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Is football hooliganism on the rise?

Greg Devine


Football fans walking to stadium with flares

The very word ‘hooliganism’ reminds many people of a dark period. The ‘70s and ‘80s represented a scary time for football fans—back then, it seemed like going to a football match was more about throwing punches than enjoying the actual game.

As a younger football fan, however, hooliganism was something I heard about but didn’t really see. Yes, there have been times during games when some fans were a little rowdy, but never to the point where I thought something has to change.

During this current season, however, this point came.

As a Rotherham United fan, I’ve experienced most of the high and lows a football fan enjoys and endures in their lifetime. I’ve seen my club go from almost being liquidated and ceasing to exist at all to seeing them in the higher echelons of the Championship, just one step away from the Premier League. During all these highs and lows, never once have I felt the crowd overstepped the mark. I have witnessed violence on the fringe of games, such as a town centre fight, but never on the pitch or in the stadium.

My first concern was when Rotherham United took a trip to Fleetwood in January 2022. Fleetwood wanted to hold a minute’s silence to remember everyone the club had lost the previous year. These are normally powerful tributes. For a stadium of people to be silent whilst they take a moment to reflect is really moving. On this occasion, somebody chose to ruin the sentiment. Fans and journalists differ on the origin of the disrespect; regardless, it was felt to be in very poor taste by both sets of supporters. Rotherham felt obliged to release a statement on the matter: ‘Everyone at Rotherham United would like to wholeheartedly apologise to the players, staff and supporters at Fleetwood Town for the behaviour of a small minority of our fans during the minute’s silence ahead of Saturday’s game. We totally condemn the actions of a number of individuals who disrupted the pre-match tribute.’ There were also reports of these fans fighting amongst each other in the stands.

It didn’t show Rotherham’s fans in the best light, but as a one off, it might have been forgotten about eventually.

large crowd at stadium

large crowd at stadium
empty seats in a stadium

Unfortunately, the hooliganism-type behaviour continued…

A couple of weeks later and Rotherham United was forced to make another apology; this time, concerning a game against Crewe Alexandra. Something was thrown at the Assistant Referee. Not knowing exactly what the item thrown was, the club simply described it as ‘a missile’. The official that was hit by the object had to leave the game—reportedly, due to his injury. I don’t think this was the case, though I do believe that he feared for his safety. Nobody should go to a football match and feel worried about being attacked when they are simply doing their job.

The missile turned out to be a piece of chewed gum. Not that this made the situation any less shameful, though it was unlikely the official was injured. Used chewing gum! He may as well have been spat at, which would be disgusting at any time, but particularly so during a pandemic…to be hit by an object covered in somebody’s saliva. Grim.

Rotherham United said they were ‘embarrassed to once again be releasing a statement regarding the behaviour of a small minority of our supporters, who are not representative of the majority, or of us as a football club’. Once again, Rotherham’s reputation was soiled.

Something needs to be done about this minority, though, before the club is not just tarnished but punished by the league.

Sadly, things don’t stop there…

The same weekend as the Crewe incident, the EFL (the governing body for three professional leagues in England) released a statement. It said, ‘Our message is simple – those intent on causing trouble are not welcome at our matches and we ask you to ‘Stay Away’ ‘. Clearly, an issue is brewing up and down the country at various football matches if the EFL felt they had to make a statement.

It gets worse…

Fast forward a couple of weeks and Rotherham United played Accrington Stanley. Accrington was awarded a penalty in the final minutes of the game. As the player stepped up to take it, two people ran out of the home end, booted the ball away and attempted to strike the player. Luckily, the player wasn’t hurt, but this really must be the final straw. Now, questions must be asked—no longer can this hooliganism be swept under the carpet.

Of course, the club came out with yet another statement, but this time they took action too. Both supporters, if you can call them that, were arrested and banned permanently from Rotherham’s stadium. The pitch invaders appeared no older than 19 years of age; they were probably closer to 16. It’s worrying to see two young supporters demonstrate such behaviour that sees them banned from supporting their team at home games for the rest of their lives.

These three incidents all involved Rotherham United, but it’s not just my local team experiencing crowd trouble.

In front of a national audience, Nottingham Forest faced Leicester City live on the BBC—a heated game for fans, being an East Midlands’ derby. Joe Worrall scored for Forest. As a supporter of the club all his life, he ran to the Leicester fans to celebrate in front of them (perhaps this could be classed as incitement to a degree, not that this excuses what happened next).

A Leicester City fan ran onto the pitch. Punches were thrown. What was even more disgusting is the fact that the hooligan continued to attack Worrall…his team-mates were even forced to step in before the stewards got to the ‘fan’ in question.

UK football cannot return to the dark days of the previous century, where attending a football match wasn’t always a safe affair. I’ve seen that the pandemic and lockdowns have been used as excuses for fans’ disorderly behaviour. Well, we’ve all been locked away, and not once did I think, ‘I really fancy attacking a footballer’. I agree that footballers can also exhibit less than exemplary behaviour, but they shouldn’t be attacked just for doing their job.

Let’s stop the rot from spreading—now.

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