A Study of Football Hooliganism: Are Football Hooligans "Real" Fans?

This study looks in depth at football hooliganism and the media coverage of it. However, to know more about the issue, firstly I briefly aim to look at the profile of the football hooligan and answer the vital question: 'Who are they and why do they do it?' Furthermore I briefly intend to analyse the role media plays in football hooliganism. I also intend to look at the sociological concepts and approaches to football and its fans, and sociological theories and concepts to an analysis of the relationships between football and nationality, gender and race.

One of my objectives is also to look explore sociological accounts of the role of football in a globalised world.

However, most importantly, the aim of this project is to find out weather football hooligans are "real" fans or if they are deviants using the football culture as an excuse. Looking at the profile of the hooligan will help me to find this and another way I will find this out is by looking at the way the media portrays all fans as hooligans.

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My reason for studying this topic varies. My main reason was the fact that football hooliganism has been something of an interest to me for some time. It is a topic that greatly interests me and as the subject of football hooliganism tends to come up in the news regularly I have always felt that I want to expand my knowledge regarding the issue. Furthermore it should be interesting to get a clearer view on an aspect that influences many of our lives.

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Lastly studying this topic will enable me to look at different views and therefore I may benefit in more understanding of the views and contrast in views.


For my Sociology Coursework research I have chosen a few methods to gather my research. As there are many methods I could use, I have discussed each of them, looking at the advantages and disadvantages, and eliminated those methods, which I felt were no use to me.

One way of collecting data is to use a questionnaire. A questionnaire is a set of questions on a given topic. There are two ways that the questions can be used.

> An interviewer asks questions and fills in a form:

Advantages: The interviewer can make sure that the questions are correctly understood.

Disadvantages: The interviewer must ask the question in such a way, which does not influence the person answering the question. This method is expensive and time-consuming.

> People are given a form to fill in themselves.

Advantages: The person filling the questionnaire has time to answer the questions.

Disadvantages: Some of the form may not be returned. Further, there is no one to ask for advice if a question is not clear.

As part of my primary data I have decided to use the first option to collect data. I will interview five different people in order to find out if they consider football hooligans as real fans. In addition to that I also intend to send an email to Metropolitan Police and a letter to West Yorkshire Police asking if they could send me any statistics or information that would help me in my research. I am hoping they send me statistics, i.e. graphs and tables which will tell me the age, social class etc. of the "football hooligan." Read compare and contrast deviance and crime essay

As part of my secondary data I have decided to use the Internet, textbooks, teaching materials, newspapers and encyclopaedias for my information. Although I will also use the Internet when I am emailing Metropolitan Police, I am also going to search for newspaper archives which will enable me to look at specific episodes or incidents where I can see how they are reported. Lastly I will use the textbooks and other resources to look at the way deviance is amplified and they will also help me for quotes from leading sociologists.

Content and Analysis

Professional football is by far and away the most popular spectator sport in Britain. Going to football matches is mainly male predominantly male activity, but around 12% of attendees of top matches in England are female (Williams, 1996). In 1995/96 there were almost 21 million attendances at Premier League and Football League matches. However, since the Second World War, until about the late 1980s attendances at football matches in Britain have began to decline. There are many reasons for this, however many people point to football hooliganism in order to explain football's relative decline in the number of spectators. Hooliganism was not popularly identified as a serious problem in this country, until the 1960s, a long time after football's declining popularity after the war. But there seems little doubt that the fear of hooliganism did deter at least some fans from attending football matches between the mid 1960s and the early 1990s.

The Role of the Media

Between the wars, football generally became more 'respectable' and crowd problems diminished but did not disappear. However, it was not until the 1960s that the media coverage of football began once more regularly to report hooliganism at matches. Journalists around this time were actually sent to report on crowd behaviour rather than just the game.

Around this time, too, there was a general 'moral panic' (Cohen, 1973) about the behaviour of young people sparked by juvenile crime rates. It was during this time that football became increasingly identified as a venue at which fights and other kinds of disorder occurred.

