviewed in England. In Holland, however, this approach appears to be the norm, rather than the exception. The punters we spoke to all commented on the respect which bar managers and staff command, and many felt that problems in Britain were exacerbated by aggressive management:

I have been in bars in England that would not be tolerated here. It is not surprising that the landlords have problems at closing time when they are yelling and trying to throw you out when you have not long ago bought a drink from the same person.

I think the style of the bar owner is very important…knowing the customers and being able to intervene. The bar managers have a lot of respect in Holland and you would not want trouble with them because you would end up isolated from your friends.


One of the major problems emerging from the UK research was the lack of adequate transport for those leaving the town centres at closing time. Although ‘free closing’ has the effect of staggering this exodus, the Dutch recognized that inadequate transport could still cause frustration and potential conflict. A further experiment, ‘disco-transport’, has been introduced in certain towns operating the ‘free closing’ policy. As a condition of their ‘free’ license, owners and operators of the larger night-clubs are required to provide cut-price late-night transport to the suburbs and surrounding residential areas. Although some operators were initially unhappy about this requirement, the majority have found that the scheme attracts more customers to their clubs, and, in some cases, actually makes a profit despite the price controls.

In Section 10 of this report we make a specific recommendation for experimental trials of deregulated licensing hours in certain areas of England and Wales. This proposal is based on both our research in England and on the Dutch work reported here. Additional evidence from the recent experiences in Scotland will also be considered in this context.  


A wide sample of approximately 300 individuals was interviewed in Colle Val d’Elsa, Poggibonsi and Bologna concerning their perceptions of links between alcohol consumption and disorder/aggression. Their responses caused some difficulty and our translators were unable to convince many of them that there was not a ‘hidden agenda’ to the questioning. Quite simply, the vast majority of interviewees could not understand how anyone could imagine a connection between drinking alcohol and aggressive behaviour.

A straight answer to our basic questions was rarely given. One interviewee said:

Violence has always existed, but violence and disorder have different connotations and meanings in different regions of the peninsula.

In Italy, for centuries, regions have had their own different and independent cultural, economic, social and political development. In order to maintain their independence each region or city had to fight against neighbouring regions or cities (eg. Siena against Florence, Pisa against Lucca, Bologna against Modena etc.) Inside each city rival factions developed. Siena’s Palio celebrates each year the rivalry among the seventy Contrade. Each Palio is preceded, accompanied and followed by episodes of public disorder and intergroup violence. Dante’s Inferno contains many accounts of the historical precedents of such intergroup rivalry, disorder and violence.

Young men were, and still are, the main participants in both the ‘traditional’ and less formal, patterns of disorder, but alcohol, according to our informants, is never involved. One young man, who is regularly involved in fights with rival gangs and other football supporters, said:

When we go to fight we do not drink – we want a clear mind.

The Italians drink substantially more than the British, but drinking is invariably associated with eating. The social and cultural meaning of drinking is, therefore, somewhat different from that in Britain. For example, we can make a literal translation of the English question "Would you like to come for a drink", but it has little meaning in Italy because ‘going for a drink’ is not something which, in itself, exists in social reality. Drinking takes place before, during and after a meal – never as an activity unconnected with eating.

The socialisation of drinking starts at a very early age in Italy, with young children sipping wine from their parents’ glasses. During this process a child learns that excessive consumption is reprobate – morally wrong. This value is deeply internalized because it is reinforced by other significant agencies of socialization – the Catholic church, educational systems and the more general, pervasive aspects of social control.

In Italy you can be described as una buona forchetta (a good fork), and this is a positive appreciation of your ability to eat a lot of food. There is no phrase, however, for ‘good drinker’.

Patterns of drinking, social situations and institutions, traditions, generational and sex differences vary from region to region. In Bologna, for example, we found that osterie still flourish while in Tuscany they have virtually disappeared. New phenomena have started to appear, reflecting northern European influence, such as the birrerie which cater predominantly for a young clientele in a pub-like setting. In such places, however, drinking is a means to social ends, but not an end in itself.

