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Football hooliganism from the standpoint of extremism

Josef Smolík


This paper is focused on the problem of football hooliganism and attempts to explain some displays at football stadiums from the standpoint of extremism. Football hooliganism is a topic that has been directly addressed by an interdisciplinary approach in the social sciences, sociology, psychology, social pedagogy, social pathology, legal science, history and others. The question is to what degree politics may contribute to research into the phenomenon of football hooliganism in the context of research (political) into extremism.
Football hooliganism and violence (not just) at football stadiums is primarily a social problem, which from the standpoint of political research, does not contain any political attributes and is not a political topic or even a topic for research into extremism and radicalism (cf Mareš 2003: 433). Despite this, football hooliganism has been politicised (by some actors in football hooliganism, the media, police, etc.).


football hooliganism, hooligan gangs, extremism and radicalism, extreme attitudes

Football hooliganism

Over nearly the past forty years, the negative behaviour of football fans has often been discussed. British social psychologists and sociologists have called this phenomenon football hooliganism (cf Smolík 2002; Smolík 2003).
Football hooliganism is a concept used to describe asocial and anti-social activities by fans of individual football clubs. Hooligan itself appeared in the 19th century in London after an Irish immigrant family called Hooligan or Houlihan. The concept was later used as a general description for any criminal or disorderly conduct. Football and hooliganism have been linked since the sixties, when it was necessary to name this new manifestation at English stadiums. Modern football hooliganism was formed and influenced by some sub-cultures of this period (mods, bootboys, skinheads etc.) (cf Bastl 2001; Mareš 2001; Mareš 2003; Smolík 2001; Beyer 2002; Mareš, Smolík, Suchánek 2004).
In other European countries, similar behaviour was observed approximately ten years later. The main research and theoretical starting point for football hooliganism appeared at the end of the sixties of the twentieth century thanks to sociological, psychological and anthropological research conducted by the English scientists Ian Taylor, John Clark, Stuart Hall, Peter Marsh, John Williams and others.
Currently, the issue of football hooliganism has received attention not just from the aforementioned, but also from social scientists such as G. Carnibella, A. Fox, K. Fox, J. McCann, A. King, T. Smith, E. Dunning, S. Redhead and others (cf Marsh et all. 1996; Marsh, Rosser, Harré, 1978).
There is no dispute about the fact that the peak of football hooliganism was in the 1980´s, which was characterised by an escalation of violence, aggression and disturbances at football matches, both before and after the match. Hooliganism had become an increasingly greater problem far from football stadiums by the eighties and nineties.
As King asserts (1997), already by the end of the seventies and at the beginning of the eighties, it was increasingly difficult to provoke clashes between individual groups directly at the stadium and take the “end”, which led hooligans to opt for a new strategy. They began to wear informal clothing that was not connected with the club, thus enabling them to avoid police supervision and to carry individual clashes to the streets. Marked manifestations of football hooliganism include incursions onto the pitch, throwing objects onto the playing surface and at players, disturbances, vandalism, verbal as well as violent conflicts leading to aggression between hooligans and referees, hooligans and players, hooligan groups against one another.

Football hooliganism in Czechoslovakia and in the Czech Republic

In the Czechoslovakia, displays of football hooliganism appeared entirely spontaneously in the eighties, but since the nineties, the Czech Republic ranks among many countries in which there has been an activation of hooligan groups. It is also possible to refer to a hooligan sub-culture in connection with football hooliganism.
In the hitherto development, two stages of football hooliganism may be noted in the Czech Republic. The first stage is characterised by disorganised football violence and disturbances. By comparison, the second stage may be characterised by organised hooligan gangs as well as independent hooligan clashes. This second stage can be dated to the second half of the nineties. Currently in the Czech Republic, approximately 30 such organised gangs are operating, of whom the most active support the football clubs Sparta Praha, Baník Ostrava. Slavia Praha or 1. FC Brno (see Table 1, cf. Mareš, Smolík, Suchánek 2004). Some of these hooligan gangs have also been profiled as political (e.g. JKG is generally viewed as a far right wing gang, while hooligans of Bohemians Praha are seen as in the far left camp). The problem of football hooliganism in the Czech Republic is resolved in the context of politics through internal security and by the activities of the anti-extremist unit of the Police of the CR.

Tab. 1: Hooligans and Ultras in Czech Republic

Football Club:

Hooligan/Ultras Gang/Gangs:

1. FC Brno

Johny Kentus Gang (JKG), Othodox Fans Brno, Torcida, Ultras, Division S

AC Sparta Praha

Brigade Drápek z Lasičky, Ultras Sparta, Red Pirates Sparta, Frakce Rudý Úder

Baník Ostrava

Apple Commando, BARABI, Marienbad Ultras

SK Slavia Praha

Slavia Hooligans, Brigate 97, Slavia Youngsters, Tlupa Toma Sojera

Slovan Liberec

Kategorie S, Ultras Liberec, D.B.S.

