Football in England, like football in America, is traditionally a blue-collar sport. It's even built into how the games are scheduled. Many stadiums are near industrial areas, so men can go into work on a Saturday morning, hit the pub afterward, and then go to an afternoon game. Wealthier people tended to favor stuffier hobbies like cricket, polo, hunting humans for sport, etc. That's changed over the years, but football's reputation as a pastime for the working class remains. And that's given rise to another reason to keep hooligans around -- sensationalism. Dougie explains:
"People like to label [hooligans] as stupid. [They] need to believe that, because it allows them to think that they're better than the hooligans. I think that's why the media's so fascinated with hooliganism, why they make such a big deal whenever something spectacular happens. ... It's the same kind of fascination that people have with shows like Jerry Springer, where you can watch people act like idiots and feel [superior to] them."
Except not even Jerry Springer would use the death of 96 people to push an agenda.
Now, your first thought is probably, "Of course people think hooligans are idiots. They're going around smashing property, beating each other up, and stealing people's clothing. Those are things that idiots do." But here's the unspoken message that always gets sent:
The lower classes love football;
Violent drunken assholes love football;
The lower classes are violent drunken assholes.
So, the photos and videos of out-of-control hooligans serve as a powerful piece of rhetoric all across Europe. In Scotland and Ireland, hooligans are divided along religious lines, whereas in Spain, the divide is political. Sensationalizing hooligans as a bunch of deranged hoods makes those divides even wider and creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Headline from The Sun. If the finger yobs have come out, then truly the war is tickedy flombled.
Headlines like "Murder On A Soccer Train!" and "Mindless Morons" aren't exactly presenting a neutral, nuanced recap of the facts. It's similar to how crime rates are down but most Americans think they're up, because sensationalized crime reporting attracts more eyeballs. Playing up hooliganism as an epidemic works well in the media, but it winds up perpetuating the social divides associated with the sport.
In other words, soccer hooliganism becomes kind of an object lesson in how certain forms of cultural stupidity can persist across generations. Like so many highly visible social problems, the question of "Why can't society fix this?" is answered with another question: Are you sure it wants to?
Dougie is a prolific author and screenwriter, having written Green Street Hooligans, We Still Kill The Old Way, Wings Of A Sparrow, and much more. You can check out his work here. Tommy Vinh Bui is mostly mild-mannered and holds multiple advanced degrees but has no compunction coming at you with a shrimp fork for besmirching Club America. Further harangues can be found here and here. You can read more from Mark at his website.
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