Hooligan is an English word that refers to British football fans, usually young people, who get involved in riots, vandalism and fights. This anglicism has been incorporated into Spanish in recent years. However, the hooligan is not a figure exclusive to British football, and violent attitudes are also common in Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Argentinian and other nationalities.

Characteristic traits of hooligans

The hooligan does not act alone, but is usually part of a collective, a group of fans of a team who organise themselves as if they were a gang. These fans have their own symbols and a generally radical and extremist ideology, and although they cheer for their team, they do so in a spirit that is contrary to fair play.

When there is a clash between two teams, the hooligans of one team pick fights with the hooligans of the opposing team, so it can be said that these groups act as if they were on a battlefield. The tension is even greater when there is a derby or a classic, as teams from the same city or teams with a great historical rivalry are competing.

Consequences of violent hooligan attitudes

These fans have been and are involved in all kinds of violent episodes: they vandalise public furniture, fight each other with bare fists or using various weapons, and there have even been cases of murder. These acts of vandalism have sometimes led to real tragedies, such as the one in Heysel, where thirty-nine fans died as a result of an avalanche of supporters at the Heysel stadium in Brussels during the 1985 European Cup final. Today, many clubs have decided to ban these fans from stadiums in order to combat this scourge, as they are popularly regarded as personae non gratae. In addition, the authorities in various countries have taken a number of measures to prevent the advance of hooligans, including the following:

  • Place police devices in the vicinity of the stadiums with the aim of preventing clashes between hooligans of the two teams.
  • Increased control at stadium entrances to detect extremist symbols or possession of weapons.
  • Installation of security cameras in stadiums to detect violent acts.

Origin of hooligans

Buckingham Palace spokesmen and the official press in the UK identified the term hooligan with the rise of marginalisation, especially in the larger industrial centres. It thus became associated with a certain way of dressing, a certain slang, certain behaviours and certain neighbourhoods. The concept also came to encompass different actions, such as street robbery, prostitution and theft.

The truth is that there was never a clear intention to distinguish violent fans from football-related acts. In this way, hooligans, those excluded from the system or unemployed, were equated throughout the world with the ultras of the rest of Europe and the barras bravas of South America.

Uno de los países que optaban a organizar la Copa del Mundo de 2006 era Inglaterra. Sin embargo, cuando la UEFA deliberó sobre la adjudicación de la sede en el año 2000, su candidatura se vio gravemente comprometida por los disturbios de los hooligans ingleses en Bruselas y Charleroi. Al final, el país elegido fue Alemania, ya que su punto fuerte era su política anti-holigan, que sin duda fue bien recibida. Además, para evitar los disturbios, más de tres mil personas tuvieron que entregar sus pasaportes en el Reino Unido, que no les fueron devueltos hasta el final del Mundial.

Hooliganism was considered a crime in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and was therefore included in its Criminal Code. In Article 233 of the Criminal Code, hooliganism was defined as conduct that intentionally disturbs public order and shows clear disrespect for the pillars of society. This definition could include multiple behaviours, such as vulgar language, harassment and loitering. Today, hooliganism still remains covered under Russia’s criminal and administrative codes, and can be applied to those over the age of sixteen.

Hooligan culture

Hooliganism emerged in the 1960s, although as early as 1912 a match between Liverpool and Manchester United had to be called off because of hooliganism. Their behaviour was accepted because it was considered a working class sport. However, such behaviour was diverted once the working class entered the world of football and the hooligan is now known as a middle class fan. Those who showed the most aggression were young, male and lower class.

Such violent behaviour is seen as a way for the individual to unleash his or her anger in social life. It originated at a time when ultras with violent, extremist and radical ideologies exerted a negative influence on uninformed young people, who found a power they had never experienced before. The consequences were dire: fights at football matches and even assaults on police officers.

Some experts believe that it is a problem that stems from seeking a response to frustration, with the social factor playing a large part in this type of behaviour. However, Klapp pointed out that the origin of hooliganism was to be found in youth boredom and lack of stimulation.

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