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

Racism and football fans


Racism is a problem for football across Europe and is an important factor in the problem of football hooliganism itself. The actual extent of racism is virtually impossible to measure as detailed statistics in this context are almost non-existent. Nevertheless, acts of football disorder, especially on the international scene, have frequently been referred to as 'racist', or perpetrated by racist groups, and some clubs are now viewed as having an inherently racist support.

In this section the various forms of racism will be considered, with emphasis on the role of extreme right-wing groups, as these have frequently been reported to be involved in football-related violence. The various campaigns and schemes designed to combat racism will also be considered.

The first professional black player in Britain is believed to have been Arthur Wharton, who signed for Darlington FC in 1889. Nowadays, a black player is by no means unusual. In fact, around 25% of professional players are black. However, in the 1993/94 season Carling survey of Premier League fans, only 1% of fans described themselves as 'non-white'. It is argued that this is due to a prevalence of racism amongst traditional soccer fans.

In an attempt to redress the problem, the Campaign for Racial Equality (CRE), the Football Supporters Association (FSA) and the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) have all launched initiatives to try and rid football grounds of racism and encourage more people from ethnic minorities to attend matches. Their techniques and levels of success will be discussed later, but let us start by examining the actual types of racism that exist in football stadiums.

Forms of Racism

Racist chanting in the 1970s and 1980s often took the form of members of the crowd making monkey noises at black players on the pitch. Other abuse has been more specific. For example, after the Deptford fire in 1981 when 13 black youths were burnt to death, a chant that could be heard at Millwall was:

"We all agree
Niggers burn better than petrol"

Anti-Semitic chants have also been heard. Tottenham Hotspur supporters have often been the target for this:

"Those yids from Tottenham
The gas man's got them
Oh those yids from White Hart Lane"

Other chants are more closely linked to patriotism and as such the national team:

"Stand by the Union Jack
Send those niggers back
If you're white, you're alright
If you're black, send 'em back"

The 1991 Football (Offences) Act made racist chanting at football matches unlawful, but is largely inadequate as chanting is defined as the "repeated uttering of any words or sounds in concert with one or more others". As a result an individual shouting racist abuse on his own can only be charged under the 1986 Public Order Act for using "obscene and foul language at football grounds". This loophole has allowed several offenders to escape conviction for racism at football matches.

The level of influence that far-right groups have amongst football fans is a highly debatable issue but over the years they have been present in many football grounds across Britain. Garland and Rowe1 suggest that far-right groups have targeted football fans since at least the 1930s, when the British Union of Fascists tried to attract the young working class male supporters into their brigade of uniformed 'stewards'. In the 1950s the White Defence League sold their newspaper Black and White News at football grounds in London.

It was the 1970s, however, that saw far-right groups rise to prominence as the problem of football hooliganism grew in the national conscience. The National Front (NF) was the most active group in the 1970s, giving regular coverage in its magazine Bulldog to football and encouraging hooligan groups to compete for the title of 'most racist ground in Britain'. Copies of Bulldog were openly sold at many clubs and, at West Ham, club memorabilia was sold doctored with NF slogans. Chelsea, Leeds United, Millwall, Newcastle United and Arsenal, as well as West Ham United, were all seen as having strong fascist elements in the 1970s and 1980s. After the Heysel stadium tragedy when a wall collapsed killing 39 people fleeing from Liverpool fans, British National Party leaflets were found on the terraces.

It seems that in the 1990s, however, the problem is waning. It is now uncommon to see the open selling of far-right literature or memorabilia at football matches and an incident such as the John Barnes one would be unlikely to happen now. But this does not mean to say that the problem has gone away, especially amongst the support for the English national side. During the 1980s, far-right groups were often in attendance at England's matches abroad. Williams and his colleagues2 identified a presence of NF members in the English support, especially amongst the Chelsea contingent, at the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

As recently as 1995, far-right groups have been involved in disturbances abroad, namely at the England vs. Republic of Ireland 'friendly' match at Lansdowne Road, Dublin when fights between rival fans caused the game to be abandoned after half an hour. Supporters of the British National Party (BNP) and a militant group called Combat 18 were said to have been involved after racist literature was found at the scene. Anti Republican chanting could clearly be heard at the match and some claim that the violence was actually orchestrated by an umbrella group called the National Socialist Alliance.

