Why do Football Fans Riot? – A Psychologists’ View

Russia vs england

The UEFA Euro 2016 is just a few days old, yet violence, clashes between fans and riots have been plentiful in the host city of Marseille, France.

On Saturday after England drew with Russia, fans broke over barricades in place to separate them from one another. A brawl ensued with many injured taken to hospital, with one Briton said to be in critical condition. The media are branding the fans in Marseille as ‘hooligans’ and the ‘real terrorists’. Football is widely acknowledged as the world’s most popular single sport and football hooliganism has long been recognised as a considerable social problem. Psychological research has stipulated that ‘identity is the root of hooliganism’ instead of the football events and experiences alone. Our identity is formulated through a variety of things such as our culture, values and associations. Central to hooliganism is the opposition of others, in this instance in France, the fans of the opposing teams. There are many suggestions of the origins of football hooliganism, one such proposal is that crowd violence results in some part from the rise of unemployment post the First World War, however this has been debunked by academics who have found evidence of hooliganism at matches dating before WW1. The consumption of alcohol has been another focus, but again many fans that are involved in aggressive acts have not necessarily been drinking and many stipulate that they steer clear of drink when at matches.

Instead academics believe that human aggression is a social occurrence and the autonomy that individuals feel within a crowd can strip them of the responsibility they would feel if behaving in this deviant way as an isolated individual. Research into riots and crowd violence have provided significant evidence that people are more violent and aggressive when part of a mob due to deindividuation, that is the decreased self-awareness that occurs when in groups. This deindividuation makes it easier for hooliganism to spread and for people to dissociate from their destructive behaviour.

What’s more is the tribalism that is central to the ethology between football teams. It is within us to share and make others aware of our achievements, however we also tend to associate and share in the successes of others such as the sports teams we support. In psychology this is called the tendency to “bask in reflected glory”. As well as associating with the accomplishments of our football teams, we also share the defeat in a personal way during competitive events that sees our team lose. This then leads to highly emotive responses and feelings of loss. Fandoms of all kinds have been found to be highly susceptible to ‘crowd contagion’, that sees individuals promptly mirror the emotions and behaviour of the crowd with which they passionately identify.

Following the last few days’ events security measures in Marseille are being questioned as in addition to the spectator violence, flares were smuggled into the stadium during the England vs Russia match, and let off shortly before the clashes arose. With France previously stating a tight security system in place due to fears of terror attacks there will now be investigations into the incidents according to UEFA.

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