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Hooligans at a football match of Spartak Moscow in November 2010 Hooligans of Spartak Moscow.jpg
Hooligans at a football match of Spartak Moscow in November 2010

Hooliganism is disruptive or unlawful behavior such as rioting, bullying and vandalism, usually in connection with crowds at sporting events.



There are several theories regarding the origin of the word hooliganism, which is a derivative of the word hooligan. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary states that the word may have originated from the surname of a rowdy Irish family in a music hall song of the 1890s. [1] [2] Clarence Rook, in his 1899 book, Hooligan Nights, wrote that the word came from Patrick Hoolihan (or Hooligan), an Irish bouncer and thief who lived in London. In 2015, it was said in the BBC Scotland TV programme The Secret Life of Midges [3] that the English commander-in-chief during the Jacobite rising of 1745, General Wade, misheard the local Scots Gaelic word for midgemeanbh-chuileag—and coined the word hooligan to describe his fury and frustration at the way the tiny biting creatures made the life of his soldiers and himself a misery; this derivation may be apocryphal.

Early usage

The word first appeared in print in London police-court reports in 1894 referring to the name of a gang of youths in the Lambeth area of London—the Hooligan Boys, [4] and later—the O'Hooligan Boys. [5]

In August 1898 the murder of Henry Mappin in Lambeth committed by a member of the gang drew further attention to the word which was immediately popularised by the press. [6] The London newspaper The Daily Graphic wrote in an article on 22 August 1898, "The avalanche of brutality which, under the name of 'Hooliganism' ... has cast such a dire slur on the social records of South London." [2] [7]

The inquest was carried out by Mr Braxton Hicks who "remarked that the activity of the gang he referred to was not confined to Lambeth, but extended to numerous other districts. It was composed of young fellows who scorned to do a stroke of work, and obtained a living by blackmailing. It was a common practice for three or four of these men to walk into a shop and offer the shopman the alternative of giving them a dollar for drink or having his shop wrecked. In connection with the Oakley-street tragedy intimidation had reached an unexampled case. Witnesses had been warned that it would be as much as their life was worth to give evidence against John Darcy. On Wednesday plain-clothes men escorted the witnesses from the court singly. He himself had been warned - not by anonymous letter but through a mysterious personal medium - that if seen in a certain neighbourhood he would be done for. A magistrate had also told him that he had been the recipient of a like indignity." [8] [9]

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in his 1904 short story "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons", "It seemed to be one of those senseless acts of Hooliganism which occur from time to time, and it was reported to the constable on the beat as such." H. G. Wells wrote in his 1909 semi-autobiographical novel Tono-Bungay , "Three energetic young men of the hooligan type, in neck-wraps and caps, were packing wooden cases with papered-up bottles, amidst much straw and confusion." [7]

According to Life magazine (30 July 1941), the comic strip artist and political cartoonist Frederick Burr Opper introduced a character called Happy Hooligan in 1900; "hapless Happy appeared regularly in U.S. newspapers for more than 30 years", a "naive, skinny, baboon-faced tramp who invariably wore a tomato can for a hat." Life brought this up by way of criticizing the Soviet U.N. delegate Yakov A. Malik for misusing the word. Malik had indignantly referred to anti-Soviet demonstrators in New York as "hooligans". Happy Hooligan, Life reminded its readers, "became a national hero, not by making trouble, which Mr. Malik understands is the function of a hooligan, but by getting himself help."

Modern usage

Later, as the meaning of the word shifted slightly, none of the possible alternatives had precisely the same undertones of a person, usually young, who belongs to an informal group and commits acts of vandalism or criminal damage, starts fights, and who causes disturbances but is not a thief. [7] Hooliganism is now predominately less related to sport. [10]

Violence in sports

The words hooliganism and hooligan began to be associated with violence in sports, in particular from the 1970s in the UK with football hooliganism. The phenomenon, however, long preceded the modern term; for example, one of the earliest known instances of crowd violence at a sporting event took place in ancient Constantinople. Two chariot racing factions, the Blues and the Greens, were involved in the Nika riots which lasted around a week in 532 CE; nearly half the city was burned or destroyed, in addition to tens of thousands of deaths. [11]

Sports crowd violence continues to be a worldwide concerning phenomenon exacting at times a large number of injuries, damage to property and casualties. No single account on its own can be used to understand or explain sports collective violence. Rather, individual, contextual, social and environmental factors interact and influence one another through a dynamic process occurring at different levels. [12] Furthermore, any form of sport fan aggression should always be considered in reference to the wider social-structural and environmental context in which it takes place. Macro-sociological accounts suggest that structural strains, experiences of deprivation or a low socio-economic background can at times be instrumental to the acceptance and reproduction of norms that tolerate great levels of violence and territoriality, which is a common feature of football hooliganism. [13] Furthermore, social cleavages within societies facilitate the development of strong in-groups bonds and intense feelings of antagonism towards outsiders which in turn can facilitate group identification and affect the likelihood of fan violence. [13]

In British sports

In American sports

In the Soviet Union and Russia

Pussy Riot performing at Lobnoye Mesto in Red Square, on 20 January 2012 Pussy Riot at Lobnoye Mesto on Red Square in Moscow - Denis Bochkarev.jpg
Pussy Riot performing at Lobnoye Mesto in Red Square, on 20 January 2012

In the Soviet Union the word khuligan (Russian: хулиган - transliteration of the English word) was used to refer to scofflaws. Hooliganism (Russian: хулиганство, khuliganstvo) was listed as a criminal offense, similar to disorderly conduct in some other jurisdictions, and used as a catch-all charge for prosecuting unapproved behavior. [2] [35]

Olympic medalist Vasiliy Khmelevskiy was convicted of hooliganism for setting a costumed person on fire during a celebration in Minsk in 1979 and sentenced to five years of imprisonment. [36] Mathias Rust was convicted of hooliganism, among other things, for his 1987 Cessna landing on Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge next to Red Square.

Since the fall of the Soviet regime, nowadays, Hooliganism is defined generally in the Criminal Code of Russia as an average gravity crime. [37]

More recently, the same charge has been leveled against members of the feminist punk group Pussy Riot for which three members each received a two-year sentence on 17 August 2012. Hooliganism charges were also levelled against the Greenpeace protesters in October 2013. [38]

In film

See also

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