The attractions of football matches to far-right groups are obvious. Football grounds provide a useful platform for the groups to make their voices heard. From them their views can be directed into millions of homes. It also seems as if football grounds can be a means to recruit young support. As Dave Robins3 points out:

"The hard-man, though, lives in a more dangerous and unchanging world. Permanently sensitised to 'trouble' in his environment, his paranoid fantasies about defending his 'patch' against outsiders make him ripe for manipulation by the politics of the extreme right"

Their actual influence amongst club support, however, is believed by many to be minimal, a view held by the National Football Intelligence Unit:4

"We are aware that certain right-wing parties have been looking at football hooligans because they see them as an organised group and try to recruit them for this purpose with, I have to say, fairly limited success … It has been seen as an opportunity by many, but I don't think it has been a dramatic success, there is no evidence for that."

Some debate also exists as to whether right-wing groups deliberately target soccer fans as recruits or whether soccer fans are drawn into the groups because of the opportunities they offer for violence. Robins is drawn towards the former argument, citing the leafleting campaigns of the 1980s, while David Canter5 argues that the right-wing groups merely cash in on soccer violence, rather than instigate it. One would have to conclude that there are elements of truth in both theories.

Anti-racism initiatives

Recent years have seen a number of attempts by various groups and organisations to combat racism in football. These have come from the club level, supporter level and from organisational bodies such as the Campaign for Racial Equality (CRE), the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) and the Football Supporters Association (FSA).

In 1993 the CRE and PFA launched the Let's Kick Racism Out of Football campaign, "with the aim of highlighting anti-racist and equal opportunities messages within the context of football" .6

It aimed to encourage clubs and supporters groups to launch their own campaigns to combat racism at their clubs. A ten point action plan was laid out for clubs:

1. Issue a statement saying that the club will not tolerate racism, and will take action against supporters who engage in racist abuse, racist chanting or intimidation.

2. Make public announcements condemning any racist chanting at matches, and warning supporters that the club will not hesitate to take action.

3. Make it a condition for season ticket holders that they do not take part in racist abuse, racist chanting or any other offensive behaviour.

4. Prevent the sale or distribution of racist literature in and around the ground on match-days.

5. Take disciplinary action against players who make racially abusive remarks at players, officials or supporters before, during or after matches.

6. Contact other clubs to make sure they understand the club's policy on racism.

7. Make sure stewards and the police understand the problem and the club's policy, and have a common strategy for removing or dealing with supporters who are abusive and breaking the law on football offences.

8. Remove all racist graffiti from the ground as a matter of urgency.

9. Adopt an equal opportunities policy to cover employment and service provision.

10. Work with other groups and agencies - such as the police, the local authority, the PFA, the supporters, schools, etc. - to develop initiatives to raise awareness of the campaign and eliminate racist abuse and discrimination.

The campaign stated that:

"If football is to be played and enjoyed equally by everyone, whatever the colour of their skin, and wherever they come from, it is up to us all, each and every one of us, to refuse to tolerate racist attitudes, and to demand nothing less than the highest standards in every area of the game."

A magazine, Kick It!, was produced with funding from the Football Trust and 110,000 copies of a fanzine, United Colours of Football, were given out free at grounds across the country on the opening day of the 1994/95 season.

Initial reaction to the scheme was not entirely positive. Some thought that it may only serve to bring negative publicity to the game, by highlighting the problem of racism in football. Others claimed that racism was not a problem at their ground and therefore they had no need for such a campaign. Despite this, the first season of the campaign had the support of all but one of the professional clubs and all professional authorities.

In a survey conducted by Garland and Rowe in December 1994, 49 fanzine editors from a wide range of clubs were asked to comment on levels of racism at their club. Many were skeptical about the success of Let's Kick Racism Out of Football, with only 32% citing the campaign as a factor in the perceived decrease in racism at football matches in the last five years.

Garland and Rowe suggest that this lack of support may stem from mistaken expectations of the campaign. As mentioned earlier, the aim of the CRE and PFA was to encourage clubs to launch their own initiatives, rather than control the whole campaign themselves. In this sense it has been largely successful, as it prompted many clubs to launch their own campaigns.

