Hooligans And How They Work

“He’s half a girl,

He’s half a boy,

Torres, Torres.

He looks just like a transvestite,

Torres, Torres.

He wears a frock,

He loves the c*ck,

He sells his a*se on Albert Dock,

Fer-nan-do Torres,

Carraghers bit on the side…”

Since his glory days at Liverpool, Fernando Torres chants by the stadium-going masses morphed into the aforementioned. If you think about a context closer to home, the constant heckling and hazing of Tamim Iqbal or Shakib Al Hasan, or throwing trash on players or vandalizing grounds after a loss – we have, one way or the other, normalized these incidents as a spectating experience of watching sports.  Some associate such behavior to people being overly attached to their local teams or trying to find a moment of joy in their otherwise struggling and bland life, but we never really tried to look beyond the curtains to explain our irrational behavior using rational tools.

Vandalism in sport or popularly known as “Hooliganism” originated back in England when football was a different ball game. There were no rules and no cap on players in a team; it was commonplace to find 300-500 players a side, goalposts separated by miles of a barren field, injuries from ruthless kicks or punches and death from knives. This awkward game of ball was used to serve as religious rituals or to settle disputes and it went to a point where every trader had a team of their own. While the countryside enjoyed open spaces for their play ball, towns and villages had a lot of property damage and injuries, but that did not stop the game from being what it is – popular. It is surprising how Kings and lords allowed such cacophony of humans to simply divert their attention away from other important state affairs. After a period, even the distraction turned into a major problem.  King Edward II was quite concerned about the injuries and the lack of concentration of his soldiers; King believed the game of ball was just a waste of time and everyone should concentrate on improving their skills, and this lead the King to briefly ban the sport in 1314.

Despite a ban, the popularity of football remained in the hearts of people which transgressed all restrictions. The “civilizing” development involved the increasing abandonment of unrestricted number of people playing the game, according to local customary rules, and replacing them with finite number of players, equalized between the opposing sides and involved written rules that demanded players exercise strict self-control over physical contact and the use of physical force but sadly, that could not contain all the damage. Regardless, when continental Europe started to pick the game up, they inevitably picked up the bad stuffs that came along in the package. With the British Empire planting their seeds all around the globe during the middle of last millennium, it didn’t take long for the phenomena to spread all over the globe – from Australia to the land of white freedom, otherwise known as the US of A.

Hooligans, more often than not, are highly organized groups of cohort that take their sports fanaticism and allegiance for their club to new heights through attacking each other (and innocents) in conjuncture to local and international soccer matches. In the last century, Europe experienced a predominantly “white male with working class background and upbringing” brand of hooliganism. With globalization of the game and the subsequent phenomena, they gained a more organized and militaristic approach.

Rise of their behavior can be traced back to our deep desire of acknowledgement and association with a powerful social setting. There are hierarchies among local hooligan groups, namely the Top Boys, and they are determined by the “last man standing” criteria. The working class background, where it is a daily struggle to simply live, consider the idea of being influential in a social setting, however unethical that might be as largely appealing. From beginning to take charge of your local street to calling sportspeople with different names at a game – it all seems empowering. In modern day sports, confining this phenomenon to only a working class, white male background is to ignore how this has steadily seeped into the educated university-going class of the audience demography. In the case of Bangladesh, one look at the social media crystallizes everything.

There are external factors involved in the rise of this behavior. People who struggle daily to exist, seldom stay in a jovial mood or look to particularly obey the law when fueled by violent streaks. In most cases of vandalism, the authorities tend to handle it harshly and with extreme prejudice. This, in turn, fuels future conflicts. Secondly, the media attention to such conflict also tends to fuel their aggression. The idea of appearing in the news and more people being informed about their “heroic” exploits is rather a reason for many to delve into this kind of behavior. Lastly, for Western nations and some cases in the sub-continent, the role of alcohol is self-explanatory.

All of us had instances while acting in groups that we are not particularly proud of. We are a passionate bunch when comes to supporting sport teams or ideas that we strongly believe in, and maybe I speak on behalf of many all around the globe. We all love a bit of banter, and why not appear a bit witty in front of others? As with everything, there is always the invisible line that we need to constantly remind ourselves of. If we have the energy to shout, to plunder and to hurt the innocent, let us divert our energy to build something good instead.