There was a documentary, Football Fight Club, on BBC 3 on Monday 11 August about the return of organised violence at football. I would have ignored it given that the BBC has hardly won plaudits for its accurate coverage recently, particularly with claims made in Panorama that it has had to step back from. However the Times TV page said that Tottenham’s Yids Army was one of the three “firms” they were going to focus on, which changed my mind.
Organised Violence At Football Returns
Apparently, the number of recorded violent incidents at football matches has increased substantially in the last 3 years. Sure enough, the programme highlighted the resurgence of gangs who associate themselves with football clubs and seek out fights with their rivals, using social media to actually liaise with their opponents to arrange them.
The programme made me angry and sad but also left some room for optimism. The one thing that all the gang members had in common was that they were poor and poorly educated and most seem to have suffered some form of personal tragedy, such as losing a parent at an early age. You could see the anger and frustration bursting out of them and the excitement they felt at the prospect of a ruck against an opposing gang. For most of them it was the only thrill and day out with mates that they got all week. It is so tempting for me to say that they were all as thick as sh*t and needed putting down, let alone putting inside for their violent behaviour but that would be far too simplistic.
Many people make the mistake of seeing an uneducated person as being stupid. That is not the case. Classic examples can be seen right back to the World War years when swathes of this country’s youth had their education interrupted by the war itself. Many of those that survived went on to be key workers in all sorts of industries but sadly never managed to fill the gaps in their academic education. They weren’t stupid and neither are many of the youths we are looking at here.
Also whilst the programme showed what they did, it didn’t go into why the despicable behaviour, so long absent from football matches, has flared up again in the last couple of years. There have been just as many poor, disadvantaged youths for the past twenty years but the violence of the 70s and 80s and 90s had disappeared for a generation.
The really sad thing was seeing inside a Tottenham pub where one of the old leaders of the last generation of thugs was proud to be mentoring and encouraging the new generation. He wasn’t asked why he was doing it, or how they felt they could get away with it again now when they have not done so for the past 20 years.
I guess some of the factors that helped to wipe out the violence for so long were:
- Introduction of all-seater stadiums
- Video cameras
- Banning orders
- Prison sentences
- Withdrawal of passports
- The inflated cost of attending games.
An Angry Young Man
I am disabled now and old before my time but I vividly remember how it felt to be an angry young man. I came from a small poor London family and had to go without the luxuries of colour TV, a family car and holidays abroad that other kids had. I had a chip on my shoulder as a result. I remember the thrill that came with winning a fight, particularly against bigger kids or more than one at a time but I never started a fight and never went looking for one.
I didn’t see the need to, or the sense in transferring my anger, frustration and aggression into violence towards any group of people and certainly not fans of rival football teams. There were other ways of working it out of the system. Working out, playing sport, attending rock concerts, sticking my head in the speaker stacks at the Rainbow, getting drunk (but never violently drunk). So if with my disadvantaged background I could manage not to turn violent, even when I felt like it, why can’t the hooligans?
Even more importantly, it was absolutely clear that whatever the reason for organised violent behaviour, it has nothing to do with being the supporter of a particular football team. There is enjoying organised violence and there is supporting a football team. It is convenient to hang one thing on the other but they are actually completely separate things.
They could just as easily call it “supermarket violence” and ally themselves to Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury and Lidl. You could have upmarket “firms” for Waitrose, John Lewis and even Harrods. It would make just as much sense as linking your organised violence to your liking for a football club. Some of these lads really feel that they love the clubs they ”represent” but they can’t really because their behaviour harms the clubs they purport to support. They are just fooling themselves.
Potential for Good
Some of these lads are clearly tough, even brave as they search out their thrills but it is so sadly misplaced. They have potential for good, not bad. I know bad seems cool to some but in the long run, when it is far too late, they may realise it wasn’t cool or clever at all. Or it may dawn on them that they have wasted their lives and ruined their future just because it was a thrill at the time and easier than doing the right thing. That was when the main redeeming feature of the whole documentary came through. It was heartening that this actually seems to be dawning on some of them.
- One of them is benefiting from the positive effect of his girlfriend needing him to be a father to his kids. He is writing a book on his life.
- One of them is clearly a talented boxer and has joined the armed forces. With his aggression and talent channelled in the right direction he could become a real- life hero.
- Another is becoming a musician and learning to play the guitar
Of course, in every group of people there are some that are just plain bad and irredeemable but that is no different in any walk of life, including the well-educated, well-heeled and privileged. Look at the recent publicity about fiddling politicians, corrupt bankers that brought the economy to its knees and lying police in the “plebs” scandal.
Choosing the right path….
The one thing in my favour as a teenager was that I got a good education and had two honest parents that drummed (sometimes literally) the difference between right and wrong into me. Like, “son, never hit someone first but if he hits you, you hit him back twice. Don’t start a fight but always finish it.” In the ‘60s and early ‘70s that nearly always worked fine. Back then though, youths generally didn’t carry knifes and definitely not guns. Choosing the right path is probably even harder now.