by Henry Percival
From the early 1970’s to the mid 1980’s, you wouldn’t be able to attend a football match without there being a fight between the two opposing sets of fans. It was normal at the time, but what was once seen as something to look forward to every Saturday (for those taking part that is) did eventually die out. But in more recent weeks we have seen a small resurgence of these ‘hooligans’, albeit on a small scale this time.
Since the kick-off of this season, West Ham have been in the center of this re-emergence of violence. Back when hooliganism was a regular occurrence, West Ham had one of the most feared football mobs: The Inter City Firm. The name comes from the train service that West Ham fans would get on their way to away games, InterCity Trains. This is very similar to how the Portsmouth mob attained their name, the 6.57 Crew (6.57 being the time that the Pompey fans left Portsmouth and Southsea station to go to London Waterloo.) Since their move to their new home, the Olympic Stadium, West Ham fans have been seen attacking opposition fans on two different occasions. Once against Middlesbrough and the other against Chelsea. The attacks against Chelsea led to 7 fans getting arrested and banned for life. Obviously, hooliganism is something that no football clubs endorse.
One of the craziest things that football hooliganism led to was the creation of a political party. In the 1987 General Election, the 6.57 Crew, from Portsmouth, put forward its own candidate in the Portsmouth South constituency. Marty ‘Docker’ Hughes proposed a hybrid platform, which blended Ulster loyalism with demands for magistrates qualified by prison terms and duty-free booze on the Gosport ferry. Docker received 455 votes and 0.8% of the turnout (in the constituency). The amount of votes that Docker received in the election made the difference of Mike Hancock not being duly elected.
One of the central reasons that football hooliganism died out is the invention of CCTV, with those taking part in the mass brawls being fearful of getting caught. This was government led as they wanted a widescale crackdown on football and football related violence. But with the cult following of football hooliganism, the problem has never really died. Films such as The Football Factory (starring Danny Dyer as a Chelsea mob member) and Green Street (starring Elijah Wood as an American newcomer to the West Ham mob) have not helped us to forget about football hooliganism, with both being set post 2000. Nowadays if there is going to be any violence between football fans, it is pre-arranged and both sets of fans will agree to meet at locations so that the brawls can take place.
For me, attending a football match can be seen as a day out, often with fathers taking their children. But with the re-emergence of this hooliganism, are we going back to the ‘dark days’ of football? I certainly hope not, and with the added security we now have at football matches, I do not reckon that we’ll be seeing the mass brawls that occurred in the past.