Hooliganism, like other forms of violent and aggressive behavior, can be traced to frustrated male needs for assertion, and the staunch identification with a sports team gives at once a sense of belonging and a clearly demarcated territory to "protect" (Farrington 1994). In this way, hooliganism fulfills a need that males who feel culturally disenfranchised experience in a sharp way (Farrington 1994).
Other scholars take a more historical view of hooliganism, tracing its origins and development in the twentieth century as a means of constructing a series of cause-and-effect sequences that led to the height of hooliganism and associated violence in the 1980s, and is possibly leading to a second rise today (Dunning 2000). Also included in this particular piece of research were interviews and other recorded statements made by hooliganism participants, and these demonstrated from a different perspective many findings similar to those of Farrington (1994): many men were feeling increasingly disillusioned and disenfranchised by ongoing political events, and these feelings were becoming increasingly evidenced in violent manners that hooliganism gave a direction and a sense of purpose to (Dunning 2000). The 1980s in Great Britain was typified by Thatcherism, which included the privatization of many formerly state-controlled operations, massive deregulation, and ultimately worsening conditions for the middle and working classes, and this can possibly be linked to the rise in hooliganism during this period (Dunning 2000).
A more complex psychological view of the phenomenon is found in the application of reversal theory has also been put forth, in which motivations align in such a way as to promote collective violence (Kerr 1994). Specifically, becoming intensely motivated by goals rather than an enjoyment of process and by the exercise of power with a sense of group identity can lead to hooliganism, and intensifications of these feelings can be noted in sociological and psychological studies of Great Britain over the past decades, according to some (Kerr 1994).
The origins of hooliganism in the cultural mindset and in the minds of individual hooligans are obviously quite complex, and there are many different explanations for how exactly these feelings and behaviors of hooliganism arise. These theories are not necessarily mutually exclusive, however, as they actually come to remarkably similar conclusions. It is a confluence of sociological, historical/political, and psychological mechanisms that produces violent and ultra right-wing hooligan firms, and unfortunately these firms are self-perpetuating, serving as attractions to other individuals that are experiencing similar reactions to their life course within their society and ongoing political events. In this way, hooliganism manages to remain strong even when it is not especially prominent, and changes in economic and political events can have a major impact on hooliganism levels, as well.
It is for this reason that legal action against hooliganism has become increasingly preemptive in nature, taking place at the legislative level rather than simply through brawls that have left hooligans, police, and wholly innocent bystanders dead (Johnston 2010; Julian 2010; Mackey 2010). It must be asked, however, if what has been done is enough, or perhaps even more pressingly if the legislative action that has been taken is truly appropriate given current knowledge regarding hooliganism and its roots. The answer to this last question is a fairly resoudning, "no," which can be demonstrated by an examination of the various legal and law enforcements responses to hooliganism over the decades.
From the 1960s through the turbulent 1980s, hooliganism was dealt with very matter-of-factly, though the results of this were hardly matter-of-fact themselves. Violent altercations were aggressively put down by police, riots were met with mounted police lines and men in riot gear, and missile-throwing at sports games themselves led to prompt arrests -- and often outbreaks of more violence which were then dealt with as described (Dunning 200; Kerr 1994; Mackey 2010). As police began to increase their presence at sporting events and throughout cities with prominent hooligan clubs on game night, it appeared that these brute force tactics might indeed have been working, when in reality it has been suggested that this merely created greater subterfuge amongst the hooligan community and that activities continued, albeit at a somewhat lower level and out of the presence of the public eye (Kerr 1994).
Throughout the 1990s, the hooligan problem seemed to have been fairly legitimately conquered. This actually fit the historical and sociological explanations that had been proffered regarding hooliganism's origins, as well, as increased liberalization and an improving economy helped to ease the burdens on the working class and presumably creating lessened tensions and aggressive frustrations (Dunning 2000; Farrington). The suggestion that the psychological drivers of hooliganism do not simply go away has also been made, however, and in this view hooliganism was simply moved into other avenues rather than the public displays of previous years (Kerr 1994). This almost serves the motivational factors behind hooliganism better, as a secret territory is more bonding and more vital to protect (Kerr 1994).
At the Euro 2000 Championship, however, things took a very violent turn. Hooliganism is not isolate din Great Britain, and natives of many different countries engaged in the full-scale rioting and brawling that took place at this event, but the British hooligans were among the worst and among the largest in number (Mackey 2010: Johnston 2010). It was in response to this that the United Kingdom passed a law limiting travel rights for persons identified as hooligans, and before the 2010 World Cup more than two thousand individuals were contacted and told to surrender their passports for the duration of the games; most complied, and several were arrested and await prosecution (Johnston 2010). This does nothing to combat domestic hooliganism within Great Britain, however, and while the World Cup did go quite smoothly in this regard hooliganism still remains a threat to the public as well as to law enforcement and even the very rule of law itself in Great Britain.
The political activity of many hooligan firms has been increasing in an era of increasing conservatism worldwide, mirroring the pattern that occurred in the 1980s with the rise of Thatcherism (Mackey 2010; Dunning 2000). It is possible that another spike in the level of violent action attributed to soccer hooliganism looms around the corner, and there have still not been effective legislative or law enforcement methods developed for combating this continuing problem. It is hoped that the above research provides some clues as to how to deal with this still-significant issue.
Dunning, E. (2000). Towards a Sociological Understanding of Football Hooliganism as a World Phenomenon. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research 8(2): 141-62.
Farrington, D. (1994). Childhood, adolescent, and adult features of violent males. In Aggressive Behavior: Current Perspectives. New York: Plenum Press.
Kerr, J. (1994). Understanding Soccer Hooliganism. New York: Open University Press.