From the interviews in Tuscany and Emilia Romagna the main conclusion is crystal clear – there is no perceived link between drinking and public disorder. Violence is explained in a broad social, educational and political context and is not seen as a personal responsibility.

When we said to our interviewees that in Britain there is a common assumption that drinking can lead to disorder, they tended to give two explanations. Firstly, they suggested, that if pubs close at 11.00pm people must drink faster. Secondly, when the pubs close, people have nowhere to go to discharge their energies and are, therefore, more likely to fight amongst themselves or against the police.

Other important aspects in the two Italian regions are that bar managers tend also to be the owners and their bars are open until late at night. Bar owners use preventive measures in order to avoid violent episodes and seek to build up personal relationships with customers. Carabinieri are encouraged to visit in order to maintain the bar’s good image in the community.

The striving for ‘macho’ image is as evident among Italian youth as among their British counterparts. In Italy, however, this image is most directly related to possession and defence of girl friends, driving fast cars, belonging to gangs and going to discos. Drinking alcohol plays no part in the development of macho lifestyles. Drinking is an ancillary activity involving driving from bar to bar rather than staying in one place for an entire evening (hence the concern for drink-driving in Italy rather than drink-related disorder).

A more detailed account of the Italian experience is presented in the remainder of this section and arranged according to seven major themes which emerged from our interviews:

1)Drinking is considered in its social context and the cross-cultural differences in the social tolerance of drunken behaviour are evident.

2) The rituals of drinking are seen to be different in the two cultures when we examine the sequences of events which make up a typical weekend.

3) Violence is much more likely to happen in Italian discos than in bars or birrerie and alcohol is not seen as a significant factor in this context.

4) The lack of links between alcohol and disorder is further stressed in discussion concerning routine drinking activities.

5) Violence tends to be explained with reference to broad social and political issues.

6) A specific focus for violence is the football game.

7) In campanilismo, violence takes on a ritual nature involving conflict between groups from rival neighbouring villages and towns.

8) Bar managers/owners encourage a sense of community and discourage violent or disorderly behaviour.

Drinking in its social context

According to the young Italian drinkers and older bar owners with whom we talked, there are very few differences in the reasons for participating in drinking behaviour between the Southern and Northern individuals and groups. It is seen largely as a social activity, a medium for communal meetings and the bars and clubs provide an atmosphere where people enjoy the company of friends and interact, enjoy music on occasions and maybe participate in dancing.

People come to the bar to become happy, to sing and enjoy themselves, to play music.

Bologna, Dodi’s Bar

I drink, I might even get drunk when I am with my friends, but it is relaxed and in a friendly atmosphere: the important thing is more  being with friends than drinking.

Bologna, punter

We go to a birreria usually to be together, to talk, drinking bonds together, it links socially …’ti lasci andare’, you express yourself, let yourself go.

Bologna, punter

It is a matter of fashion and group excitement, groups tend to excite themselves and when they drink you forget the world and psychological rules. When you drink you feel disinhibited.

Poggibonsi, Bar Canard

The image of drink through advertising is one of sophistication and sexual imagery but is not sold as having a macho connection.

Bologna, Dodi’s Bar

Our parents don’t mind us to be drunk maybe once or twice, but if it was regular they would consider it morally wrong.

Bologna, ARCI Bar

How much drinking and drunkenness is there?

We can see from some of the quotes included here that there seems to be a rather different attitude to the amounts of alcohol that are consumed. Whereas in this country we might consider the act of getting drunk as a ‘laugh’, a good night out or an opportunity for macho display, the Italians think quite differently.

For them, the opportunity to drink starts at a much earlier age and there seems to be a much stronger moral and social code which inhibits excessive alcohol intake. While drunkenness might be tolerated on a couple of occasions both peer group and parental/social pressure discourage repeated episodes.

Beer and wine can be served and drunk at any age – spirits can be served at 18.

Poggibonsi, Bar Canard

People can be drunk or merry, but not aggressive … The frequency of seeing drunk people depends on the place, but if there is youth it is more normal to see drunk people.

Bologna,  punter

If anyone of us were drunk the others would control them.

