Football Hooligans

“Are you trying to mug me off in front of my mates?” is the famous line muttered by Danny Dyer in the brilliant film “Football Factory”. But what established this interest in football hooligans?

Football hooliganism can be traced back to the Middle Ages where rival villages would jostle over a pig’s bladder. However hooligans in the modern game dates back to 1885 where a match between Preston North End and Aston Villa, of which PNE won 5-0, concluded with the home fans pelting their rivals with stones, attacking with sticks, and kicking and punching until they were unconscious. The following year, the same fans were at it again, fighting Blackburn fans in a railway station. However, bar a break for the two World Wars, football hooliganism was catching on and gathering pace and by the 1960s it was rife with 25 serious, high-profile hooliganism reports being submitted each year.

The 1970s saw a more organised take on football hooliganism, as links with the criminal underworld were forged. Many teams had now organised ‘firms’ including Manchester United’s Red Army, Sheffield United’s Blade Business Crew, West Ham United’s Inter City Firm and of course, the infamous Millwall FC’s Bushwackers. And it was the latter that would go on to make big headlines with notorious tales of football hooliganism.

A full scale riot broke out in 1978 at Millwall’s home ground, The Den in an FA cup match against Ipswich. Fighting commenced on the terraces, but before long rival fans were trading blows on the pitch and furthermore, the surrounding streets. Weapons of choice for the fans included knives, bars, bottles as well as fists and boots; even concrete slabs. Scores of innocent people were injured. Seven years later the Bushwackers were attracting tag-alongs – non-fans who were there simply for the thrill of fighting and coupled with an increasing level of far right political stances, action from above was inevitable. The unprecedented level of football hooligans led Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to introduce a “War Cabinet” with a sole aim of combating football hooligans.

Football hooligans weren’t just terrorizing the streets of Britain though. In 1985 a UEFA match between Liverpool and Juventus in Heysel, Belgium was the scene of a tragic accident as a wall collapsed due to the Liverpool fans attacking their counterparts. 39 people died and 600 were injured with the game being referred to as “the darkest hour in the history of UEFA competition.”

The game has now cleaned itself up and bar an episode that flared up recently between long time rivals Millwall and West Ham; the game seems to be finally shedding the rough image it was once accustomed with. However, the concept of hooliganism has also intrigued fans, journalists and writers, so it is no surprise to see that football hooliganism is a popular entertainment topic. Films like Football Factory, Green Street and The Firm are extremely popular with mainstream film fans, offering an entertaining insight into the murky world of football hooligans. Whilst it’s rough, violent and illegal, the story of football hooligans has, and will continue to, intrigue football fans for generations to come.