Football Firms

Violence at football matches has a long history in the UK. During the 19th century "roughs" were often reported as causing trouble at games. Their targets were not only opposing fans but also players and officials. Some of the worst incidents arose at matches between local rivals.

Between the wars behaviour improved at the grounds but with the changing social scene of the 1960s football grounds gained a reputation as a place where fights regularly took place. Some blamed the televising of football because it gave the fans the chance to disrupt games and seek notoriety. It became common for groups of fans willing to fight to congregate in area of the ground often on the terraces behind one of the goals. The use of "Football Special" trains perhaps also played it’s part. These were trains designed to keep football fans away from the general public. They were the oldest rolling stock often without toilets but still serving alcohol. They may have reinforced the sense of "us against the world in the minds of fans." This led to an almost "gang" identity which in the following decades would become known as, "The Firms."

The firms

During the 1970’s a variety of "firms" emerged around the country. You can take your pick from, "The Herd" at Arsenal, Aston Villa’s "Steamers" or "Newcastle Mainline Express" (NME) on Tyneside. Major incidents included the stabbing to death of a young Blackpool fan at a home game against Bolton Wanderers in 1974 and riot at an FA cup quarter final between Millwall and Ipswich in 1978. Millwall were also involved in a riot at the 1985 cup quarter final at Luton Town. Perhaps the most infamous of all were West Ham’s "Inter City Firm" or ICF.


The ICF became well known through films such as, "The Firm" "Green Street" and "Rise of a Footsoldier." The name arose from their use of the rail network when travelling to confront rival firms which usually involved fighting fans and vandalising pubs. They also literally left their calling card, a business card with the message," Congratulations you have just met the ICF (West Ham United)." Perhaps their most fierce battles were with rival local firm the "Millwall Bushwhakers."The ICF have been accused of being racist and a neo Nazi organisation but this has been denied by former ICF "General" the black Londoner Cass Pennant now the author of eight books about football violence.

The casuals A new breed of fan also began to appear. Fans dressed in smart casual clothes. Some say it made it easier to travel abroad as the authorities were looking for stereotypical skinheads. Some sources date it back to the 1970s when Liverpool were a dominant force in Europe and fans returned with designer French and Italian sportswear. Brands such as Pringle, Burberry and Paul Smith all became fashionable at grounds around the country Rivalry now grew between firms not only about football but also who had the coolest clothes and listened to the best music. Some say it was never about a particular type of music or fashion item it was simply about proving that this set of fans was number one.

Foreign fields In 1996 the Social Issues Research Centre released a report entitled, "Football Violence and Hooliganism in Europe." It identified how violence grew through three stages. At stage one violence was usually directed at players and officials.. At stage two violence developed between opposing fans in the stadium and in the final stage confrontations develop away from the stadiums between rival fans. They noted that it occurred across Europe but had no universal causes. Causes varied between countries but rising juvenile crime and delinquency did seem to be common social problems. The problem was seen to be worst in Italy, Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium where some 10% of games had violent incidents recorded.

Why did it decline? The move to all seater stadiums and the banning of alcohol on match days have thought to have contributed greatly to the reduction of violence but many people point to the Heysel disaster of 1985 as a turning point. Liverpool fans charged rival Juventus supporters causing a wall to collapse resulting in the death of 39 people. English teams were banned from European competitions for five years. Increasingly legislation was used to bring about change. Public order acts made it possible to ban supporters from football grounds. The 1989 Football Spectators Act allowed convicted hooligans from attending international matches which was later extended to domestic fixtures. "The 1991 Football Offences Act" made it an offence to throw objects onto the pitch, take part in racist or indecent chanting and setting foot on the pitch without authority.

What is the situation today? During the 2010/11 season the total number of people arrested at international and domestic fixtures in England and Wales was 3089 a decrease of 9% from 2009/10. There were no arrests at 71% of games and two or less at 86% of games. There were no football related arrests of English or Welsh supporters at any overseas fixtures. Does this mean the firms have gone bust? If you spend a little time searching the internet you will find evidence of them. Indeed the ICF has a Facebook page and a Twitter Account.

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