The most ambitious of these have been Derby County's scheme Rams Against Racism and Charlton Athletic's Red, White and Black at the Valley. Derby County went so far as to dedicate a home match day in 1994 to the cause of combating racism after liaisons between club officials, the club's Football and Community Development Officer and the Racial Equality Council. Anti-racist banners were displayed, campaign messages printed in the match day programme and players involved. Two-hundred and fifty free tickets were also given out to local children. A long term aim of the scheme was to encourage the local Asian community to attend more games as well as encouraging local Asian footballing talent.

Red, White and Black at the Valley was a leaflet launched by Charlton Athletic in conjunction with the police, the local Racial Equality Council, Greenwich Council and the supporters club. The aim was to present Charlton Athletic as being a club that people from all disadvantaged minorities could come and watch without fear of harassment from other supporters. After the leaflet had been distributed the club continued by producing posters and issuing statements in the programmes. Players also visited local schools and colleges.

Garland and Rowe point out that it is difficult to calculate how effective these schemes have been, although a drive by the police (acting on a tip-off from the club) was successful in removing racist fans from one end of the Valley ground.

The first fan-based group set up specifically to fight racism was Leeds Fans United Against Racism And Fascism (LFUARAF). This was formed in 1987 to combat the influence of far-right groups at Elland Road, especially the most visible displays of paper selling etc. The first step was to distribute anti-racist leaflets outside the ground, then in 1988 it contributed to Terror On Our Terraces, a report on the involvement of the far-right amongst the Leeds crowd. This prompted the club to recognise the problem and they issued an anti-racist statement signed by both management and players. Within a few months the number of far-right paper sellers decreased significantly and the campaign is still active today.

In Scotland, supporters have formed a national campaign to combat racism in football. SCARF (Supporters' Campaign Against Racism in Football) was formed in 1991 in response to an increase in far-right activity at Scottish grounds, mainly involving the BNP. Most of the campaign consists of leafleting the worst affected grounds, Rangers and Hearts being two examples, but it has not been without its problems. As well as- one female campaigner being threatened and others abused, SCARF say that they have had a problem in getting clubs and officials to recognise that there is a problem at all.

Fanzines started in the mid 1980s and have offered an alternative, positive view of football fans in the post-Heysel era. Now almost every club has at least one fanzine and Garland and Rowe claim that these are almost exclusively anti-racist. Some are actually produced by anti-racist groups themselves such as Marching Altogether (LFUARAF) and Filbo Fever (Leicester City Foxes Against Racism). Other clubs whose fanzines actively support anti-racism campaigns include Everton, Celtic, Manchester United, Cardiff City, Leyton Orient and Chelsea. One criticism levelled at fanzines is that they are simply preaching to the converted as the fans who buy them will already be anti-racist. Nevertheless, fanzines have enjoyed increasing popularity over the last few years which should be recognised as a positive sign and the LFUARAF recognises this problem and for this purpose gives away Marching Altogether free at matches.

The CRE and PFA also believe that the 'civilisation' of football grounds - seating, family enclosures, executive boxes etc. - will encourage more blacks and Asians to attend football matches. They may be right but this has not occurred yet in England. Every football ground in the Premier League is now all-seater yet, as mentioned before, white people constitute 99% of the attendance.

The European dimension

Throughout Europe, racism figures prominently in football related violence. Neo-nazi and neo-fascist groups target football grounds in Europe in the same way as their English equivalents do here. Among the worst affected clubs are Lazio and AC Milan in Italy, Paris Saint-Germain in France, and Real Madrid and Espagnole in Spain.

In Italy, a Jewish player, Ronnie Rosenthal, was unable to play even one game for Udinese because of massive pressure from neo-fascist circles and Aaron Winter, a native of Suriname of Hindustani extraction was subject to attacks at Lazio involving cries of 'Niggers and Jews Out'. More recently, Paul Ince, a black English player for Inter Milan , has expressed his anger at the way he has been treated by the Italian fans.

Germany has one of the worst reputations in Europe for far-right influence amongst its fans, with frequent displays of Hitler salutes, particularly at international matches. Professor Volker Rittner of the Sports Sociology Institute in Cologne, however, believes that these are no more than provocative displays designed to get the fans into the papers, but some reports of right-wing activity in Germany have been disturbing. In 1990 there were reports of skinheads barracking the small number of black players in the Bundesliga and in 1992 similar reports were made of neo-nazi groups in Germany using football matches as occasions to plan and organise attacks against local ethnic communities and East European refugees. An analysis of the political attitudes of German fans revealed that 20% feel close to neo-nazis. Whilst it is not clear how active these fans would be, this is nonetheless a disturbing figure.

