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Football ''Hooliganism'', Policing and the War on the ''English Disease'' – A Book Review

 by Brian Risman, Publisher and Founder, The Law Journal UK


This book is an interesting perspective on the dynamics of social violence and policing – a phenomenon, that, as I discuss below, is not only symptomatic of the UK and football, but appears in different forms and venues around the world.


We have all seen television news clips of English football (soccer in America) fans in pitched battles with police, particularly at European competitions. Yet do those images tell the entire story? Are these football fans the Stranger in our society?


A prominent theme in Law is that of the ‘Stranger’. By the Stranger, we mean someone who belongs to a group that we as individuals – or as a society – do not want to communicate, understand, or have any dealings. Indeed, we fear the sight of these people. Even if they are citizens of the country, born in the same town, people cannot consider them ‘one of us’.


In the US we saw this situation of the Stranger in the difference between the handling of the Katrina hurricane disaster in New Orleans, and the recent fires burning suburban homes in Southern California. New Orleans, at that time predominately black, was slow to receive aid, and just received a Presidential ‘fly-by’ – flying over, but no visit or inspection of the damage. Southern California, predominately white (and home of many movie and television stars), received aid immediately and of course a Presidential visit. Nor was there particular outrage over this difference of treatment. New Orleans blacks were the Stranger.


A similar situation of the treatment of the Stranger – in a manner akin to the situation regarding UK football fans – occurred in the Chicago Police Riot of 1968. In that year, the Americans were frightened by their teenagers who, facing the military draft, opposed the Vietnam War. These youth went to the Democratic Party Convention that year in Chicago to demonstrate against the current Democratic Party government’s policies, headed by President Lyndon Johnson. The youth groups arranged security protocols with the police – the youth would have their own security to keep order, and would work with the police. Instead, the police – and America – seeing the Stranger in their anti-war, long-haired children, condoned the police, without provocation, attacking the protesters mercilessly.


Back to today. In the same manner as New Orleans and Chicago discussed above, we have to ask serious questions. If you look closely at the films of the football violence, you sometimes wonder who started the violence – the police or the football hooligans?


Now, we know that the football fans have been the cause of a great deal of the violence. This violence is not always spontaneous. When playing rival teams or countries, the fans – English and otherwise – have organised actual attacks on other fans and the police with pre-planned military-style strategy and precision.


Hence the police are frequently justified in what seems to be an unprovoked attack on the football fans. But, is that always the case? How come many games and tournaments take place with no such violence? Why no violence in some cases, and incredible bloodshed in others?


To be sure, a lot of the violence is based on old tribal loyalties – endemic throughout Europe – and xenophobia by the football fans. In my view, the tribal conflicts that used to be played out by European nations are no longer actively played out in this era of European Union and Comity between the nations. Instead, the European tribal conflicts have been transferred from the nation states to the football fans. The wars are no longer between national governments – they are between the fans of the teams.


In Football ''Hooliganism'', Policing and the War on the ''English Disease'' by Pennant Books, Dr. Clifford Stott and Dr. Geoff Pearson explore the thesis that the footballers are not the source of all of the violence. Many times, foreign police and foreign fans of other teams provoke the violence. The authors also view the allegiance of football fans as an issue of Social Identity, particularly in a society which views them as an underclass – what I call in the discussion above, the Stranger in society.


While some would say that Stott and Pearson’s approach may border on ‘hug a thug’, their viewpoint of the social background and issues surrounding the phenomenon deserves a hearing. If you will, their view is a contrarian one from the norm. It humanises the football fans, and explores the issues involved.


A particularly good feature of the book is that there is considerable background of the violent history in football in the first part of the book. For those not familiar with the situation, this background is invaluable. If, on the other hand, you are familiar – and even if you are, you should look at the background of the violence – you can focus on the latter part of the book which discusses the author’s study of the issue of Social Identity and motivations of the football fans.


For more information on purchasing this book, please click on the link below.






Football ''Hooliganism'', Policing and the War on the ''English Disease'' is published by Pennant Books.  Please note that The Law Journal UK takes no responsibility for the contents of this book, or works by other authors.


Your thoughts?


Brian Risman



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