Grotesque return to the past

disgrace in dublin: As violence makes a vicious comeback, Trevor Haylett traces the history of English hooliganism
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Freeze-framed, the grotesque television pictures that went round the world from Lansdowne Road last night could have been taken at any time during the turbulent 1970s and 80s, when the hooligan revelled in the damage he could inflict on football.

The twisted faces contorted into violent intent, the frightened faces running for cover from missiles: this was Dublin 1995, but it was also Paris, Luxemburg and Basle in years gone by. Scenes English football thought it had conquered and tamed, but which last night showed had merely been contained and suppressed.

Hooliganism has been called the English disease, but it is not true that it started here. There was violence at football grounds in South America before the Second World War, and Italian football suffered long before it took a hold in Britain.

Once it had, the problem soon became inextricably linked with the English game. In 1977, the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg was terrorised by supporters who had travelled to watch England's World Cup tie. They stormed into cafs, overturning tables, and caused £18,000 of damage at the stadium. Rene van den Bulcke, president of the Luxemburg Parliament and also of their FA, said he never wanted England supporters back in his country.

They were scenes that were to become depressingly familiar. In the 1980 European Championship in Italy, fighting broke out on the Turin terraces during England's match with Belgium. The police reacted by firing tear gas into the crowd. It drifted back on to the pitch and the game was halted.

In June 1981 in Basle, fans pulled down a perimeter fence and began attacking Swiss supporters. Three years later, there was £700,000 damage perpetrated in Paris after England's defeat by France. In Brussels, a Tottenham supporter was shot dead, and 200 fans held by police, following a riot before their Uefa Cup final against Anderlecht.

the nadir of English hooliganism came in 1985; the death of 39 supporters, mainly Italian, at the Heysel Stadium, Brussels, before Liverpool's European Cup final against Juventus. As a result, all English clubs were banned indefinitely from European competition, with Liverpool ordered to serve an additional three-year ban.

Despite the sanction, English fans continued to disgrace themselves on their travels. The following year, five people were stabbed in a riot involving 150 supporters of Everton, Manchester United and West Ham on a cross-channel ferry.

In 1988, the FA withdrew a request to allow English clubs back into Europe after a week of hooligan violence during the European Championship finals in West Germany. Ten months later, in an incident not directly related to hooliganism, 95 fans were killed at Hillsborough. It was Britain's worst sporting disaster.

That brought about the Taylor report, the imposition of all-seater stadiums, and additional measures to enhance crowd safety, including the use of video cameras, stewards and improved fan segregation. A special unit of the national criminal intelligence service was set up solely to deal with football hooligans.

As a result, trouble at club matches has waned, although in 1992 violence and destruction by English fans in Malm and Stockholm during the European Championship finals raised doubts with Uefa, the sport's European governing body, of England's suitability to host the 1996 tournament.

Recently, the nightmare has returned to haunt the domestic game, and prompt fears that a new generation of supporters were adopting old habits. At Stamford Bridge a week ago, Chelsea supporters invaded the pitch after their team had lost an FA Cup tie with Millwall following a penalty shoot- out, and clashed with police and stewards. Twenty police officers were injured, and 33 fans arrested.

Comments