The strange psychology of hooliganism

Date published: Monday 13th June 2016 9:30

Hello and welcome to your final English hooligan induction class. Before we put you on a train to France with your complimentary bottle of Jagermeister and 20 cans of white cider, please try and conform to our strict rules at all times:

1. Make sure you’re wearing your past-the knee shorts or ¾ length pants, preferably with a polo shirt. This is our holiday uniform.

2. Take off your shirt at the first opportunity. You must feel comfortable around lots of other half-naked men. Being naked is a very important element of your role.

3. Older men should have shaven heads and a roll of neck fat.

4. Once you’re half naked, next you must do the England dance. This involves bouncing up and down on your toes, with your arms out wide. Keeping your arms out wide at all times is crucial if you’re going to create the right impression.

5. Protect your pint or bottle at all times.

6. Chair throwing etiquette: The chair is your main choice of weapon, so you really must locate and be close to a good source of chairs at all times. Tables are optional.

7. Adopt right wing political stances and sing about them, even if you have no forethought about what the words mean. This is no place for socialist, liberal or progressive politics, this is the place for getting right up the bracket of Johnny Foreigner. ‘Ooo won the bloody war anyway, eh?’

8. And why not chuck in a couple about the crusades? Too soon?

9. Don’t forget to make outlandish patriotic declarations on Twitter about how you and the boys are going to give various terrorists a beating on the streets of wherever you are, even if it means taking a murder rap. Because that’s what a football tournament is all about.

10. Your Russian counterparts will turn up, as well organised as an army, dressed in English club shirts, wearing gum shields and with truncheons. It’s a typical foreign trick to be so well organised and to take no notice of your right wing songs.


OK, enough with the clunky satire. As someone who grew up going to football in the 1970s, I’m here to tell you it was, at times, horribly frightening. And, as a nascent hippy kid, the whole thing mystified me. Quite why being able to break someone’s face with a newspaper folded into an improvised brick (a popular tactic back then) was anyone’s lifestyle choice was incomprehensible. But here we are again. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Why are some people like this? Why do they want to do this?

I asked this question on social media and got lots of interesting suggestions ranging fromit being related to the disenfranchisement of the working class, the basic inability to cope with strong drink, the fact that all concerned are just downright massive thundering c**ts, a misplaced sense of superiority, the right wing press stoking jingoism, the feminisation of society making some men feel disempowered, hatred of foreigners supported by popular press and populist politicians.

Others suggested that these men are, at core, depressed and are trying to make themselves feel alive and valuable, in order to counterbalance their overwhelming sense of cultural and physical impotence and irrelevance. Someone suggested it was all Danny Dyer’s fault, in that the glorifying and glamourising of football-based violence confirms and promulgates the hooligan’s sense of righteousness.

So, in short, no-one really knows. It isn’t easily reduced and people are doing it for a variety of reasons.

Those of us who want to go through life as gently as possible to the point that we worry noise from our headphones leaks out when on a train really do look on at this behaviour as so alien. The very thought of walking through any street, anywhere in the world with my shirt off, fills me with dread and I’m not sure I can keep my arms held out wide for longer than a minute.

The contempt almost all of us have for them is obvious, but also curiously and utterly irrelevant to them. It is as though being a hooligan of any nationality is like being some sort of weird pervert. They seek out their own, despite the opprobrium of the rest of us. They seek out like minds who will not challenge their belief that being stripped to the waist, throwing a chair and punching people in the head on foreign soil is actually really bloody great.

Good policing and organisation seems able to suppress or snuff out this behaviour for a while (although UEFA and the French police have plenty of questions to answer), but it doesn’t seem to take much to return. It is a wound that can’t be permanently cauterised and the rest of us will continue to look on in horror.

It’s all very strange. Not so much a case of come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough, as come and have a go if you’re odd enough.


John Nicholson


For a detailed examination of the hooliganism in Marseille, and why simply blaming English fans is hasty, read Iain Macintosh’s piece here.

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