Football hooliganism or Soccer hooliganism refers to unruly, violent, and destructive behaviour by overzealous supporters of association football clubs, including brawling, vandalism and intimidation.
Football hooliganism normally involves conflict between gangs, often known as football firms (the term derives from the British slang for a criminal gang), formed for the specific purpose of intimidating and physically attacking supporters of other teams. Other terms commonly used in connection with hooligan firms include "army", "boys", "casuals", and "crew". Certain clubs have long-standing rivalries with other clubs (usually, but not always, geographically close) and hooliganism associated with matches between them (sometimes called local derbies), is likely to be more severe.
The first instance of football violence is unknown, but the phenomenon can be traced back to 14th-century England. In 1314, Edward II banned football (at that time, a violent, unruly activity involving rival villages kicking a pig's bladder across the local heath) because he believed the disorder surrounding matches might lead to social unrest, or even treason. According to a University of Liverpool academic paper, conflict at an 1846 match in Derby, England, required a reading of the "riot act" and two groups of dragoons to effectively respond to the disorderly crowd. This same paper also identified "pitch invasions" as a common occurrence during the 1880s in English football.
The first recorded instances of football hooliganism in the modern game allegedly occurred during the 1880s in England, a period when gangs of supporters would intimidate neighbourhoods, in addition to attacking referees, opposing supporters and players. In 1885, after Preston North End beat Aston Villa 5–0 in a friendly match, both teams were pelted with stones, attacked with sticks, punched, kicked and spat at. One Preston player was beaten so severely that he lost consciousness and press reports at the time described the fans as "howling roughs". The following year, Preston fans fought Queen's Park fans in a railway station—the first alleged instance of football hooliganism outside of a match. In 1905, a number of Preston fans were tried for hooliganism, including a "drunk and disorderly" 70-year-old woman, following their match against Blackburn Rovers.
Although instances of football crowd violence and disorder have been a feature of association football throughout its history (e.g. Millwall's ground was reportedly closed in 1920, 1934 and 1950 after crowd disturbances), the phenomenon only started to gain the media's attention in the late 1950s due to the re-emergence of violence in Latin American football. In the 1955–56 English football season, Liverpool and Everton fans were involved in a number of incidents and, by the 1960s, an average of 25 hooligan incidents were being reported each year in England. The label "football hooliganism" first began to appear in the English media in the mid-1960s, leading to increased media interest in, and reporting of, acts of disorder. It has been argued that this in turn created a 'moral panic' out of proportion with the scale of the actual problem.
Football hooligans often appear to be less interested in the football match than in the associated violence. They often engage in behaviour that risks their being arrested before the match, denied admittance to the stadium, ejected from the stadium during the match or banned from attending future matches. Hooligan groups often associate themselves with, and congregate in, a specific section (called an end in England) of their team's stadium, and sometimes they include the section's name in the name of their group. In the United Kingdom, 1960s and early 1970s football hooliganism was associated with the skinhead subculture. Later, the casual subculture transformed the British football hooligan scene. Instead of wearing working class skinhead-style clothes, which readily identified hooligans to the police, hooligans began wearing designer clothes and expensive "offhand" sportswear (clothing worn without careful attention to practical considerations).
In a number of countries, football hooliganism is associated with nationalist and far-right politics, often at a superficial level such as crude racism. Racist abuse of non-white players is common in Europe.