Football Violence
in Europe

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Executive summary


Football violence in history

Theoretical and research perspectives

Cross-national variations in football violence in Europe

Media coverage of football hooliganism

Racism and football fans

Football violence and alcohol

Tackling football violence

Selected Bibliography


Football hooliganism, once known as the 'British Disease', has been for many years a major cause for concern throughout Europe - particularly in Germany, Holland, Italy and Belgium, as well as in the UK. Substantial disturbances at football matches have also been witnessed in Greece, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Austria. Recent debates in the European Parliament and at national government level in many EC countries have highlighted a growing sense of frustration about our apparent inability to curb or redirect the anti-social behaviour of a minority of football supporters which constitutes the problem. And the spectre of 38 dead Juventus fans in the Heysel Stadium continues to haunt any debate about the causes and the cure of football violence.

The popular media in Britain, with their unique penchant for hysteria and sensationalisation, have waged a war of words on the 'mindless thugs' and 'scum' who populate the soccer terraces since the mid 1960s - reserving their most extreme vitriol for the reporting of events involving English fans abroad. When no more 'obvious' cause of football violence is evident, it is typically reported as being 'drunken' - a simple consequence of alcohol consumption - a common 'reach me down' explanation for almost any social ill.

Social scientists, of course, have also been offering explanations of football hooliganism since the late 1960s, ranging from a concern with macro socio-political changes to the role of lead pollution and zinc deficiencies. This field was, once again, monopolised by the British, with most Universities having a least one post-graduate student writing a thesis in this area. Leicester University devoted an entire Centre to research on football fans, with De Montfort and Manchester quickly following their lead. Academics in other European countries joined the debate at a theoretical level in the late 1970s - particularly the Italians and the Dutch. With the gradual spread of football sub-culture style, and its sometimes aggressive patterns of behaviour, throughout most of Europe in the late 1970s, their interest became more focused on the behaviour of fans in their own countries than with purely theoretical perspectives.

Contemporary research on football violence is now largely European in scope, as reflected in a number of recent conferences in the UK and Italy and in major publications over the last few years. Despite the continuing popularity of the subject, however, a genuine consensus concerning the origins of the problem, in whatever country, and the most effective means of tackling the phenomenon, have yet to emerge. In some instances one has a distinct sense of déjà vu, with perspectives once applied to English football matches in the 1960s now being reworked to serve as explanations for events in, say, Genoa in the 1990s. The manifest failure of some theoretical approaches has also led some researchers to return to more simplistic explanations - some suggesting further bans on alcohol as a way of stemming the problems, particularly in the UK, even though their earlier research had failed to find that drinking was a significant factor.

To some extent, of course, football violence itself has declined in frequency in most European countries over the past 5 years, most noticeably in the UK. The return of English clubs to European competition was marked by some outbursts of fighting between English fans and their opponents, but there has been little to match the ugly scenes of the 1980s. Even the recent Euro '96 championships, despite the apocalyptic predictions in the media prior to the games, passed off with little incident, apart from a confrontation between English fans and the police in Trafalgar Square following their team's exit from the competition at the hand of Germany.

This decline in the phenomenon, however, has done little to dent the amount of research focusing upon it. Judging by the number of recent articles, books and conference proceedings, the subject is as popular as ever, even though many 'old timers' in the field may think that there is little more to discover or say about football hooliganism. The question of what, precisely, is meant by football hooliganism, on the other hand, remains to be fully answered. Steve Redhead 1of Manchester University commented in 1991:

"Discourses on football hooliganism seemed to have proliferated just as the phenomenon itself appears to have disappeared from public view; at least in Britain, if not in other parts of Continental Europe. Part of the problem lies in the difficulty of defining accurately what we mean by the highly contentious phrase  'hooliganism', a term which has no specific meaning … and whose boundaries … are demarcated by these various discourses or 'disciplines' themselves …"

Despite all of this continued activity, there is still no single, universally adopted definition of football hooligans. Neither is there a definitive overview of the field - no comprehensive textbook providing a balanced analysis of the competing approaches and the evidence purporting to support them. The reason for this becomes apparent when one delves into the published literature. Here more time is devoted to demolishing the views of other 'experts' than to developing alternative explanations and, as we note in Section 3, the atmosphere is often more reminiscent of a rowdy conflict between rival football fans themselves than it is of calm, rational, academic debate.

When not being unkind to each other, many authors express themselves in a style of language which is riddled with academic jargon.  In some cases the writing is not just incomprehensible but also pretentiously silly. Take, for example, this introduction by Richard Giulianotti 2 in a paper on Scottish football fans.