If anyone from another group was drunk to the point of annoyance they would be isolated and very unpopular.

If somebody is drunk and a nuisance, and throws things, the Oste [bar owner], intervenes.

Bologna, 3 punters

The problem of drinking is not in bars but in private parties, because the barman tries to keep the situation under control. People drink because they don’t have alternatives to enjoy themselves, like sport.

Poggibonsi, Bar Canard

Sequences of events and drinking

We can see that although there is a fairly minimal level of public drunkenness in Italy, the Italians see the use of alcohol as a stimulant, or at least a means of enhancing their natural ‘energy’ levels. This excess energy, however, tends to be channelled into mainly social activity rather than anti-social pursuits.

A typical evening for Friday and Saturday evening is to go out in a large group, maybe about 6-10 of us. We go out at about 10.30pm and go for something to eat. We drink at the same time but maybe a couple of beers or some wine. Then we will often go from the town to a disco at the coast.

Sometimes we may take a bottle of liquor and drink it on the way in the car … so when we arrive we have lots of energy and sometimes drunkenness in the group. We will then go to the disco until maybe 3 or 4am in the morning but not drinking much, more burning off energy by dancing and talking.

Bologna, ARCI Bar

At the quarry they start the day with a grappa and drink intermittently through the day, but nobody gets drunk and the lorry drivers are still able to drive.

When they go to a disco that is when they start to drink. Before, they have eaten their main meal.

When we leave this place there are always many options open to us in terms of places to go, places to go dancing and burn off energy.

Having choices is important … it is possible that often when drinking and with nothing to do afterwards that you might get into trouble but we have plenty of choices of things to do.

The British people maybe do not have the options to discharge their energy.

Bologna, Dodi’s Bar

We will see later in this section that what violence exists is generally not associated with alcohol use and therefore the places which dispense alcohol do not have an associated violent image. The reported violence in the discos is associated with disputes between individuals and the problems of large groups of being concentrated into one establishment, rather than incidents fuelled by alcohol consumption, although some may argue that these associations are inseparable.

Violence in discos

In discos where gangs go there is violence.

Poggibonsi, Bar Canard

I have seen violence in discos and it is usually an argument over a girl but sometimes it can start through an accident, eg.somebody bumps into someone by accident and if that person is in a bad mood he will get angry.

Bologna, punter

There is some violence inside the discos but it can spread outside.

Poggibonsi, Bar Canard

We haven’t been involved in violence in discos but we have seen it and some friends have been involved.

Bologna,  punter

Violence is more likely to be associated with drugs, particularly amphetamines, which are readily available at some discos on the coast.

Bologna, Dodi’s Bar

The most striking difference between the Italian and British culture was highlighted by all the drinkers, bar owners and officials with whom we discussed the issue: the fact no-one made any direct association between alcohol consumption and aggression, violence or disorder was, even to us, quite remarkable. Individuals looked totally bemused when they were asked what they considered to be the links between alcohol and aggression/disorder. The response was universal: "there is no relationship, there is violence and there is drinking but the two are incompatible".

Links between drinking and violence

There is no direct association between drinking and violence.

Dodi’s Bar, Bologna

There is violence … but it is not linked to drinking.

Poggibonsi, Bar Canard

Because we do not see a relationship between alcohol and violence and disorder there must be political reasons for people to make this relationship.

Bologna, Dodi’s Bar

There is no association between alcohol and violence.

Bologna, Bar Ubaldo

There is no direct relationship between alcohol and disorder or aggression.

Bologna, ARCI

We can remember no incidents of violence in this bar.

Dodi’s Bar, Bologna

There are fights … but alcohol is not involved because if you fight you need a clear mind.

Bologna, Bar Ubaldo

When we pursued the issue of the causes of violence we encountered a number of responses ranging from frustration and changes of mood to education, parental influence, disillusionment and politics. The only role that alcohol may have to play in this process was as a disinhibiter which influences already established patterns of behaviour.

Violence in a broader context

The way you are brought up, the culture, your parents, the education syste, frustration … these are the causes of aggression and violence.

