The dawn of hooliganism at the Euros

Football vandalism has a long history, but modern hooliganism is the product of the England of the 1970’s, when crime and violence were rife around football games. The rest of Europe soon found itself introduced to the phenomenon, as British teams travelled to the continent for European cup ties. As authorities struggled to get hooliganism under control, crowd violence led to suspensions from European competition for Leeds United in 1975 and Manchester United in 1977. The World Cups and European Championships held during the decade however, were spared the new violent fan culture. The reason was simple: England had failed to qualify for every major tournament since the 1970 World Cup.

At Euro 1980 England was present for the first time since football hooliganism had exploded into public consciousness. The England team, featuring the likes of Kevin Keegan, Ray Wilkins, Trevor Brooking and Tony Woodcock, was widely counted amongst the favorites. English clubs had won the European Cup four years running, with Liverpool and Nottingham Forest both winning it twice. There was every reason then, to assume that English fans would travel to support their team en masse. About 4500 supporters obtained tickets for England’s first game, in Turin against Belgium, through official channels. But in fact about 8000 Englishmen descended upon Turin and the surrounding area. Any hopes that it might be a peaceful affair soon evaporated as numerous violent confrontations between English fans on the one hand, and Italian fans or police on the other, marred the run up to the game.

In the Stadio Comunale things started relatively amicable, with England fans focusing on drinking (two trucks would be needed to clear all empty bottles from the stadium after the game) and cheering on their team. The mood changed when England’s opening goal, in the 25th minute, was followed within four minutes by a Belgian equalizer. Fights broke out behind the England goal as fans sought out those who had cheered the equalizing goal. Helmeted Italian riot police with truncheon in hand soon entered the stand to restore order. When their enthousiatic efforts failed to get the England fans onder control, the decision was taken to fire tear gas canisters into the stands from the athletics track surrounding the field.

All the while the match continued. That is, until England goalkeeper Ray Clemence started gesticulating wildly. It being an relatively windless day, the gas had rolled from the stands onto the field, and gotten into Clemence’s eyes. Soon other players also found themselves suffering from irritated eyes and the match had to be stopped to give the players the opportunity to wash out their eyes. After five minutes the game resumed. The match would end in 1-1, the score on the board as the violence had broken out, although England did have a goal dubiously ruled out for offside. But talk after the game obviously did not focus on that decision, but on the first instance of large scale crowd trouble at an international tournament.

England captain Kevin Keegan was apologetic about the violence: “I think this will make things even harder for us. We couldn’t count on much neutral support anyway, but now we can forget about that completely. I was proud of our supporters during the first ten minutes, but now I’m ashamed to be English.” The usually soft spoken England manager Ron Greenwood was even more emphatic in his condemnation of the hooligans: “We have done everything to create the right impression, then these bastards let you down. I wish they could all be put in a boat and dropped in the ocean.” Politicians would also have their say, with the English Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, calling the behavior of English fans disgraceful, and an member of parliament calling for the passports of hooligans to be confiscated.

It should be noted that the English FA had not been whole naive in it’s approach to the tournament. Fans buying their tickets through official channels had been screened. But with the tournament organizers struggling to fill the stadiums, tickets could be purchased at the stadium gates by anyone that showed up. As a consequence thousands of fans that had not been screened in any way were able to attend the game, many notorious hooligans undoubtedly amongst them. That blunder goes a long way to explain why England would get away with only a £8,000 fine when UEFA met to decide on sanctions a few days later.

The rest of the day and the night the sound of sirens would dominate Turin as police cars and ambulances rushed to and fro. When stock could finally be taken, 36 arrests had been made and 20 people had ended up in hospital, two of them very seriously injured. Bizarrely, the small Italian coastal town Colice Ligure, where part of the England supporters had settled in for the tournament, was also the scene of serious trouble. There 10 English fans ended up in jail after a large group of Englishmen had destroyed five cars and an hotel.

The scenes of carnage in and around Turin were repeated a few days later, as England played Italy. But a large scale confrontation in the stadium was prevented that day, with the Italian riot police out in massive force. About 3000 of them were called in to keep opposing fans separated. The ban on alcohol that was in place inside of the stadium also probably didn’t hurt in the organizers’ efforts to keep things quiet.