Football Violence and Hooliganism in Europe icon

Football Violence and Hooliganism in Europe

НазваниеFootball Violence and Hooliganism in Europe
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1. / Violence and Hooliganism in Europe

Other European research

Research in other European countries has tended to be descriptive and rather atheoretical. The work of Horak62 in Austria, for example, traces the emergence of football hooliganism in that country without offering too much in the way of explanation for shifts in fan behaviour. The research by Eichberg63 in Denmark is similarly descriptive, but with a rather confusing 'gloss' which includes reference to psychoanalytic concepts and to the issue of matriarchy in Danish society. Material from both of these authors is included in the section on cross-national differences in football violence (see Section 5).

Other work in Europe has focused principally on single events, such as the tragedy in the Heysel stadium in 1985.64 Because of the narrow focus of the research, and the singularly exceptional nature of the Heysel incident, there is little in the way of generalisable findings in this work.


We have seen that the bulk of theory and research on football violence has developed within British academic circles. It is clear that while many of the perspectives provided by social scientists in the UK are largely compatible with each other, there are major ideological rifts between the various research groups. This 'in-fighting' has delayed the development of a more productive, multi-disciplinary approach to the phenomenon. It is also the case that many of the more sociologically-oriented approaches to explaining football hooliganism have little utility outside of Britain, or even England, because of major differences in national class and social structures.

Some perspectives which are relatively free of class-based analyses (e.g. Marsh, Armstrong etc) provide for easier 'translation' to fan groups in other countries. Thus, the ethogenic approach of Marsh and his colleagues has been used as a basis for analysing the behaviour of fans in Italy and for the development of theoretical perspectives in that country by Salvini and Dal Lago. It is clear, however, that no Europe-wide explanatory framework has yet been developed. It may be the case, given the distinctive nature of ultras, hools, roligans etc. that such a framework may be unachievable or inappropriate. The sociological and psychological factors which lie at the root of football violence in, say, Italy may be quite different from those which obtain in Germany or Holland. The football stadium provides a very convenient arena for all kinds of collective behaviour. There is no reason to suppose, therefore, that the young men who use such arenas in different countries are all playing the same game.

Increasingly, research of a purely 'domestic' kind is emerging in Italy, Germany, Holland and elsewhere which does not rely so heavily on British theoretical models. Increasing contact between research groups will enable more genuine cross-cultural perspectives to emerge and for the salience of alleged causal factors to be identified more clearly. The role of alcohol, for example, which is discussed in more detail in Section 7, has already been shown to be ambiguous when comparing the behaviour of English and Scottish fans. Its role will be seen as even more culturally dependent when examining the activity of Danish fans - see next section).

The degree to which individual, personality variables are predictive of football violence in different countries is relatively unexplored at the moment. It is unlikely, however, that specific factors common to fan groups throughout Europe will emerge. Again, there is no reason to suppose that the individual motivations and psychological profiles of an Italian tifoso will necessarily be in line with that of the English football hooligan. The variations between the two are likely to be more significant than any revealed commonalities.

Finally, it may well be that relative demise of football hooligansim in the UK will be followed by a similar decline in continental Europe. There has, after all, been a degree of imitative behaviour on the part of other European fans who themselves acknowledge the English as being the leaders in this particular pattern of behaviour. It could be that despite increased pan-European research on football violence, social scientists will soon discover that there are more serious social issues with which to be concerned in their home countries. Rising levels of youth crime, delinquency, alienation and the spread of right-wing extremism in many European countries may come to be seen as a more significant threat to European social stability than the anti-social behaviour of a relatively small number of highly visible football hooligans.

Cross-national variations in football violence in Europe


Despite the extensive research literature on the subject, empirical information on cross-cultural variations in the scale and nature of football-related violence is hard to come by.

In their introduction to Football, violence and social identity (1994), Giuilianotti et al ask: “What commonalities or differences exist between…supporters in different cultural contexts?”, immediately followed by: “Are the bases for these overlaps and distinctions found in actual behaviour or secondary interpretation?”

In accordance with academic etiquette, the contributors to this edited volume of essays do not feel obliged to answer the questions raised in the introduction. Yet the need for the second question indicates that the most striking ‘commonality’ between football supporters of different European nations is the number of social scientists engaged in interpreting, analysing and explaining their behaviour.