'Moral Panic' is the expression of concern which results from the media reporting of a given incident or incidents. The panic is based on an outraged sense of offence against apparently accepted standards of behaviour. The use by the media of stereotypes to label deviant behaviour, followed by demands for firm action to combat the problem, has led some sociologists to suggest that media reporting may actually create the problem it claims to solve.

Stanley Cohen, in his book, Folk Devils and Moral Panics used material gathered from the public response to the mods-and-rockers clashes of the mid 1960s to develop a theory of 'moral panic' as a response to emerging threats to society's values and interests. He was the first sociologist to research and write about it in 1964-1965. According to Cohen, this was a process in which the media actually created crime, through its exaggeration and distortion. Cohen used the term deviancy amplification to describe this process. He also said:

" Societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of moral panic. A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to society. The moral barricades are mannered by editors, bishops, politicians and other right thinking people... ways of coping are evolved... the condition then disappears... sometimes the panic passes over and is forgotten... at other times it has more serious and long-standing repercussions and might produce such changes as those in legal and social policy... one of the most recurrent types of moral panic in Britain since the world war has been associated with the emergence of various forms of youth culture (originally almost exclusively working class, but often more recently middle-class or student based) whose behaviour is deviant or delinquent.

To a greater or lesser extent the cultures have been associated with violence... in the gallery of types that society erects to show its member which roles should be avoided and which should be emulated, these groups (Teddy Boys, Mods and Rockers, Skinheads and Greasers etc.) have occupied a constant position as "folk devils", visible reminders of what we should not be. "

Nowadays football hooliganism can be seen as something of an easy target for the media. With journalists present at every match across the country, the chances of a single incident being missed are slim. TV cameras also mean that disturbances within stadiums are caught on video.

In particular, the British tabloids press have an enthusiastic approach to the reporting of soccer violence, with melodramatic headlines such as "Smash These Thugs!", "Murder on a Soccer Train!" (The Sun), "Mindless Morons" and "Savages! Animals" (Daily Mirror). Whilst open condemnation of hooliganism is the norm across the media, it has been argued that this melodramatic or sensationalist style of reporting presents football violence as far more of a concern than it really is, elevating it to a major social problem.

In a historical but still famous piece of research into football violence, Stuart Hall examined the words that newspapers used to describe football supporters when violence in football crowds was at a high level in the 1970s:

" Hooliganism and hooligans is, I suppose, by now so well established that it would be difficult to reverse the trend. "Thugs" has also, in the last year or two, become a required word of abuse. But increasingly, the newspapers also use the term 'animals'. "Riot! United's Fans Are Animals" "SAVAGES! ANIMALS!"

This gives us another example of stereotyping, which can be summarised as "football fans = animals"

Stuart Hall suggested that using such words had an effect on how we explain such behaviour:

" It is the sort of language which suggests that there cannot be possibly be any reason behind the actions of the "thugs". It also suggests a sort of explanation for what is going on the terraces and supporters' trains. It must be the result of "animal instinct" or the uncontrolled impulse of the insane "

When stereotypes are accepted, then solutions to the problems are often proposed that match them. If certain events have been labelled as the actions of "animals' or 'insane', it then appears right to treat the people who commit those actions as though they were 'animals' or 'insane'. In discussing football violence one newspaper suggested that 'they put these people into "hooligan compounds" every Saturday afternoon... They should be herded together... We should make sure we treat them like animals.'

Sociologists would say that the stereotype legitimises the way the problem is dealt with. In other words it provides the person who must deal with the problem with a way of dealing with it that is likely to be generally acceptable. This is known as legitimation.

In summary as Hall said in 1978, "it is certainly true that newspapers generally report on football using the sort of language which seems to derive more from the world of war than it does from sport." This probably helps to heighten rivalry between opposing fan group, as do the 'predictions' newspapers make before the game that 'trouble' is likely to occur between rival fans or that the police and local residents are preparing for an 'invasion' of visiting fans or are being placed on 'red alert.'

