The English Tradition of Football Hooliganism

The 2018 World Cup is under way, and numerous stories warning of English hooliganism can be found in the press. ‘More than 1,200 UK football hooligans blocked from flying to Russia’, reports The Telegraph; ‘Mobs of ageing English football hooligans heading to World Cup to get “payback” for brutal Marseilles attacks’, warns The Sun; and ‘England hooligan firms’ hardcore UNITING to “wipe the floor” with Russian Ultras’ says The Daily Star.

Once again, we will hear about a tiny minority ruining things for the peaceful majority of ‘real fans’. But how historically accurate is it to claim that the ‘beautiful game’ is being sullied by the yobbish behaviour of a minority of modern fans?

Not very.

Football was, from the off, a game infused with violence:

Football originated, in a rudimentary form, in England in the thirteenth century. A game played between villages, often on religious holidays and using a pigs bladder as a ball, it was so violent it was almost incomparable to the modern form of the game.

Teams from rival villages would essentially battle with each other, the aim seemingly to kick the ball into the other village’s church. It was banned in 1349 by King Edward III of England, partially because he felt it was distracting his subjects from their military training, but also because of the social unrest which inevitably surrounded the brutal game.

But what of the modern game?

Even when football took on a form closer to today’s, social unrest was rarely far away. In the 1800s violent outbreaks were reported at matches, with the riot act having to be read out at a game in Derby in 1846.

As the nineteenth century wore on and the rules of the game became increasingly rigid the violence continued, with mobs either attacking the opposition’s fans or on occasion the players themselves.

English football hooliganism, then, is as old as the game itself.

Postscript:

See this interesting article on the origin of the word ‘hooligan’. The word was originally used to describe youth street gangs in nineteenth century London, who engaged in violence at a music hall, exhibited threatening behaviour, and were even linked to murder. Sound familiar?

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