Bologna, ARCI

On the rare occasions when a fight may take place there is always a motivational factor such as frustration, but it is never simply due to drunkenness or alcohol.

Bologna, Dodi’s Bar

This problem is linked to society, to the way you are brought up, and it clearly varies from one country to another … There are people that are violent, hooligan, delinquent, out of necessity. In this case there are problems that can be typically social: people that cannot find their way in society, they don’t know clearly what they want. Maybe the problem starts in the education system, in what you learn at school or college. It is not easy for me to identify the causes of violence in this country, it is quite a complex issue. In any case it is very difficult to isolate the actions of individuals outside the context of society.

Bologna, 3 punters

Violence has always existed. La violenza e sempre esistita.

Poggibonsi, Bar Canard

Violence exists but it is related to social and political issues … There is violence against the ‘extra comunitari’ [EEC immigrants and in particular African immigrants who are market trading on the streets but not paying the proper stall fees.] These people are given houses and jobs at the expense of the local people.

Bologna, Bar Ubaldo

The problem of violence has arisen out of racism,(also in Florence). These are small incidents of violence against the African immigrants but they are exaggerated by the Press. They are isolated cases … the attacks are carried out by extreme right wing political groups. But politics is an excuse to create violence. It is fashionable to attack these immigrants.
Poggibonsi, Bar Canard

People who are aggressive may become more aggressive if alcohol is used as it disinhibits and therefore the aggression shows.

Bologna, ARCI

Maybe someone is violent even without drinking, the drink in that circumstance can excite the person even more, it can provoke them.

Bologna, punter

Many of the sample identified the football and basketball stadiums as the places that one might expect to come across violent incidents, perhaps not surprisingly suggesting that the violence generally occurs between rival groups/gangs of supporters and that the use of drugs may be a major contributing factor in the violent process. There is also a suggestion here that there are two distinct types of violent incident, firstly where the episode is planned and secondly where there is a spontaneous escalation.

Violence in sports stadiums

Violence of course exists in Bologna and you can witness it at football matches between the rival fans of particular clubs.

Bologna, ARCI

Some go to the stadium with the intention of causing violence. They might use drugs, eg. marijuana, but they don’t drink.

Poggibonsi, Bar Canard

There is organised violence at the football and basketball stadiums between rival fans which attracts spontaneous escalation.

Bologna, Bar Ubaldo

Problems of violence are seen largely in the stadiums.

Poggibonsi. Bar Canard

In the stadiums there might be violence, some groups go there to cause violence. When there are football matches where there is a risk of violence there are often groups of 20 or 30 who will deliberately try to provoke up to 300 to get involved. On the other hand there are occasions when the violence is not planned and erupts spontaneously.

Bologna, punter

We wait for rival fans at the railway station but the police often cordon off the rival fans.

Bologna, Bar Ubaldo


These fights between rival gangs from different towns, villages or regions can take place in discos or stadiums. They take place at the weekends, on Sundays … It is a tradition to go to the discos to meet people from different towns and often these meetings can end in violent encounters.

Poggibonsi, Bar Canard

There are fights between rival gangs from different areas in the city … young people might fight amongst themselves but violence is not extended to others, like  mugging old people.

Bologna, Bar Ubaldo

Management/control of violence

Inside the disco

There are doormen, ‘gorillas’. Their presence acts as a deterrent to trouble makers. Where door staff are not used the owner would call in the police and that would result in the whole place being cleared and the fight may continue outside.

Poggibonsi, Bar Canard

In the Osteria (similar to the British bar with food )

If somebody is drunk and a nuisance to other people then the bar owner would intervene. If somebody is drunk and very quiet then things carry on as normal.

Bologna, punter

In the bars (more traditional continental style)

Some young people started to cause some problems in the special room set aside for the slot machines so the bar owner simply removed the machines and replaced them with a billiard table. The good customers stayed but the undesirable ones didn’t like it and went elsewhere. It is the barman who keeps things under control.

Poggibonsi, Bar Canard

In the stadiums

At football matches we are always frisked and anything resembling an offensive weapon, even an orange, is confiscated or entrance is refused.

