MMBlog

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hooligan story

(Mostly for my own records and access. You'll notice that the English differs a bit from standard American English -- For June 2003 edition of Beirut-based UniverCity magazine: distributed to American universities in Beirut and on some Persian Gulf campuses)

By Mike McIlvain

Get there late.

If there is a chance hooligans, or yobs, might be
outside the gates of a football match you are going to
then dodge them by missing the kickoff.

That worked for me last season at London's infamous
Millwall where I voluntarily allowed myself to go late
to a match that I was covering, something I had not
tried to do in almost 30 years as a journalist. By the
time I found my seat in the press section, the
hooligans were either seated, or had left. Those in
their seats faced large guards watching each stadium
vertical aisle from a chair placed at each would-be
entrance to the pitch.

The guards never watched the game, their eyes stayed
on the more potentially violent situation among the
hooligans in the seats. On 2 May of last year,
however, the aisle guards were not enough, or in the
right place, and many police and their horses were
injured in a riot outside Millwall's stadium, The Den.
Some of those jailed from that riot are expected to be
released in time for the 2003-2004 season late this
summer, but several have been banned from The Den for
eight years or more.

Police are still investigating closed circuit video
tapes from the riot to identify more hooligans.
Studying in London, which included its nightlife, I
had learned that a small amount of liquor in some of
that island's inhabitants often sparks a
confrontational mood and people worth avoiding there,
too. When some people drink, they get nasty and
England appears to have more than its share there.

Alcohol serves as the fuel oil for the fights, riots,
clashes and incidents associated with hooligans, but
these ne'er do wells have been studied since they
surfaced in the mid 1960s. Their presence has caused
problems beyond for the United Kingdom, the
Netherlands, Germany and other countries who have the
problem, or disease as some observers call it.

Britain's federal government has noticed and discussed
the sometimes fatal problems linked to hooliganism and
clubs have joined in against the thugs. A 29 December
2000 story in by The Guardian's chief political
correspondent Patrick Wintour, noted the xenophobia,
sexism and threatening manner of the hooligans and the
government's call for joint effort with the clubs to
curb the situation.

"Unchallenged racist or sexist remarks and threatening
behaviour can transform the communal and passionate
experience of watching football into a wholly negative
and intimidating one for minority community and female
supporters," the Home Office report said. "Many seem
to believe seem to believe that racist or xenophobic
chanting is the appropriate way to demonstrate
national pride and support for the English team. They
appear oblivious to how that behaviour is perceived
and then bemused when the host police behave
accordingly."

The Guardian story notes that hooligan behaviour at
football matches equals that frequently seen on high
streets in the weekend, in continental resorts.

"It is hostile, anti-social an dismissive of all
things not stereotypically English," the report
concluded.

Hooliganism, a culture of rowdyism which clings most
noticeably to the European soccer world, sends shivers
down the spines of average sport fans whose usual
greatest complaints focus on officiating or coaching.
England, the reluctant homeland of hooliganism, has
seen the problem spread to other sport venues, mostly
cricket, but eyes on the Angle Isle are keen for the
sort.

Most hooligans are stereotypically white and between
20 and 35. They do not all, however, come entirely
from broken homes: studies link more to upper-middle
class two-parent homes. Not all hooligan trouble is
found at football matches. Hooligans are associated
with the sport, but anyone in their path far from a
pitch can have problems.

"Rowdy groups of young people spill out of a pub, and
then rampage through the streets, roughing up each
other and anyone else unfortunate enough to cross
their drunken path," says an online BBC report. "This
is what is often perceived as 'yob culture'. The words
have now become a rallying cry for politicians in the
law and order debate."

The BBC says restaurant owners note yob culture from
bankers and lawyers, too. Some are seen indulging in
drunken behaviour, making sexist and racist remarks.
It may once have been excused as high spirits, but
yobbish behaviour has become a symbol for a decline in
respect for law and order. Most of the newsworthy
hooliganism happens at a stadium, or nearby, and
non-hooligan English people are raising their voices.

"I feel disgusted and ashamed of my country when I
hear of incidents overseas, caused by England 'fans',"
says one a male fan on the dooyoo.co.uk website.
"Football hooligans are one of the many things wrong
with this country's people."

"I have had the unfortunate experience of being caught
up in a bunch of hooligans, when I was in my teens,"
says a female fan on the same site. "It was a
terrifying experience which stopped me attending
matches for many years."

Former Millwall star Eamon Dunphy laments the start of
hooliganism, recalling its start in a road game at
Oxford in the mid 1960s.

"This was Sixties England, the Permissive Age. A small
band of aggressive young men were not intercepted at
Oxford Station and sent back to where they'd come
from, but rather permitted to go about their business:
to seek gratification through the incitement of rage,
disgust and fear in others," Dunphy says on
www.millwallhistory.co.uk. "The Millwall boys found
that by banding together, being uncouth, 'taking over'
a town centre like Oxford, pulling a communications
cord or two on the way home from matches and chanting
a few slogans, they could make national headlines.

"Over the next few seasons, gangs of football
hooligans sprang up all over England. The Millwall
boys had invented a new sport."

Some of the best football in the world is played in
England, but choosing your seat, and path to and from
the stadium is another new sport.

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