It is also evident that the media plays a very significant role in the public's view of football hooliganism. By far the biggest problem lies in the sensationalist reporting of the British tabloid press. The press has helped from the modern phenomenon of football hooliganism, it has shaped a public opinion of the problem and it has directly influenced the actions of fans themselves. There is also considerable evidence to support the claim that football hooligans enjoy press coverage and positively attempt to obtain coverage of themselves and their group. In fact, a hooligan group's notoriety and reputation stems largely from reports in the media.

The Profile of the 'Hooligan': Who Are They and Why Do They Do It?

Most of the evidence on hooligan offenders suggests that they are generally in their late teens or their 20s, that they are mainly in manual or lower clerical occupations or, to a lesser extent, are unemployed or work in the 'grey' economy.

Unsurprisingly, London hooligans tend to be more affluent than their northern counterparts. They are certainly 'stylish' and 'macho' in these football circles to show that they have the capacity to spend on, or to steal, exclusively sportswear or designer wear and that they know which of the available styles and brand names are 'in'.

Former police chief Eddie Curtis, who was responsible for spotting English troublemakers at the 1998 World Cup and at Euro 2000 recently told BBC Two's Hooligans programme how we went about it. He said:

"Even if you didn't know the individuals as a spotter, you would know that they were hooligans, it's the way they're dressed, the way they act".

When I interviewed several people as part of my research, I asked them a similar question which asked them to give their views on who they thought were football hooligans were. Although their answers varied slightly my main finding was that they felt that football hooligans were 'working-class men.'

It has also been suggested on many occasions, mainly by politicians, football authorities and the media that football hooligans are not 'real' supporters. They have been seen as purely violent individuals who simply use football matches as a stage in which to participate in violent behaviour. This suggests that violence is more important to the 'football hooligan' than the affiliation with the club they support. However, this suggestion is said to be 'probably the most inaccurate assumption within the whole issue/debate of football hooliganism.' Basically the assumption is not true - Academics at Leicester University have highlighted this inaccuracy. Many other researchers have also reputed this claim. The truth is that these people who participate in hooligan behaviour at football matches are not less 'genuine' in their support for 'their club' than those fans who do not participate in hooligan behaviour at any level. The fact is that the majority of football hooligans allow 'their team' on a regular basis to both home and away fixtures in an almost religious manner.

The impression I have gained throughout my research is that first and foremost football hooligans attend football matches out of a 'love' for their club. The majority of hooligans stress that they only participate in 'hooligan' or indeed 'violent' behaviour at matches, i.e. they have no other violent tendencies.

Lucy Procter from the Liverpool Hope University College interviewed football hooligans as part of her research in her dissertation. In it she said that they (the hooligans) 'emphasised the fact that they fight at football with other 'firms' who want to fight them (usually after the game) and, when that's over they are simply out for the night with their 'mates' and 'kicking off' in pubs and nightclubs (i.e. in non-football-related incidents).

Other reasons for hooligans indulging in football hooliganism apart from a love for their club have been much debated and explored by many sociologists.

The underlying causes of hooliganism have been much debated and have divided sociologists and other academics for some time (Williams, 1996).

Williams and the team at Leicester (1996) believed that in working-class or so-called 'rough' neighbourhoods:

"Young males are socialised (at home, at work, in peer group gangs, etc) into standards that value and reward publicly assertive, openly aggressive and violent expressions of masculinity.''

Williams (1996, P7)

This is more or less the answer I got from my interviewees when I asked them to explain why they thought hooligans 'did it'. Their reply or answer can be summed up by two words: Peer Pressure.

A further explanation for football violence can be found in the work of social psychologist Gerry Finn (1994). Finn sees hooliganism as providing intense emotional experiences which are not apparent in every day life thus:

"Allowing for an open expression of shared, collective emotionality: an out-pouring of joy or sadness, and a strengthening of a common social identity."

