A view from the terraces

Football Hooligans
June 7, 2002

Academic study of football hooliganism is not underrepresented. Studies and analyses have abounded, with sports studies becoming both an adjunct to more widely accepted disciplines and an area worthy of study in its own right. Even without "hooligan biographies", football hooligans are rarely far from the newspaper editor's gaze, and their representation often fuels parliamentary and legislative panic. Within that context, another book on football hooliganism could be seen as one too many. However, Gary Armstrong's volume is a rarity in that it caters both for the general and the specialist reader, and, perhaps more important, is a clear labour of love.

This is not a purely academic or anaesthetised tome. Armstrong's work centres on his own experiences as a Sheffield United fan, and the work charts his participant observation framed by his "cultural competence" and position as a "marginal native", allowing him access to original and fascinating material.

The book begins with a series of chapters of orientation, chronicling both the background and context to football hooliganism (why football provides the space/place for conflict), and specifically the interrelationship between "Blades" and "Owls", Sheffield's key competing football factions. This part charts both the enmity and the alliances and provides fascinating reading.

Armstrong goes on to look at media accounts of the subject, centering on Sheffield and touching on the impact and effect of Sheffield's most poignant testimony to football, Hillsborough. Chapters five and six deal with issues of control and policing, concluding with a section on the sanitisation of football. It would have been useful to have had more details of how this works in practice and how football clubs and the authorities have pursued the policy.

Armstrong's analysis perhaps underrepresents the role of the law, although he does touch on some of the broader public-order issues and details the impact of CCTV as a controlling force well.

Other chapters deal with what might be termed socio-geographical issues, such as locating the hooligan in terms of city, social status and issues of territory. Particularly interesting is the account in chapter eight of the space/place of the football ground.

This is a book that wears its heart on its sleeve and is contemptuous of some approaches that the author feels have dismissed his theories out of hand. It is a well-researched, well-written volume, in which Armstrong's affection for his club, his work and the people he observed while writing it shows through. While not all will agree with his conclusions, all should be impressed by his passion.

Guy Osborn is senior lecturer, Centre for the Study of Law, Society and Popular Culture, University of Westminster.

Football Hooligans: Knowing the Score

Author - Gary Armstrong
ISBN - 1 85973 952 0 and 957 1
Publisher - Berg
Price - £39.99 and £14.99
Pages - 361

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