"The discursive raison d'être of this paper must be recognised at the outset. Foucault's (1977) identification of Individuation's paradoxical cultivation (see Abercrombie et al., 1986), where individuals gain a sense of agency's power only by the societal application of scientific knowledge for their surveillance and control (Panopticism) is implicitly accepted here. Indeed, this paper is itself caught in the 'bad faith' trap of reproducing this discursive arrangement of scientific power-knowledge."

Aims of the report

A principal aim of this report has been to present a clear, unbiased, but critical review of the literature on football violence in Europe. This we have attempted to do by standing back from the vested interests, academic or otherwise, of the individuals and research groups from whom the literature emanates and by judging the work in terms of available evidence and relevance to contemporary problems in Europe. This detachment has been difficult at times because one of the authors of this report established a fairly significant theoretical perspective on football hooliganism in the late 1970s. In keeping with the traditions of this field, he has also been soundly attacked by a number of other authors whose work is reviewed here. Nonetheless, this report is a collective effort and we would claim that a high degree of balance has been maintained. The input of a number of consultants and colleagues throughout Europe has added significantly to this objectivity.

A second aim of this report has been to examine and evaluate current approaches to tackling the problems of football hooliganism. To this end we have considered governmental and police initiatives, the guidelines and recommendations of football lead bodies, the proposals of organisations representing supporters and the various schemes run by football clubs. We have also looked closely at recent proposals stemming from the European Parliament. It has to be said, however, that preparing this section of the report has not been without difficulty. Many of the extant initiatives are modest in scope and not widely reported. Some are purely reactive control measures, such as bans on travel and the availability of alcohol etc.

These, while temporarily curbing some of the violence, do little to tackle the root causes of football hooliganism and, in some cases, lead to tragic consequences. The deaths of fans at Hillsborough, for example, were a direct consequence of the introduction of fences in the UK to prevent pitch invasions and other disorderly behaviour. Following the Taylor Report (See Section 8) these have now been removed, with no apparent increase in disturbances at matches.

A final section of the report deals specifically with the role of alcohol in football violence. This has been the most difficult aspect of the research since there is little in the way of scientific work in this area. The British media have consistently attributed much of football violence to excessive drinking - a view echoed by a number of official reports on the problem - but there has been little systematic study of alcohol use by fans at football matches or prior to the game. Elsewhere in Europe of course, and in Italy in particular, this concern with alcohol is seen as quite incomprehensible, as evidenced by our own research in that country four years ago.3 Despite a clear lack of both evidence and unanimity of opinions across Europe, recent resolutions in the European Parliament, driven principally by German and British MEPs, have called for widespread bans on the availability of alcohol at football games. Researchers in the field (e.g. John Williams and his colleagues) have supported such moves, even though their own work has either not focused on the issue of alcohol at all or has provided no evidence concerning the causal role of alcohol.

As we suggest in Section 8, there appears to be a distinct sense of frustration among those seeking to change or control the behaviour of football fans. Despite the decline of football hooliganism in recent years, the phenomenon refuses to go away. In this atmosphere, where various initiatives appear to have failed, there is a clear temptation to return to more 'populist' approaches. While in Holland, Belgium and Germany there are a few quite progressive, 'liberal' schemes to redirect the energies of young football fans, elsewhere in Europe policies of increased police presence, restriction of movement and harsh penalties for offenders remain the standard approach. We will suggest that, in this context, the banning of alcohol seems to be just one facet of a 'let's be seen to be doing something' philosophy.

In preparing this report we have undertaken extensive library research, using on-line databases, electronic access to university libraries throughout Europe and relevant Internet sites. The Bodleian Library in Oxford has been the source of full text journal articles and reprints. We have also obtained valuable material directly from social scientists in a number of different countries and sought the views of football associations, supporters associations, European Parliament groups and many others with a clear interest in the field. Two major conferences just prior to the Euro '96 championships were particularly valuable in allowing us to bring our review completely up-to-date, with as yet unpublished material being presented.


We would like to acknowledge the valuable help provided by:

Prof. Pierre Lanfranchi, De Montfort University

Prof. Alessandro Salvini, Università di Bologna

Dott. Bruna Zani, Università di Padova

Dott. Alberta Contarella, Università di Padova

Koen Jacobs, Brookes University, Oxford

Jon Garland, Scarman Centre for the Study of Public Disorder

Steve Beachampe, Football Supporters' Association

François Goffe, Université de Louvain La Neuve

Thomas Schneider, Koordinationstelle Fanprojekte

Illya Jongeneel, Bureau LOS

Prof. Guy Bajoit, Université de Louvain La Neuve

Jean-Paul Houben, Director – Royal Belgian Football Association

Jean-Pierre Georges, Directeur – Federation Française de Football

The authors of the report are listed, for convenience, in alphabetical order on the cover.

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