SK Sigma Olomouc

Hovada Zubr, Ultras Nové Sady

SFC Opava

Bulldog Corps

FK Jablonec

Corps Juniors

CU Bohemians Praha

Berserk Bohemians, Tornado Boys


Brüx Vandals

FK Viktoria Žižkov

Ultras Viktoria

FC Viktoria Plzeň

Blue-Red Wolves Plzeň, Pilsen Bo!s, Radikálové Plzeň, Pilsen Fans

FK Teplice

Division Nord, North Warriors

České Budějovice

Brigade Gauners

Source: Mareš, Smolík, Suchánek 2004: 135-137

In connection with right wing extremism and radicalism, Mareš (2003) noted the fact, that sub-cultures, which exist in the Czech Republic, appeared after they were well developed abroad, which is also the case with football hooliganism, and therefore it is necessary to characterise their development in the world and then devote more detailed attention to the situation in the Czech Republic. There are also an entire series of the most varied (national and markedly specific) hooligan currents, which are mutually interactive (cf Marsh, P. et al. 1996).

Key factors at the study of football hooliganism

Uniformity plays an essential role in the behaviour of hooligans, which is provided by virtue of the same attitude (for example the attitude toward politics) and in many cases also prejudices (xenophobia, homophobia, racism, anti-Semitism) that are part of the perception and experience of these groups (cf Smolík 2002; Mareš, Smolík, Suchánek 2004).
Other typical features of hooligan identity are symbols of individual hooligan gangs. These employed symbols (displayed on flags, scarves, clothing) engender a feeling of common identity and belonging to groups of fans for one team. Symbols enable clear differentiation of the groups.
For illustration, football hooliganism may be perceived as one of the components of a complex system, which manifests itself as a result of the behaviour of other elements. The behaviour of football hooligans of certain groups then may affect intervening conditions by elements of a system to which they are doubtless a part, for example hooligan, ultra and fan groups supporting another club; hooligan, ultras and fan groups supporting the same club; security community; mass media, representatives of the football club; football referees; the football association; legal norms; the norms of social behaviour; the political situation; etc.
Another factor is the tradition of football hooliganism. This tradition is also influenced by the international interconnection of separate groups (personal contacts, Internet communication).
Football hooliganism may be seen as a social phenomenon, which cannot be sufficiently suppressed.
A change in some elements of the system only affects the form of football hooliganism itself. Repression may cause greater conspiracy among individual groups, generating other forms of hooliganism and aggressive displays.
Despite this, in conformity with the majority of football hooligans, football hooliganism is not primarily political although some displays of individual football hooligans (or direct hooligan gangs) are conducted in connection with extremism.


In a description of football hooliganism, we must state the fact that in the Czech Republic, the political terminology related to extremism is not entirely or clearly defined (cf Fiala 1998; Mareš 2001). Fiala (1998) asserts that from the standpoint of political science, the common term “political extremism” is very problematic, because it is too empty, arbitrarily applicable and its noticeable and designating value is practically zero. Zbořil (2001) also recognises this label as just as imprecise as objective.
To a certain degree it is possible to doubt the suitability of using the political approach when researching football hooliganism (this assertion relates only to the situation in the Czech Republic).
In the dictionary of social sciences, the concept of extremism itself began to appear in the second half of the nineteenth century. Its etymological origin is, however, of a much older date. It originates from a Latin-Greek combination of words. The concept “extremism” (“the utmost”) in Latin marked the longest prone position (Mareš 2001; Klimeš 1998). In politics, it is primarily a far left or far right position. “Political extremism is linked with the inability to assess the actual political situation and with an unwillingness for political compromise, often also with the use of undemocratic and violent means” (Žaloudek 1996:114). Danics (2002) consider to be extremist, distinct and uncompromising political attitudes directed singularly toward modification or direct removal of democratic systems employing all available means to this end, including those that come under the framework of a legal state.
Chmelík (2000) understands extremism as a phenomenon of the contemporary period, whose precise definition is practically impossible.
Although the term extremism is imprecisely defined legally, some experts consider it to be a political concept. Extremism, however, has also been established as a political concept. Various groups and movements have been labelled by it and the favoured term extremism is linked with a linear schematic model of political parties – right, left, centre. Thus everything outside this model is considered extreme or fringe (Zbořil 2001).
At this point, it is necessary to note that political extremism is not represented only by extremist political parties (far right/far left) or movements, but also by other forms of organisation (e.g. civic associations, loose groups profiled in youth sub-cultures etc.), which may only be rooted out with difficulty using legal means.
Pehe (2002) notes the fact that at the most general level, acts or opinions of some individuals or groups are considered to be extreme primarily because they are directed against the status quo sympathising and respecting the majority in the society. Extremism is relative: what one society considers to be extreme may be viewed differently by another society. This depends on culture, history, and habits.
It is possible to agree with Pehe (2002) that extreme opinions and behaviour could become simple manifestations, which just a short time ago could have been considered as normal. In the case of football hooliganism, this concerns primarily behaviour at football stadiums, which have often been marked as extreme or extremist, without matching the attributes of extremism.
“The specific features or directions for the needs of extremism are also defined by state authorities (primarily by security community) in democratic countries, but not all such designated ‘extremism’ corresponds to a relevant political definition (particularly if it is based on the qualification of merely exceeding the norm of offence and criminal law).” (Mareš 2003:32)
When researching football hooliganism from the standpoint of politics, it is necessary to focus on the political dimension of this peculiar sub-culture and other factors (social, economic, religious, etc.) also should not be overlooked.
In this context, Mareš (2003) notes that the heterogeneity of extremism, its individual forms and the anti-extremist policies of political research in this area complicate matters and contribute to its hitherto lesser development. Sometimes, football hooliganism has also been marked as fanatism.
It is very difficult, if not impossible, to speak of extremist sub-culture as a whole, whose emphasis may be the sub-culture of skinheads (but also the sub-culture of football hooligans), in the framework of which many currents and ideological concepts operate.

