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Something that has always put a rather dark side on the wonderful world of football is hooliganism. This excessive violence often covers the footballing world in a veil of shame and anger. Luckily, there are multiple laws in place to combat these incidents. Unfortunately, however, that does not mean that the occurrences have come to a complete halt. In the previous season, it was rather evident that although it is diminishing, the incidents still occur.
As long as most can remember, hooliganism has been an unfortunate aspect of the beautiful game. The most notorious hooligan incidents have been well documented, with the most shameful point being the death of a 14-year old boy in 1985 during a match between Leeds United and Birmingham City. Luckily, this horrible incident was the catalyst for certain changes. The largest of these were implemented to ensure that these violent football related incidents could be tackled. This was done through the 1985 CCTV Act passed by Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet.
What one might not know, is that Hooliganism has existed approximately as long as organized football has been around. In the 1880s, violent altercations were caused by predominantly young men referred to as Roughs who were often to be found at local derby matches. Slowly but surely, the violent altercations became more frequent and resulted in more precautions being taken. These included limiting the attendances and introducing fences to shield the field and the players on it from rowdy attendees.
As has been rather apparent, there are still occurrences of violence that takes place around football matches. In the 2016/17 Premier League season, hundreds of arrests were made. The most notorious club last season was West Ham United. In their 38 league matches, a staggering 65 Hammers’ fans were arrested for “Football-related Violence.” Of these incidents, almost half were occasions during an away match for West Ham. A distant second was Manchester United, that saw a total of 42 fans being incarcerated.
When it comes to disrupting the game, hooliganism has also played its ugly part. The most common disruption that happens is when there is a pitch incursion (when a member of the audience makes their way onto the field during play). In the 16/17 season, Chelsea was the club with the most arrests for pitch incursions, with a staggering 15 occasions – more than twice that of second placed Crystal Palace (6). That being said, the Premier League is not where most of the incidents happen.
When comparing the leagues and seeing how many incursions, violent occurrences and other hooligan behaviour happens, the Premier League actually can boast. Per 100,000 attendees, the top flight actually only has an average of 2.9 arrests. To compare, League Two has the highest average arrests with 7.1 out of 100,000 attendees. We have to of course take into account that there are far larger crowds that come to a Premier League fixture (and due to stadium capacity, more can attend) than in the lower tiers of the footballing-pyramid.
Possibly the darkest side of this shameful occurrence is the presence of racism and racially-charged violence within football. This first reared its ugly head in the early 1980s in England. It is not clear what percentage of football hooliganism is racially charged, but yearly there are dozens of footballers that claim to be racially abused – sometimes by players – but mostly by members of the audience.
English fans have been associated with Hooliganism for multiple decades now. That image was only reinforced when in the 1985 European Cup Final, Liverpool fans taunted and attacked Italian fans. Later, during the match, the infamous Heysel Stadium Disaster happened, in which 39 people lost their lives and more than 600 people sustained injuries. As a result, UEFA placed a five-year ban upon English clubs. This extreme decision by UEFA ultimately led to a decline in hooliganism.
Drastic decisions might have to be made to actually permanently remove any sort of violence and/or hatred from football. These decisions might include prohibiting the use and sale of alcohol within the premises of a football stadium. Whether this would actually work, still has to be proven. In the meantime, it is imperative to ensure that everybody gets to fully enjoy the beautiful game that we all love!
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