All over the world, but particularly in the English game, football fans have an enormous reputation for being aggressive towards followers of other clubs. Often, this results in longstanding rivalries, violence, and genuine deep-seated hatred for one another. Various levels of this behaviour all seem to fall under the umbrella term of ‘hooliganism’.
The reputation of football fans is dragged through the mud time and time again in the press. As if people’s love for their football club is rooted in anything other then passion and unconditional love. The police, along with match-day stewards do their bit to fuel this fire spread by the media, with an overly keen attitude to keeping football fans ‘in line’.
But where did this all come from? When did 20,000 spectators at a football match shift from being a fantastic occasion dominated by a breath-taking atmosphere to be treasured by a community, to an afternoon of terror and fear, that you apparently should not dream of taking your kids to? How did football fans earn this reputation? What evidence is there to say that this sub-human status football fans seem to hold with authority is in any way deserved?
Let us start with the basics. Football is predominantly a working-class sport, always has been. So, its supporters have traditionally been working-class people. They work hard, probably too hard, all week long. It finally gets to Saturday afternoon and they get to see their team play, see their friends, have a drink, just generally let loose and enjoy themselves. And understandably, they like to make the most of it. This is what football clubs are there to represent, historically speaking. Those of us who are financially disadvantaged tend to be constantly stressed and embittered, about a lot of things in life. The worse our situation gets, the more stressed and embittered we become. So, when Saturday rolls around, what you see from football fans is an enormous emotional release, in whatever form it may come out in. People need that release; they deserve to be able to blow off steam. Without football to concentrate your emotions on, your average fan would go off the rails.
With this in mind, looking back to the 1980s, when ‘hooliganism’ was at its peak. There were endless calls for football supporters to be more tightly controlled. It comes as no surprise to me that this came during the decade where unemployment figures in Britain rose above 3 million for four consecutive years. Poor people in Britain were suffering in the ‘80s under Thatcher, and this can certainly be causally linked to the increased outbursts during their time following football. There was plenty of reasons to be stressed and angry, with the football providing a convenient outlet as ever. Through the 1980s the rich, as ever, got richer, while the bottom 10% of earners wages fell by almost 20%.
Football in England’s reputation during the 1980s plummeted to an all-time low, with tragic and devastating incidents popping up all over the place, such as Hillsborough and Heysel, among others. This came at a time when Mrs. Thatcher’s battle with the miners had finished, as she searched for a new target with the full backing of her newspaper friends. Sadly, football became just that. Where, the blame for these shocking events was shifted by the government and the tabloid press to the feet of football ‘hooligans’.
Thankfully for us all, football was too much for the administration. However, the reputation that the media and the government tarred supporters with in the ‘80s is still present in the minds of many even today. In part, this ingrained attitude the press and some people hold of football fans has only added fuel to the fire and anger that drives situations getting out of hand outside stadiums.
There are more obvious factors playing a part in fans general anger and bitterness, however. One of these is simply that we as fans are never happy with our team, never. There is always something to moan about no matter how good a performance they put in each week. We always think we know how to improve the football we watch, however naively. The most common reason for any kind of football violence tends to be rivalries. Arrest numbers are always highest for derby games, naturally, as there is genuine dislike for opposing fans on derby days. The passion that fuels local rivalries are longstanding and often do extend beyond football, with football being the easiest outlet for these rivalries to come to fruition.
Anger and aggression in football are emotions that, for the most part, are completely understandable. Yes, some do take it too far at times. There can be no denying that fact. But the passion and love for our clubs which fuels this bitterness should be cherished and appreciated more than it is. We realise now, more than ever, just how much going and watching our clubs means to us. The horrible reputation we have as fans is overall undeserved and massively outdated. We have a right to be angry. Life is a difficult thing, and it is fantastic that we have been given this outlet come the weekend. Embrace it.