Untethered to organised groups, but fuelled by drugs and wreaking havoc, hooligans and hooliganism present a real problem in modern football, writes Laura Lawrence.
The least surprising aspect of fans returning to stadiums as spectators is there has been an increase in public disorder. We’re an angry nation where war rhetoric is constantly evoked for every political gesture, and we’ve been locked up for almost two years. Of course there was going to be an increase in hooliganism. According to the UK Football Policing Unit, almost half of all matches (48 per cent) have had an incident of public disorder reported. It was 34 per cent in the last pre-pandemic season, 2019-20. The biggest increases have been in the Championship (58 per cent) and the National League (56 per cent). Arrests have also increased by 47 per cent.
Hooliganism tends to increase when society becomes depressed. It’s a microcosm of the state of the nation. There does however appear to be a difference from the 70s and 80s: the lack of organisation.
Professor Geoff Pearson from the University of Manchester told the Daily Mail that “these are not organised groups in the way the media used to portray them” and that “firms are not really a thing”.
I think we can all agree that groups of grown men calling themselves something that sounds like a bedtime story on Cbeebies, covering towns and cities with quaint yet semi-threatening messages, and organising times and places to punch people, is probably something that should be left in the past.
The modern hooligan is spontaneous, coke-fuelled, and still into the puerile hobbies of throwing projectiles and pitch invasions. They’re into pyrotechnics too so they can look oh-so-pretty on social media when they wave their flare in the air.
They’re antisocial, but then that’s also been said about younger generations before. Cocaine has been partly blamed for the increase. The drug lowers inhibitions and increases confidence and aggression. Crowds of fans on the edge of their nerves are bound to ignite.
The Football Supporter’s Association have suggested that this is not just a football issue, but that the use of cocaine is widespread throughout society. The FSA believe the police are using recent incidents as a ploy for securing increased funding. Having heard anecdotal stories of just how much white powder is marching through stands, concourses, toilets, and travel options, the police probably do need further targeted funding.
This disorder is likely to get worse before it gets better. Police are no longer hunting for known hooligans, watching for them to make their move towards planned pugilism. They’re playing catch up, which means more police on the ground and more sniffer dogs, more surveillance and monitoring. This in itself, if not handled well, could be the catalyst for further incidents.
We have to accept that we’re not going to eradicate hooliganism in football. They enjoy it too much to give up, but police are going to have to get a grip on the modern hoolie – and quicker than they currently are.
Follow Laura on Twitter @YICETOR