If anybody is drunk or resembles it the police will not let them in.

Bologna, Bar Ubaldo

Social/moral control

If anyone from another group is drunk to the point of general annoyance then they would be isolated and very unpopular.

Bologna, ARCI

The police

Local police will not beat them because they know the people so they often call in the police from outside  Bologna to deal with say a demonstration. If they are taken into a police van then they get a good beating.

Bologna, Bar Ubaldo


Although our fieldwork in Spain was limited in comparison with the UK and Italian sites, our observations and the comments of the bar owners, locals and tourists with whom we spoke revealed a picture somewhat at odds with that presented by the UK tabloid press.

The fieldwork was conducted in a seaside resort, Benalmadena, on the Costa del Sol. The town is a ‘satellite’ of Torremolinos, and an established haunt for young British tourists.

Levels and nature of disorder

Benalmadena is a noisy, bustling place by night and the ‘’ere we go’ brigades are much in evidence. It must be said, however, that while the atmosphere was at times intimidating, we observed no serious disorder or acts of aggression during our stay. The bar owners we interviewed confirmed that disorder is not considered a major problem:

Generally I don’t believe the British holidaymaker abroad is a problem … yes there a quite a lot who drink heavily and get drunk and are rowdy but we don’t see shop windows being smashed or large amounts of vandalism and fighting.

Around the streets and bars there really isn’t any hassle or problems to speak of.

In 8 years in this bar we can account for maybe 7 or 8 incidents.

The youngsters have a good time, they drink, they get happy and probably get noisy as well but you don’t have major problems.

These informants considered that young British holidaymakers were responsible for much of the disorder that does occur:

The Spanish get provoked by the British.

If there are disputes it is usually between the Spanish and the British. You won’t get two Spaniards having a go they will shout at each other and maybe push each other but almost never do they come to blows.

Every week there are scuffles down in the square where all the discos are. Maybe two or three a night – mainly between British tourists or other tourists. The age groups can range from 16-25. The younger ones tend to get served drinks over here and this may be a cause of the problem.

Many of our interviewees felt that the British Press were to blame for exaggerating the problems:

I think the problems you talk about with the British in Spain is exaggerated beyond belief

male punter

I don’t know why the British press give parts of Spain such a bad name . Down the road at Torremollinos you get a much younger age group but even there it is not fighting all the time otherwise people just wouldn’t go there.

bar owner

You don’t read articles in the paper about drinking and disorder on Spain - it is not considered worthy of mention because it is not something that is part of everyday Spanish life..

male punter

Drinking styles and culture

In terms of drinking styles, the Spanish cultural traditions appeared almost identical to those in Italy. Drinking is not seen as an isolated activity, or an end in itself, but as part of a relaxed social occasion which invarably also involves eating. Children learn about responsible drinking and acceptable behaviour from a very young age, although this is considered a normal part of growing up, and not regarded as an ‘issue’:

Children go to bars with their families and learn the expected behaviour. They will have wine with water with a meal or snack.

male punter

The Spanish may go out after 10 o’clock having eaten the family meal. Then they go to the centre and have a drink outside in the street, it’s a social occasion, moving from one bar to another.

male punter

The Spanish usually eat a snack with a drink.

bar owner

Although the Spanish consume at least as much alcohol as the British, their drinking is done at a relaxed pace, and is not the object of the evening:

In Spain if one bar closes there is always another one to go to and you think if I don’t drink now that I can always drink at some other time. The option to drink is not restricted and you can literally go for a drink 24 hours a day.

male punter

Bars are open until 6am so you can always get a drink. People don’t have to rush.

male punter

The licensing laws are relaxed here so people so people can have a drink virtually 24 hours a day without a problem.

Alcohol and aggression

Thanks to the much-resented British tabloids, our Spanish informants at least understood our questions on the relationship between drinking and disorder, although their responses were similar to those of our Italian interviewees:

Drinking, aggression and violence are not considered to be a major issue in Spain and I have heard of no studies into the subject nor any media coverage of the topic.

bar owner

The Spanish people don’t fight with drink..they become happy and jolly.

male punter

Alcohol and aggression do not go together in Spain. Drinking is part of the culture.


