Football-related fan violence is not a new phenomenon, especially in Europe where several groups have resorted to it (often repeatedly) since over two centuries, where it has evolved from two unhappy groups of supporters to political differences, race, xenophobia and so on.
Fan violence has roared its ugly head yet again, this time during the opening stages of the Euro 2016 tournament in France, where several groups of fans from some participating nations—hooligans, Ultras or even firms—have violently clashed against each other on the streets.
Chief among the troublemakers are some fans from Russia and England who took to the streets before, during and after their opening clash at Marseille on Saturday. The Russians were also officially handed a suspended disqualification by the organisers, UEFA, for their fans’ behaviour at the stadium. This included a €150,000 fine and a warning of expulsion from the tournament in the case of a repeat. The police, on its part, also arrested and jailed several Russian and English fans for their unsavoury behaviour. Groups of Russian fans have been deported from the country, while other have been detained, leading to a diplomatic row between France and Russia, with the French ambassador in Moscow being summoned by the government.
However, these acts of violence aren’t exclusive to just English or Russians, with fans from other countries, notably Poland, Northern Ireland and Albania, also involved in similar incidents during the tournament’s initial stages.
Here are five countries plagued by football-related fan violence:
England is where both football and fan violence began, and to a large extent, continues till date. Hooliganism in English football peaked in the 1970s and the 1980s, with its foundations in the rise of far right/fascist groups like the National Front and the British Movement. It even prompted then prime minister Margaret Thatcher to set up a “war cabinet” to take on hooliganism in the terraces of major clubs. It also included racial abuse of black players, with clubs who fielded them regularly, singled out. Though hooliganism in the literal sense of the world has ebbed since the 1990s, there are instances of fan violence, serving a constant, if not ugly, reminder of its past. Two months ago, the Manchester United team bus was attacked by West Ham fans, as it made its way to Upton Park, for what would be the home team’s last match at Boleyn.
In Italy, fan violence is mostly thanks to the Ultras, or fan groups that passionately align themselves with a football club, or in some cases, a political ideology. The Ultras in Italy have been in existence since the last six decades, with Torino’s Fedelissimi Granata among its founders. However, it was in the following decade that the Ultras culture in Italy spread and became mainstream. It took a new dimension in the 1970s, when Ultras aligned to clubs like Lazio and Hellas Verona became infamous for radical, often fascist, chants. The recent years have seen several instances of fan violence in Italy, with clubs being forced to play matches behind closed doors as a preventive measure.
And then, there’s Poland, where football hooliganism has been a constant since the 1930s, when it wasn’t as organised as it is today. It peaked in the 1980s, in part due to influence from similar actions in other parts of Europe (England, Italy etc.), when football-related violence and riots were common in the country. That culture has since continued, with hooliganism acquiring a political colour. Most fan groups in Poland, or scarfers, as they were popularly known, have predominantly far-right, ultra-nationalist leanings, demonstrated off-late through “anti-Muslim banners, songs” and even street marches and protests against refugees. Last season, at a Legia Warsaw game, the German publication DW reported fans chanting, “Lost sheep. Welcome to hell.”
The flares, the chants and the often intimidating atmosphere in a Turkish football stadium may make for great visuals on screen, but beyond them is a reality that Turkey grapples with on almost every match day. Hooliganism and violence has, over the years, become commonplace in Turkish football, largely thanks to passionate mobs, especially those belonging to the Big Three of Istanbul — Galatasaray, Besiktas and Fenerbahce. It is, however, not restricted to the elite Turkish teams, with the violent fan culture prevailing even in the local leagues. In April last year, the Fenerbahce bus was shot at by terrorists. Not just that, players and referees have come under attack from the stands, with objects like pocket knives and lighters thrown at them.
Russian football is rife with hooligan culture and violence, with the top clubs having firms of their own. They came into prominence in the 1970s and are regarded as one of the most violent hooligans in the footballing world. “Russian hooliganism,” according to the Financial Times, “is of a different and more sinister nature, one largely stamped out of English football after it deeply disfigured the game during the 1970s and 1980s.” It adds, “The Russian thugs inside the stadium are part of a culture of highly organised fan aggression. Their hooligan groups are often connected to far-right politics and sometimes to organised crime.” Hooliganism in Russia has also increased because of oversight by authorities. There is no clampdown on the violence, and as The Guardian editorial implies, the fan groups may even have the tacit backing of the establishment.