Now the simple answer is that street gangs exist 24/7 with the sole intention of bullying and exploiting to further their own activities. They have little or no respect for anyone or anything yet demand it as their right simply through their very existence.
The hooligan gangs are very different. The catalyst for their existence is and always was football and in the vast majority of cases, certainly in my experience, the only thing they are really interested in these days is confrontations with those who wish to confront them. And I use that term confront advisedly. The changing nature of hooliganism and the impact of policing on football have changed things dramatically over the last decade or so but that’s another blog entirely.
The other important thing to note is that the hooligan gangs tend to exist as proper entities only on match days which is when they come together as a group to enjoy their weekly buzz of football and its culture. For the rest of the time the majority of those involved are normal citizens going about their normal business.
This was and is a very simplistic but pat answer. However, whilst considering it in the wake of the riots (and they were riots, not protests) I have been forced to confront a few home truths. For whilst it’s all well and good for me to sit here condemning the vandals, the looters and yes, the murderers, the simple truth is that they weren’t doing anything that football hooligans didn’t do in the past.
Back in the ‘70’s, football fans used to lay waste to town centres on match days with London almost a war zone on occasions and most can recall the devastation England fans caused on their travels at the time.
Equally, anyone who knows anything about the Casual culture knows that a fundamental element of the early days was the fact that the expensive clothes worn back then were rarely ever paid for but were instead liberated. Often through the simple act of invading high-end clothes or sports shops en-masse and emptying the racks before anyone could stop it happening or even on occassions, through the act of ‘taxing’. An activity which involved an individual handing over his gear by way of a charge (or tax) for being somewhere he shouldn’t! Furthermore, jewellers were often targets especially in the West End of London whilst motorway services were on occasions stripped all but bare by coach loads of football lads which is one of the reasons why they were eventually banned. And sadly, plenty of people have died as a direct result of football hooliganism over the years.
As a consequence of this reflection, I have been forced to become a little less judgemental when it comes to those who have ended up in court. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that anyone who ends up in front of either a magistrate or a judge deserves everything they get but it is fair to say that I know only too well that some of those arrested will indeed have been swept up in things and will have been doing things that they might not necessarily have ever considered doing before. It’s called ‘mob-mentality’ or as my dad used to call it ‘like-mind’.
Dr Clifford Stott of Liverpool University (a man who oddly enough seems to have founded much of his early career on the content of my books) argues that this phenomenon doesn’t actually exist but having experienced it first hand on many occasions over the years and witnessed it on far more, I would argue that Dr Clifford Stott is talking bollocks.
As I say, it is no defence and it is certainly no excuse. But maybe, just maybe, we should consider the idea that some of those who claim to have been caught up in things do actually have a legitimate case. And in such circumstances is either prison or a criminal record really the best punishment to be handed down?
Especially when some kind of public apology together with a bit of community reparation would serve equally well if not better.