Drink in itself does not equal violence, it is other factors which affect people and drink may be one of them.

bar owner

The fact that in England the bars close early and there is limited drinking up time probably makes people rush their drinks and get it down their neck as quickly as possible.

male punter  

The police

The Spanish police appear to command more respect than their British counterparts, and many informants commented on the foolhardiness of British lads who attempted to challenge their authority:

The young Spanish do not fight with the police..the police are very hard here it is intimidating to see a policeman with a gun at one side and a truncheon on the other.

bar owner

There is no feeling of resentment toward the policeif there is a fight then everybody knows it has to be stopped. It is expected. You don’t get crowds turning against them.

bar owner

Management style

The bar owners we interviewed felt that their British customers were the most likely to become aggressive when drunk, and emphasised the importance of non-aggressive management and prevention techniques:

If someone is drunk in this bar we try to be polite in order to control the situation.if you are violent or aggressive it is likely that is the response you will get back although sometimes we have to physically escort them off the premises.

The majority of bar owners seemed willing to forgive the occasional excesses of British lads, on the grounds that they could not be expected to adapt, in a couple of weeks, to the more relaxed drinking style of their Spanish equivalents:

In England, they are treated like children at school – now you can not buy any more drinks, now you must stop drinking, now you must leave the bar, now you must go home … When they come here they are like children without their parents. Nobody tells them what to do and they have not learned how to control themselves. They can be 20 or 25 but they are like children.


Interviews and discussions were conducted with small groups of students, aged between 20 and 26, from Paris and the surrounding area. The majority of the students had spent some time in England as EFL students, and the discussions focused on comparisons between the two countries.

Drinking styles

The initial experience of drinking for the majority seems to have been in a relaxed family setting, rather than among their peers or in private.

My first alcoholic drink was with my family in France. I was about 12 or 13 when allowed to take wine with the family meal.

The general belief was that alcohol would enhance a social occasion. Their parents had not preached to them about the evils of alcohol and none of the French students saw any reason to hide their drinking behaviour (drunken or otherwise) from their parents. All the subjects agreed that their English counterparts appeared to drink for drinking’s sake, rather than as this social enhancer.

English people know before they go out if they are going to drink and how much they are likely to drink. In France, it is not so premeditated. It depends on what is happening and if there is a good atmosphere or not. We go out…sometimes we drink and sometimes we do not drink.

If drinking played a secondary role in the socialising process in France, their experiences in England confirmed that drinking was often the major reason for going out here, and that the ability to drink a lot is seen as something of which to be proud and served as a symbol of masculinity.

I notice that English people like competition when they drink. They will compete with each other in the pub. Whoever can drink the most is considered the best person.

Drinking is a sign of being a man in England. It is stupid, because you should drink because you like it and not to compete or to show you are the big man.

Licensing hours

Some of the subjects also mentioned the speed at which their English friends drank alcohol and suggested that this is not just because of their competitive instincts, but because of the limited time available here compared to France.

So many places in England close at eleven, whereas in France, there are many places to go if you want to drink through the night. Perhaps this is why people compete so much.

With endearing modesty, our informants believed that both French drinkers and bar owners were more responsible than their English equivalent. They agreed that the sight of an intoxicated individual was a rare one in the bars of France, but a common one on this side of the water.  

In France, you cannot get a drink in a bar if you are drunk. In Britain, I see people drunk in the pubs and getting served. I think this is because the pubs are more concerned about the money and are not as responsible as they are in France.

We suggested that it was, perhaps, the restrictive licensing that puts commercial pressures on the English landlord to be less responsible and that similar pressures of time available exist for the drinker. They still insisted that a relaxation of the laws would not curtail what they saw as the natural English instinct to compete, but that it might lead to a more responsible publican.

Alcohol and aggression

The general view was that alcohol did not directly cause a person to behave aggressively, but that it could exaggerate an already inherent tendency.

