Football Violence Around the World

Violence linked to football matches is not new: the game was banned in England in 1314 because of fears of disorder, and violent events linked to football were recorded in the 1880s. However the worst decades for football hooliganism in Western Europe were the 1960s to 1980s, when gangs of opposing fans would often attack each other, sometimes in pre-arranged battles. In 1985 the climax came with the “Heysel Stadium Disaster” where Liverpool and Juventus were due to contest the European Cup Final. Thirty nine Juventus fans died when Liverpool supporters broke through a security fence and attacked them an hour before kick off. Since it was thought abandoning the match would cause still more trouble, the match was still played after both captains appealed for calm. As a result of the violence English clubs were banned from European competition until 1990, and the British Government began to take action against what had become known as “the English disease”.


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Since the 1980s, legal controls and more sophisticated policing have largely prevented violence between fans at English football grounds, and when trouble does occur it is more commonly away from the stadiums, in bars and city centres before or after the match. In England fans are segregated inside the grounds and visiting fans are kept locked in at the end of the match to allow the home supporters time to disperse. Visitors are escorted to their transport by mounted police. The introduction of all-seater grounds has meant it is less easy to charge at other groups of fans, and fences have kept people off the pitch. CCTV is used to watch known trouble makers and police and stewards move in to eject or arrest hooligans. The law has been strengthened in the UK to allow those convicted to be banned for life from all football grounds. Plain clothes police now travel with fans to away matches and monitor their behaviour. England fans who want to travel have to belong to a club and can be banned if they cause trouble.

Since the end of the 20th Century, football violence has been largely controlled in western European countries, but there is still a problem in some eastern countries, where hooliganism is often linked to far-right organisations. Serbia, Bulgaria and Croatia have seen significant violence connected to football, and fights between rival supporters in Poland have been common since the late 1990s, including deaths in Kraków. In some of these countries football fans have also been accused of racist chanting against black players during internationals.

South America has reputation for even greater violence connected to football, with Brazil and Argentina rivalling each other in deaths as well as in the game itself. In Argentina a recent enquiry found that 40 people had been murdered at matches in the 1990s. Gangs called “Barras Bravas” control the streets around Argentina’s stadiums and arrange fights between rival groups. They also charge fans for parking in the streets, and in some cases extort money from players and clubs. Some gangs have been found to be connected to a high level of Argentine politics. In the World Cup of 2010, South Africa deported a group of Barras to prevent planned violence between fans. In Brazil violence at football matches is often linked to criminal gangs that are also involved in drug dealing, and football-related violence in that country may have taken more lives than anywhere else in the world. Often guns are used and 155 people have been killed since 1988, according to one report.

In the 21st century football violence has even reached China, where it is often linked to a perception of corrupt referees and allegations of match-fixing. In some instances thousands of fans have rioted in the streets after a match, attacking the police and setting fire to cars. Nor is Africa immune to the phenomenon: Ghana, Zimbabwe, Libya, South Africa and even Mauritius have all suffered deaths from football-related violence.

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