20 Years On – The English Football Hooligan & The World Cup
2018 marks 20 years since France 98, we explore how the English football hooligan has changed over the last two decades.
When we saw the scenes in France at Euro 2016 with a load of drunken English lager louts being chased all over the cities by well organised, finely tuned Russian Ultras, it begs the questions just how active is the English football hooligan in the modern game and how seriously do they take it these days? Over the last 20 years it could be argued that it has become harder for hooligans to get to grips with each other with the evolution of technology and the fact almost everything is monitored these days in some way or another. Hooligans who could at one time blend in with the ordinary fans have now been effectively stopped from doing this.
Above: France 98, England football hooligans set fire to a Tunisian flag.
England have a long and, to some people, shameful history when it comes to hooliganism. The 80s and 90s have left an ugly scar as English football hooligans fought their way through Europe and had the reputation that ultimately made the Russian ultras take them on in 2016. This couldn’t be highlighted better when in 1998 there were battles between England and Tunisia fans in……Marseille of all places. When English fans go to Russia for this summers World Cup there will be some apprehension among those just going to watch the football as Russian hooligans have already told English fans to watch their backs. It will be interesting to see the reaction of the Russian police come this summer as the Kremlin take their chance on the big stage and you get the impression that they may not want the World Cup ruined by a few gangs of ultras. The Russian police have had some practice this season as teams from England have participated in the Champions League and the Europa league but the real thing may be very different for them to try and contain.
Above: Euro 2016 carnage in Marseille as England fans come under attack from the Ultras and the police.
The modern English football hooligan may be very different to their predecessors in terms of clothing, rivalries and attitudes towards foreigners and most importantly, football. The traditional football hooligan was not really interested in going to see the game. To them it was just a warm up event before things kicked off with a rival firm. Recently, however, the interest in football is as big as it has ever been, as teams and players get more expensive and hyped up. Although, there looks to have been a renaissance, to how the English football hooligan used to behave, demonstrated when England played Holland in a recent World Cup warm up friendly in Amsterdam. Scenes of mobs pouring beer on passing tour boats on the canals and skirmishes with Dutch firms were reported by every corner of the English media and in the past few years this has become more and more frequent.
Above: England football legends at France 98. Michael Owen & David Beckham celebrate after scoring against Argentina.
One thing that has definitely changed in the past 20 years is that England as a football team are nowhere near as well supported as they used to be. As club football has become more entrenched in supporters, the England team has suffered as a result. This, along with the fact that England just don’t do very well at tournaments anymore has meant that support has declined. Many people (myself included) will choose alternatives to watching England these days who squeak past average teams, score four or five past dreadful ones and fall to boring defeats against good ones.
Above: Theresa May’s austerity measures have seen working families using food banks, homelessness go up year on year, police forces and the NHS cut to their bare minimum.
Politics also has its part to play in all this. It is no coincidence that when the country seems to be on the bones of its arse, that hooliganism spikes. It happened with Thatcher in the 80s and it seems to have happened over the last few years as well. This could be because there are working class people that fancy venting their anger and the best way to do it is to go and kick the fuck out of another firm. Even though this is partly the reason, without a doubt it is not the only or even the main factor so it would be unfair to totally lay the blame at Westminster’s door. Although, surely it is time to end Austerity in the UK? When the government need money for their campaigns, for example to partner up with the DUP, which cost around £1bn, wouldn’t that money money have been better spent elsewhere than to consolidate seats in Parliament?
Above: The official mascot of Russia 2018, Zabivaka, which means ‘the one who scores’ in Russian.
When England do go to Russia this summer, and if they are planning on firming up and putting club rivalry aside, it seems pretty doubtful that they will be a match for their Russian counterparts who are more organised and also highly skilled in street combat disciplines. Whilst the Ultras train in the arts of Muay Thai and street combat sports, the typical English football hooligan is probably more concerned about what lager to buy from their local off-license. You could even say with all the changes that have been happening, this could shape the next 20 years of England’s hooligan following and that’s no understatement given what has gone before.