It depends on temperament. Alcohol will amplify the temperament of a person. With me, I am quiet and content, so alcohol suits me well … if I was more unhappy, for example, then alcohol could make me angry and want to fight.

Non-metropolitan disorder

An English girl (of about the same age as the informants quoted above) grew up in France and provided the following account of adolescent drinking and disorder in a small town. Briancon, in the French Alps, is about the same size as Banbury.

Drinking was simply not an issue. Most French children started drinking wine with meals at about age 12 or 13.  This was not seen as a special privilege or associated with any ‘rite of passage’ – the majority of younger children, although they were sometimes offered diluted wine,  just did not like the taste.

My 14-year-old friends had no trouble getting served wine and beer in the local bars and cafes and, as there was no status to be gained from obtaining or consuming alcohol, we were just as happy to drink soft-drinks. In fact, the preferred alcoholic drinks tended to be those which most resembled the very sweet soft drinks popular with French children. The favourite alcoholic beverage among my 13-  and 14-year-old school friends was a "Monaco" - a bright pink, frothy mixture of lager, lemonade and grenadine syrup.  This revolting concoction was considered, even by the  older teenagers, to be more sophisticated than "straight" lager, largely because of its name, and we were highly critical of barmen who failed to measure the proportions to our satisfaction. One particularly lazy cafe owner lost our custom for several weeks by refusing to co-operate and insisting on serving us plain ordinary boring lager.

As a 15-year-old, I became a member of the local black- leather-jacket street gang – a group similar in many respects to young British ‘lager louts’. Although only a few of us were over 18, we could ask for, and be served any alcoholic drink, including spirits, in the local bars – without causing so much as a raised eyebrow.  As our primary object was to defy authority, this was of course no fun at all. There were far more effective acts of rebellion to enjoy, and we were frequently in trouble with the local gendarmes for staging motorbike races down the main street.

This gang was responsible for a fair proportion of the disorder in the town, and the levels were comparable with those that currently exist in similar small towns in Britain, such as Banbury. Alcohol, however, was not a factor. The more large-scale incidents generally involved inter-town rivalry, usually associated with the ice-hockey teams who were deadly enemies. More common were disputes over girls,  or fights resulting from an insult to someone’s masculinity or his sister.

Some fights were less spontaneous, and appeared to be part of local custom. During the summer, there was a disco every few weeks in a village  just outside the town. Although the town was a tourist trap, these events were known only to locals, and catered almost exclusively for the under-20s. Very little alcohol was consumed, and there was always, by tradition, a fight afterwards. Even the time of the fight could be predicted almost to the minute. In fact, most of the lads would take their girlfriends home at midnight, by motorbike, returning in time for the start of the fight at about 12:15.  Only unescorted females of very dubious reputation were allowed to remain at the disco, and failure to ensure one’s girlfriend’s safety in this fashion was considered a serious insult.

Because of this irritating ritual, I only ever witnessed one of these fights, when my companion’s motorbike  failed to start. The event was something of a disappointment, as the protagonists exchanged more elaborate insults than actual blows, and I began to suspect a less chivalrous motive for the Cinderella procedure.  Still, a number of minor injuries were eventually inflicted and the participants seemed satisfied with their performance. There were about 20 lads actively involved in the fight, which was, as usual, between "town" boys and those from the surrounding villages, with a further 30 or so onlookers shouting encouragement.  The local police appeared to treat the event as one would a school-playground squabble, arriving late , delivering a few half-hearted warnings and grumbling about the interruption to their quiet evening. Lesser incidents have been dubbed "riots" by the British press.

The gang was regarded more as a nuisance than a serious problem by the police, who tended to  indulge in endless ‘final’ warnings and dire threats rather than actual arrests.  Most of my leather-jacket friends had left school at 16 to work as mechanics or on building sites. They certainly considered themselves very tough, and  macho status within the gang was of great importance to them. Such reputations were secured largely by speed and daring on motorbikes, lack of fear of the police and other authority figures, a willingness to fight at the slightest provocation and  an ability to attract the prettiest girls. Drinking was simply not a factor, in fact, anyone who did become obviously drunk was treated with scorn and derision by other members of the gang.