These academics are themselves divided into mutually hostile factions supporting rival explanations of the nature and causes of football violence. The divisions are along theoretical, rather than national lines, such that an Italian or Dutch sociologist may be a supporter of, for example, the British ‘Leicester School’ or the French ‘Post-modernist’ approach – resulting in very different interpretations of his own nation’s football culture.

In addition to the inevitable distortions of ‘secondary interpretation’, the ritual chanting and aggressive displays of the rival theoretical schools often obscure our view of the behaviour that is the subject of their debate.

The participants in the debate all accept that cross-national differences in the behaviour of football fans in Europe exist – and the contributors to Giulianotti’s “cross-cultural, interdisciplinary, pluralist” volume reach the unremarkable conclusion that a nation’s football culture is “ ... indicative of a given society’s cognition of existential, moral and political fundamentals”. Yet none of the many writers on this subject has provided any clear indication of exactly what the differences are.

At the 1987 European Conference on Football Violence, the Dutch researcher Dr J. P Van de Sande commented that in terms of research on hooliganism, “In Holland the situation is very much like that in other countries, many opinions but few facts”. Nearly ten years later, we must sadly report that while opinions are still plentiful, facts remain scarce.

As the British element of the so-called ‘British Disease’ is covered in some depth elsewhere in this report (see Section 2) we will focus in this section on the scale and nature of football hooliganism in other European countries.

Levels of violence

The available literature does not include any quantitative comparisons of levels of football-related violence in European countries. This may be because there is very little quantitative data available on the incidence of football-related violence in individual countries.

Even in Britain, where the problems have been recognised and researched for over two decades, systematic recording of incidents has only been undertaken in the last few years. Empirical data on football-related violence in other European countries is sketchy, often out-of-date and difficult to compare as different sources do not define terms such as ‘violent incident’ or ‘serious incident’ in the same way – and in many cases do not define these terms at all. The lack of data, and specifically the lack of directly comparable data, clearly hinders any attempt to assess variations in the scale of the problem within Europe.

In addition to these difficulties, patterns of football-related violence in Europe are constantly changing, and levels of violence cannot be relied upon to remain stable for the convenience of researchers and publishers. Even newspapers, with the benefit of daily publication, cannot always keep up with the changing trends. On Saturday 5 May, 1990, for example, the Independent reported a significant improvement in crowd behaviour in England, going so far as to claim that “hooliganism is not fashionable any more”. Only hours after the paper reached the news-stands, 3000 Leeds United fans rioted in Bournemouth, and football-related disorder was reported in no less than nine other towns.

There is enough evidence, however, to show that football-related violence is by no means an exclusively ‘British Disease’, and that some European countries – the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Italy in particular – currently experience problems of football-related disorder comparable with those found in the UK.


According to official data, there were 123 arrests of football fans, 513 injuries and 2 deaths in the 1988/89 season. From unofficial data (newspaper reports), researchers found evidence of around 65 violent incidents during the 686 Serie A and B League matches in the 88/89 season – i.e. violent incidents occurred at around 9.5% of matches in this category. Government sources gave a slightly higher estimate of 72 incidents – 10.5% – for this season. This compares with just two reported incidents during the 620 matches of the 1970/71 season (0.3%), indicating a significant increase in football-related violence over these two decades, although an increase in Press coverage of the problem during this period may be distorting the picture to some degree.

For more recent years, the figures available come from a different source – the police – and refer not to violent incidents per se but to cautions and arrests, which may be for a variety of offences, and injuries. The various sets of figures are therefore not directly comparable – and the numbers of cautions and arrests may tell us more about changes in policing methods than about actual variation in levels of violence – but these statistics may provide a rough indication of recent changes in levels of football-related ‘trouble’.

The number of football fans ‘cautioned’ by the police has risen from 636 in the 1988/89 season to 2922 in the 1994/95 season. The number actually ‘detained’ by the police has increased from 363 to 778. Data on injuries were only available for the 1990/91 season, when football related disorder was at its peak, probably due to the World Cup. In this season the records show 1089 injuries, compared to 513 during the 1988/89 season, but all other evidence indicates a decline in levels of violence during the following years. Nearly 2000 fans were ‘detained’ by the police during the 1990/91 season, for example, compared to 778 in 1994/95 – less than half the 1990/91 figure.

