American Football: Potential for Hooliganism?
If you were to look at the history of football in Europe from the past 40 years, you’ll see how football hooliganism has declined. Obviously it isn’t eradicated, with small ultra-factions still in existence, but this is to a much lesser extent. But there have been two recent cases of a Watford and Cambridge United fan who have been attacked whilst supporting their teams at an away fixture.
Firstly, since the abolishment of standing at top-flight football games and consequently reduced stadium capacities, there has been a reduction in the amount of football hooligans. So much so, that most violence between football gangs is inevitably between the traditional football hooligan clubs. Most notably, the recent clash between Feyenoord and Roma in the Europa League which required great police presence only last month. Nowadays, it is very rare for football hooligans to meet and organise fights inside a ground. Instead, it is likelier to take place away from the stadium. But, since the expansion of Major League Soccer and the increased audience which it now attracts, there are fears that football hooliganism can soon find its way across the Atlantic.
However the American authorities have been quite good at showing their authority within the sports domain. When the first aspect of sport hooliganism emerged in American Football in 1997 in Philadelphia, as fans began to clash and stadium behaviour began to deteriorate, the police promised harsh sanctions on those who were violent, carried drugs or appeared to be excessively drunk.
According to Enner Valencia, the Colombian international who made a summer switch to West Ham following last year’s World Cup, he knew of the East London club due to Green Street, the blockbuster hit film which highlights the football rivalry between the Upton Park residents and Millwall fans.
"I knew about West Ham mainly from watching films," he says through a translator. "And I know the supporters were very passionate."
It could be argued that it is dramatic performances like this, and historical stereotypes which creates the image that football hooliganism is any more problematic in modern football than racism, homophobia or sexism.
In 2008, on a pre-season tour of the United States, West Ham fans appeared to have clashed with Colombus Crew supporters. Allegedly, the low-key confrontation happened when the Hudson Street Hooligans, a firm made out of admiration of the Green Street film, wanted to impress the opposing fans.
But there doesn’t seem to be any logical patterns to explain the emergence of hooliganism. Even when Millwall faced Wigan a few years ago at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final, there will fights taking place between Millwall fans. And who can say that opposing fans stimulate hooligan acts, as after all, who can remember any acts of violence at the recent World Cup where fans aren’t segregated based on their support?
Also, who is to say that football hooliganism even takes place as a result of affection between a club and a fan? In America, last week Chicago Fire’s home game in the MLS was very notable in the sense that after a poor start to the season, the number of fans who attended had declined over recent weeks.
This creates the impression that maybe instead of ‘soccer’ fans becoming emotive over their team’s performance, they just become detached from the game. This is strikingly different to the English approach, epitomised by the iconic image of a Newcastle fan striking a police horse. As it was once said, football is much bigger than life or death, an ethos which is yet to arrive in America.
Overall though, there has been a big decline in football hooliganism, especially for English football fans. In 2012-13, over 100,000 fans had travelled across Europe supporting English or Welsh teams in the Champions League or the Europa League. Out of the 44 matches, there were 20 arrests. Whilst it would be naïve to say football hooliganism has completely been eradicated from the game, it would be equally foolish to presume that hooliganism is the biggest problem the sport has to face.
Written by Matt Davis