Finn (1994, citied in Williams 99, P8)

Professor Eric Dunning also gives an explanation for football violence. Dunning is a leading academic in the area of sport and violence and has written a number of books and articles on the subject. He explains that football hooliganism and all the violence 'is largely patriarchal'. He goes on to explain that, "Soccer offers a context for some forms of large, though not exclusively, male violence to occur. This is because soccer involves intense emotional excitement, the idea of an enemy and a defence of territory. For people who find it hard to control themselves, this can easily lead to hatred for the opposing team. '' This explanation that Dunning gives is very similar to Finn's explanation.

Above I have given a few of the many various approaches explaining the motivation of hooligans. Looking at all the approaches I have come across, it is certainly evident that risk and excitement are central to the hooligan phenomenon. Although some sociologist criticise this, the enjoyment generated by football disorder as a motivating force for being involved is also a reason why fans indulge in violence.

Other sociologists also talk about the 'buzz' and 'risk contexts in which anything might happen.' These are seen to be other reasons why fans fight.

Finally, I have come to see that a key element in almost all sociological approaches to hooliganism is their 'concern with the social construction of gender identities over time.' There is a recognition that it is only largely young men who are involved in hooliganism and that the 'construction of satisfying masculine identities is likely to be, to some extent at least, class, spatially and culturally specific.'

In some non-sociological accounts it seems as if 'masculinity' is given something common to all cultures, unchanging and something not subject at all. So the social reproduction of gender relations and masculinities is always located in particular areas. Some of the latter accounts find it barely important to mention at all that young men in some areas involve hooliganism.


After completing this coursework, I feel that it has been done successfully. I started this project with many aims. I think I was wanting to do too many things. However, as I progressed through my coursework I quickly realised and it was well-clear that it would be no use having about ten aims. That is when I felt that my aims needed changing - not vastly but slightly.

At first, as it says in my Introduction I said that I was going to find out who hooligans are and why they do it. Then I was going to analyse the role of media in football hooliganism. On top of that I intended to look at sociological concepts and approaches to football and its fans, and sociological theories and concepts to an analysis of the relationships between football and nationality, gender and race. Plus I was also going to explore sociological accounts of the role of football in a globalised world.

However, all of this could not be done. Therefore, although I did briefly read about everything written above I didn't bother write about it as it wasn't related to the topic I which I wanted to study.. I decided that I was only going to find out weather football hooligans are "real" fans or deviants using the football culture as an excuse to behave as hooligans. Therefore, I still needed to look at the profile of the football hooligan and answer the vital question: 'Who are they and why do they do it'. In addition as I was going to look at the way in which the media portrays all fans as hooligans I still needed to analyse the role media plays in football hooliganism.

After re-organising my aims I was well underway with my coursework. Although at points I was tiny bit unsure if I was on the right lines as I realised it was really easy to get away form the topic I was studying.

The research methods I used at the beginning were, I felt, very good in that I dint need to change them. For my primary data, after looking at the advantages and disadvantages of methods of collecting data, I chose my method which was an interview. The interview was very useful in that it helped me back up some points I made with real-life experiences or opinions. As for my secondary, which was mainly off the internet and textbooks. These were extremely helpful in helping me to find information. These were many few sources I needed, after the beginning, as I went through my coursework because I had carefully thought what type of information I needed.

More importantly, I really wanted to interview real-life hooligans. However, as you know, this would take courage plus time therefore I decided against it. Luckily, during my research I did find an interview with a football hooligan. This was from Lucy Procter dissertation. In it she asked a couple of Man City fans who indulged in violence during the match. This interview was also very helpful in helping me to back up the points I was investigating.

Overall, as I've said, I feel that this coursework has been done very successfully. In terms of weaknesses, I'm not sure if their has been any except for the fact that I wasn't confident if I was doing the right thing at points.

Updated: Feb 22, 2021
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A Study of Football Hooliganism: Are Football Hooligans "Real" Fans?. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/study-football-hooliganism-football-hooligans-real-fans-new-essay

A Study of Football Hooliganism: Are Football Hooligans "Real" Fans? essay
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