Even if we ignore the unrepresentative peak in 1990/91, these police data would appear to indicate an overall significant increase in levels of disorder since 1989. There was also a spread of fan problems to Southern Italy, including Sicily, and to the lower football divisions. On closer examination, however, we find that 1989 saw an increase in the powers given to the police and the judiciary regarding the control of football crowds. It is well known that changes in policing methods and policy can have a dramatic effect on crime figures of any kind. In particular, increases in police powers and activity may result in massive increases in numbers of cautions and arrests, not necessarily associated with equally significant increases in the number of offences committed.

In line with a common trend throughout Europe, the most significant change in patterns of violence in Italy has been the shift from violent incidents inside the stadia (during the 1970s) to more incidents occurring outside the stadia (from the early 1980s).


A study conducted in 1987 reported ‘serious’ incidents (defined as those resulting in large numbers of arrests and people seriously injured) at 5% of football matches (8 out of 144 matches), with ‘less serious’ incidents (the term is not defined) at 15% of matches.

Four groups of supporters were identified as causing the most trouble: Anderlecht, Antwerp, Club Brugge and Standard Liege. These supporters were involved in all of the ‘serious’ incidents and in 4 out of 5 of the ‘less serious’ incidents. When two of these clubs met, there were always serious incidents (except when matches were played in Brugge, where drastic security measures had been introduced, including heavy police escorts to, from and during the match).

These four groups caused trouble considerably more often at away-matches than when playing at home – a pattern which seems to be common in most European countries. From the early 1980s violence has occurred more often outside the stadium, either before or after the match, rather than inside the stadium and during the match – again a common pattern throughout Europe. The list of key troublemakers has now expanded to include Beerschot, Charleroi, and RWDM, but the basic patterns of disorder remain unaltered.

The Belgian research project concluded that there are ‘distinct differences’ between what happens in the UK and on the European Continent, although the authors do not specify what these differences are. The researchers note that violence seems to be a traditional and now intrinsic element of football culture in the UK. They claim that this is not the case in Belgium, as football violence has only become a ‘systematic’ problem on the European Continent in the last 15 years, but express concern that “the acquired tradition for violence could lead to the same result”.65

According to Interior Minister Johan Vande Lanotte, this prophecy has not been fulfilled, and there has recently been a significant decline in violence at Belgian League matches, with violent incidents down by about 25% in the 1994/95 season.

Post-Heysel panic initially led to some excessive precautions – such as a match against Scotland where 600 policemen were brought in to watch over just 300 Scottish supporters – and the Belgian authorities have occasionally been criticised for heavy-handedness in dealing with visiting fans.

Lanotte claims that the recent reduction in violent incidents is due to somewhat less extreme security measures such as the obligatory use of video cameras by all first-division clubs, a doubling in the number of bans on troublemakers from stadiums, better ticketing systems to keep rival fans apart and more stewards. Evidence from other countries, however, suggests that periodic fluctuations in levels of football-related violence can occur for a variety of reasons, and that premature complacency over ‘proven effective’ security measures may precede a re-escalation of violence.

The Netherlands

As with the other countries included in this review, no reliable data were available on levels of football-related violence in the Netherlands.

Our calculations from the available information indicate that out of approximately 540 matches in a football season, 100 are defined as ‘high risk’. The ‘risk’ is not defined, and may not refer specifically or exclusively to actual violence: other problems such as ‘damage to property’ and ‘general disorderliness’ are mentioned in the report from which these figures are drawn, which also states that “large-scale, riot-like incidents are scarce.” 66

Of the 80,000 people who attend professional football matches, only around 230-270 are defined as ‘hard-core’ hooligans, although a further 2000 are considered to be ‘potential’ hooligans. Taken together, these data suggest levels of football-related disorder similar to those found in the Italian and Belgian research, with aggressive or violent incidents – or at least the potential for some form of disorder – at around 10% of matches.

These figures are from 1987, since when there has, according to van de Brug67, been a slight drop in football hooliganism, although he notes that:

... events at a number of games played recently indicate that these outbreaks of football violence are far from being kept under control”.

Researchers have recently become more cautious in their assessments of apparent declines in football-related violence, having discovered that their confident explanations of downward trends tend to be followed by embarrassing re-escalations. Also, many are understandably reluctant to suggest that there may be no further need for their services.

As elsewhere, the consensus among researchers is that football violence in the Netherlands has steadily increased since the early 1970s, with the 1980s seeing a massive increase in violence outside the stadia. There is some evidence of a slight reduction in levels of violence in the 1990s.