Some European countries have initiated similar schemes to the British Let's Kick Racism Out of Football campaign. The Netherlands uses the motto When Racism Wins, the Sport Loses which is displayed on posters at train stations and at tram and bus stops. Players in the Netherlands even went on strike in protest against racism. Players have also led the way in Italy by threatening to walk off the pitch if black players continued to be abused by racists. This resulted in a day of action in December 1992 when all players in the top two divisions displayed the slogan No Al Razzismo! (No To Racism). In Switzerland, footballers from the national team are involved in 'street football' competitions for young people, held in a different town each weekend.

A more general campaign is the All Different - All Equal campaign against racism, xenophobia and intolerance, organised by the Council of Europe. Football players from many countries have been involved, most notably in Sweden where the national team appeared in a short video, shown several times on national TV, to promote the campaign.


Although actual levels of racism are extremely hard to quantify and statistics thin on the ground, it seems apparent that the last decade has seen a reduction in the levels of racism at football matches in England. Garland and Rowe's survey revealed that 84% of the fanzine editors who responded felt that levels of racism had decreased over the past five years, with over half of these claiming a significant decline. Only 6% felt that racism had increased during this time. Garland and Rowe also claim that this view was backed up by nearly all of the administrators, players and officials interviewed in addition to the survey.

The role of fan-based groups and the growth of fanzine culture were the two most cited reasons for the decline in racism, although this may not be surprising given that the respondents were all fanzine editors. Perhaps more important, therefore, is the fact that 57% believed that the increase in the number of black players was a major factor for the decrease in racism.

As mentioned earlier, only a third of the respondents felt that the campaigns by the CRE and the FSA were a factor. Nevertheless, all of the respondents were aware of the Let's Kick Racism Out of Football Campaign and 44% felt that it had raised public awareness of the problem.

As Garland and Rowe point out, however, less public forms of racism may still be present and support for the national team seems still to have distinct racist factions to it, as last year's Lansdowne Road disturbance indicated. In any case, the lack of support from ethnic minorities suggests that clubs, authorities and fans still need to go a long way in convincing people that they will not encounter racism at football grounds.

Racism in other parts of Europe does not look as if it is decreasing and in some parts may be increasing. In Germany, the neo-nazi and neo-fascist movements continue to increase their support and the Front National in France, led by Jean Marie Le Pen, holds public support across the board, football supporters being no exception.

The issue of racism in football has been raised this year in a report to the European Parliament on football hooliganism, drafted by the German Green Group MEP Claudia Roth and presented in April. (See also Section 8) The committee was said to be:

" … shocked at the racist demonstrations and attacks perpetrated on players who are black or Jewish or come from different national or ethnic backgrounds"


" … concerned at the ways in which extremist organisations deliberately exploit violence connected with sport including the manipulation and infiltration of hooligan groups".

The report goes on to suggest that players should take an active role in combating racism by refusing to play if "violent, racist, xenophobic or anti-Semitic behaviour" occurs. It also calls for a Europe-wide ban on any racist or xenophobic symbols being displayed at football matches. Perhaps most importantly, the report calls for a European day of anti-racism and fair play in sport to be held throughout Europe in 1997 (the European Year Against Racism) and involving sports personalities to help promote the campaign.

According to the Labour MEP Glyn Ford (Kick It Again, 1995), UEFA has so-far not adopted any specific measures to combat racism in football. They argue that their 'Fair Play' scheme is adequate in tackling the problem. In this, behaviour both on and off the field is evaluated, and negative marks are given for racist chanting or the display of racist slogans. At the end of the season the three national associations with the best records are awarded an extra place in the UEFA Cup for one of their clubs. Whilst this may provide some sort of incentive for fans not to be racist, critics argue that this is not enough.

In an international context, the media, in particular the English tabloid press, it is argued, play a part in encouraging racism and xenophobia at football matches and this was also recognised in the European Parliament report. In the report's explanatory statement the committee states that the media frequently present international matches as 'warlike confrontations' which thus give rise to jingoism and sometimes acts of violence. The committee recommends that the media should endeavour to bring the sporting aspect back into sport.

While one must recognise that the problem of racism is different in each country, a Europe-wide initiative to combat the problem must surely be welcomed.

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