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Hooliganism: Did It Ever Go Away? Who Foots The Bill?

Is football hooliganism in the U.K. more prevalent than ever?

In an age of astronomical transfer fees, CCTV, better policing methods, higher ticket prices & all-stadium seating, one would think not. Aren’t we always led to believe that football in the U.K. has emerged triumphantly out of the dark ages of the 70′s & 80′s? It seems that in the Premier League, more supporters are concerned with winning the league, catching that last European spot, or avoiding relegation. Are the lower leagues in Britain contributing to more unruly fans? Where is the problem originating from?

According to a recent podcast from BBC’s 5 Live Football Daily, the aforementioned variables did in fact contribute to a decline in the “English disease”. It seems there’s less & less trouble in stadiums, but in turn, there has been more trouble outside stadiums, in city centers & on trains. Chief Constable Andy Trotter of the British Transport Police spoke on the subject during the 09/02/09 broadcast. “I don’t think it’s ever gone away, we’ve just suppressed it“. Trotter also states “more arrests each year“, & “it’s gotten worse each year, for the last five years“. The number of football related arrests last year was 838.  That’s a pretty staggering number & up from 600 the previous year. Trotter also confirms these incidents are not isolated & stated incidents span from Scotland to Plymouth. He’s most concerned with the nature & number of incidents with reports ranging from racial abuse & sexual assault to public urination & the smashing up of train carriages. He sums it up simply with, “we arrest more than ever, yet the behavior still seems to go on“. Some point to the lingering recession as cause for the behavior, but Trotter thinks otherwise. “ I think it’s something about lack of control”.

Whatever the root of the problem is, the fact of the matter is that there is still a blight on the face of football in the U.K. Problems still occur every weekend up & down the country by people not policing themselves & drinking too much. “We’ll continue to cope“, Trotter reluctantly states.

But a question soon surfaces as to where the finger ultimately gets pointed. Who’s problem is this? There are considerable costs in policing football these days. It’s hard & expensive to control. Far more police are needed in football than are required in other sporting events & more police are needed across the country to assure safety. In a day & age where everyone’s budgets are under intense scrutiny, who foots the bill for the increased police presence? Is this football’s problem, or society’s?

Police continue to see a trend in hooligan firms communicating via the internet to organize large scale brawls at or near train stations & it’s the police who currently have to foot the majority of the bill to fight against the violence. There’s another battle raging though, police are asking the clubs to contribute around 10 million pounds more per year to help out. Clubs feel they’re already paying enough tax as it is & are already relying more on stewards to help police inside grounds than officers at matches.

Also included in the 5 Live broadcast was Chairman of Hull City FC Paul Duffen. Duffen took the stance that the people who participate in this kind of behavior cannot realistically call themselves football fans. “How on earth can you blame football for the vices of society?”- Duffen pointedly asks. He went on to take the stance that tax payers should cover the cost of additional policing because it’s ultimately tax payers who cause the trouble.

Is it time for football to step in & help pay (more) for the cost of additional policing outside of grounds & on transports? Or should clubs only be responsible for what takes place inside their grounds? What’s the root of unruly & violent behavior in the U.K.? Can everything be blamed on the drinking-yob-culture?

Whatever the answer is, these people cannot expect to be taken seriously as football fans. They may support a club, but the second their behavior turns to destruction & violence, they forfeit their right to the beautiful game. At this point, they’re mindless thugs. As an American trying to find his place in world football, I can assure anyone not from this country that most average Americans still associate football in England & the U.K. with hooliganism. The actions of these mindless people continually take the game a step back at home & abroad.


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