Hooliganism is concentrated in the top division of the sport, and even here only some teams have violent supporters. Certain groups of fans (known as ‘Sides’) are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the football-related violence that occurs in the Netherlands, and the ‘high-risk’ matches mentioned above invariably involve one or more of the teams with violent ‘Siders’. Currently, the main troublemakers are: Ajax (F-Side), Den Bosch (Vak-P), Den Haag (North-Side), Feyenoord (Vak-S/Vak-R), Groningen (Z-Side), P.S.V. (L-Side) and Utrecht (Bunnik-Side).


No quantitative data are available on levels of football-related violence in Germany, and there is very little empirical data on fans or their behaviour.

Some indication of levels of violence is provided by the German police, who expected a contingent of 1000 ‘category C’ (violent) fans to attend the Euro 96 championships, out of a total 10,000 supporters travelling to Britain (The Times, 21 May 1996). This suggests that around 10% of German fans are regularly involved in violent incidents – indicating levels of football-related violence roughly comparable with those in Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The main hooligan groups are: Bayern Munich (Munich Service Crew), Braunschweig (Braunschweiger Jungs), Bielefeld (Blue Army), Duisburg, Dussledorf (First Class), Essen, Frankfurt (Alderfront), Hamburg, Hertha Berlin (Endsig/Wannsee Front), Karlsruhe (Karlsruhe Offensive/Blau-Weiss Brigaten), Koln, Rostock, St. Pauli, Schalke 04 (Gelsen Szene).

Internationally, the German fans’ arch enemy has traditionally been Holland, although predicted violent clashes between German and Dutch fans at Euro 96 did not occur, indicating that levels of violence at international matches may be in (possibly temporary) decline.


Again, factual data on levels of football-related violence were not available.

Mignon68 claims that the first ‘hooligan incidents’ (the term is not defined), excluding those provoked by English visitors, occurred during the 1978-79 season, and the first groups of ‘kops’ and ‘ultras’ were formed in the early 1980s. What he calls the ‘ultra phenomenon’ did not expand nationally until after the Heysel disaster in 1985, when the main supporters’ associations of Paris, Marseilles and Bordeaux were founded. Acts of vandalism, fights and ambushes became more frequent during the latter half of the 1980s, some of which were associated from the start with the use of fascist symbols and racist slogans.

Paris Saint-Germain supporters, in particular the group known as the ‘Boulogne kop’, and Marseilles Olympique supporters are the most numerous and powerful groups, and have the worst reputations. Others involved in disorder include Bordeaux, Metz, Nantes and St. Etienne.

Serious violence – i.e. incidents resulting in significant injuries – would seem, however, to be quite rare, even in skirmishes between ‘sworn enemies’, according to reports in the French fans’ own fanzines and Internet news-pages (rare sources of detailed, up-to-date information, and probably no more biased than the academic literature). All such encounters are described in some detail and with some pride in the fanzines, so it is unlikely that the authors are ‘playing down’ the level of violence. In a typical round-up report on the activities and achievements of a club’s supporters at, say, twelve to fifteen away-matches, only one or two aggressive incidents will be recorded, which may not involve actual violence or injuries.

This suggests that levels of football-related violence are generally lower in France than in Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, although some serious incidents do occur, and further involvement of extreme-right groups may lead to an increase in violence.


In Sweden, there were 25-30 ‘serious’ incidents recorded during the 1995 season – an average of one incident per seven games. As usual, the term ‘serious’ is not defined, but this would seem to indicate levels of disorder roughly similar to those in Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

Like many other European countries, Sweden has seen a significant increase in football-related disorder since the early 1980s. One source69 suggests a rise of 74% from 1984 to 1994.

No up-to-date figures were available for Norway or Denmark. Norway is known to be relatively trouble-free. Denmark has had some problems in recent years – following the publication in 1991 of a research paper explaining why football hooliganism did not exist in Denmark70, and some sources suggest that football-related violence at club level is still increasing71. Yet on the international scene the Danish fans – known as the roligans –- are currently winning praise for their good behaviour, and even at club level the problems are marginal compared to Sweden.


Although numerical evidence is again lacking, most accounts suggest that football-related violence in Austria has followed a pattern familiar throughout Europe, with a significant increase in violence during the 1980s, followed by a slight decline in the 1990s.

The more peaceful trend is evident among the majority of fans, but younger and more violent gangs of 13 -15-year-old ‘Wiener Hooligans’ continue to form. The 1990s have also seen an increase in violent incidents involving extreme-right skinhead groups. These skinhead groups are small, but form alliances with larger groups of soccer hooligans to inflate their numbers.


Although there have been some ‘local’ clashes between fans of rival teams, and some violent incidents at international matches, most football rivalries in Spain are inextricably bound up with sub-nationalist politics.

This may help to explain the lack of data on ‘football-related’ violence, as clashes between, say, Real Madrid and Athletico Bilbao supporters may be seen as having very little to do with football. Members of HNT – Athletico Bilbao’s largest supporters club – describe the club as “a militant anti-fascist fan-club”.

Supporting a football team is clearly a political gesture: Athletico Bilbao draws support from Basques and anti-fascists living in other parts of Spain, who “identify with the values represented by the club” and claim that “when Athletico play in a final, 50,000 fans are cheering in Madrid bars”.


According to a 1996 fanzine of the ‘Section Grenat’ (a Geneva supporters group), the word ‘ultra’ means nothing to most people in Switzerland. A few groups of active supporters appeared during the 1980s, although their impact was limited. Some groups developed a reputation as ‘fighters’ in the late 1980s, but incidents have declined and are now rare except between ‘sworn enemies’ such as Servette FC and FC Sion.

No official data on levels of violence are available, but in an internet news-page report of fan activity at 15 matches, only one aggressive incident is mentioned. This involved only a few ‘fisticuffs’, and had already calmed down by the time the police arrived.


The formation of football fan clubs in Portugal is a fairly recent phenomenon, dating only from the early 1980s.

At the 1987 European Conference on Football Violence, Portuguese researchers reported that “no violent action has been undertaken so far by the Juve Leo fan club [the largest fan club] or by any other national fan club”, although they mention that “some of the language they use in graffiti is quite aggressive and provocative.”72 It is interesting, and perhaps worrying, to note that the language in question is often English (e.g. “Juve Leo Areeio Zone – Keep Out Red Animals!”), despite the fact that few of their compatriots read or speak English. Marques et al see this as evidence of ‘mimetic behaviour’ – direct imitation of British fans.

The major clubs appear to be similar to the French and Swiss, in that each will usually have one sworn enemy (e.g. Juve Leo and Benfica), but be on friendly or at least neutral terms with the supporters of most other teams. Their stated aims of ‘joyful and festive’ support for their teams, with significant emphasis on spectacular, colourful displays also suggest that rivalry centres on these elements rather than on demonstrations of toughness. Among smaller, local clubs, however, traditional rivalries between villages or communities can result in violent incidents at football matches.

Czech Republic

Czech football has no history of widespread or serious violence, but there have been some reports of incidents during the 1980s and early 1990s, mainly involving Sparta Prague fans. Recent incidents have occurred within the stadium, and involved attacks on opposing players73, although Sparta fans have also caused damage to trains en route to away-matches and been involved in street-fighting after derby matches74.

The national sports authorities are concerned about the behaviour of what they call ‘the flag carriers’, and commissioned a documentary film on Sparta fans entitled Proc? (Why?). Officials admit that this initiative did more harm than good, resulting in more widespread imitation of the Sparta fans behaviour - which started among crowds leaving the cinema after watching the film!

Following a train-wrecking incident in 1985, 30 fans were arrested, and warnings were issued that the authorities would not tolerate “the manners of English fans” in Czech football. National division clubs were then obliged to provide separate sections for away fans, and given the right to search spectators at entrances to the grounds. Further measures have included the banning of club flags and scarves and serving a weaker variety of beer at football grounds.


No general statistics or empirical data on football-related violence are available for Greece, but isolated accounts of violent incidents suggest that hooliganism in this country is currently in the ‘second stage’ of development (see ‘Conclusions’, below), with violence moving from attacks on referees to conflicts between rival fans, but still largely within the confines of the stadium.


Very little information is available, but a 1995 Reuters report refers to a boycott by referees in protest against increased violence in football stadiums. Although referees seem to be the main target of violent attacks, the report also mentions fighting in bars outside the stadium following a first-division match, where police fired shots into the air in an attempt to break up the fight. The issue of football violence was being taken seriously by the Albanian Soccer Association, who supported the referees’ boycott and planned to hold meetings with the Interior and Sports Ministries to discuss the problem.

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