Interconnection of football hooliganism and extremism in conditions of the Czech Republic

Despite of this, the sub-culture of football hooligans has been presented as a sub-culture with displays of extremism in the Report on the Issue of Extremism in the Czech Republic.
Football hooliganism can also be ranked under the concept of criminal behaviour with an extremist sub-text, which is defined as criminal activity influenced by extremist attitudes.
Under the concept “criminality with extremist sub-text” or “criminal behaviour motivated by racial, national or other social hatred” is understood as behaviour that fulfils the marks of an actual basic criminal act or offence and its motive for attack is a priori hatred directed at the relevant recipient of a racial, national, religious, class or other social group (Danics 2002:70).
Behaviour falling under the concept of criminal behaviour with an extremist sub-text may also occur in the framework of football matches. At football stadiums, it is possible to see the use of a Sieg Heil salute, evoking Nazi, racist or anti-Semitic heckling, comments and slogans. Despite of this, it cannot be asserted that persons who behave in such a manner have a link to right wing extremist groups operating in the Czech Republic. For the most part, this involves provocations by individuals under the influence of alcohol or a hooligan gang, which considers this kind of behaviour the normal ritual accompanying a football match. It is evident that skinheads also frequently attend football matches, which is related to the diffusion of skinhead and hooligan sub-cultures, but it is improbable that (far right) skinheads organised into political parties, movements or interest groups have appeared at football stadiums in greater numbers (cf Mareš 2003).
Mareš (2003) also remarks on the fact that at football matches, an internalising occurs of offences, attitudes and complexes, including racism.
It is necessary to realise that in the majority of cases, racist displays at football matches are unrelated to the political preferences of individual hooligans. (Displays of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism in this case could be perceived as part of the norm of a markedly specific sub-culture, which, of course, is perceived differently outside the context of a football match.)
Mareš (2003) also notes the fact that part of football ultras and hooligans, as a rule linked directly with far right skinheads, at least in a superficial way, fall into the sphere of right wing extremism thanks to racist and anti-Semitic displays (chiefly hateful shouting or other expressions or antipathy toward players of another skin colour or of Jewish origin), or by using Nazi or other far right symbolism on banners, etc. In the context of hooligan sub-cultures, not merely right wing extremism occurs, but there are also entirely apolitical or far left football hooligans.
The extreme attitudes (racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism) found in some football hooligans may be considered as displays of anti-social behaviour. Xenophobia at football matches is concentrated on “different” groups of hooligans (also from abroad). This involves a stereotype on the basis of which groups are judged already according to nationality, religion, political attitude, ethnicity, football club or region.
Racism is prejudice based on the attitude and belief in the existence of a higher, superior and a lesser, inferior race, and emphasis on racial features and differences. By importing a theory of superiority and inferiority of race, opinions ensue regarding the inferiority or liquidation of “inferior” races. Racism is founded on an awareness of group membership and condemnation of other groups or individuals (cf Smolík 2002).
Racial intolerance is increased primarily by anthropological deviations from the social average, such as differences in skin colour, facial appearance, hairstyle, etc.
In the Czech Republic, like in other countries where the football is popular, racism manifests itself primarily in vulgarity, vituperation, and heckling towards black players. Currently, this concerns primarily K. Chihuri from Viktoria Žižkov, E. Adauto from Slavia, in the last season G. Baffour etc. Sometimes, these excesses are ad hoc and unique and occasionally they are the systematic and planned actions of football gangs.
At football stadiums, elements of anti-Semitism have also appeared, which could be marked as latent, because labelling an opposing group as Jewish is thought to an insult devaluing the group according to religious or racial members but is thought of as an injurious vulgarity for other hooligan groups. We may also hear these epithets at football matches in general (see Mareš 2003).
According to the Report on the Issue of Extremism in the Czech Republic in 2001, the term extremism is marked exclusively as ideological attitudes, which deviate from the rule of law and constitutional law, show explicit elements of intolerance, and attack democratic constitutional principles as defined in the Czech constitutional order. These principles are as follows:

  • Respect for the rights and freedoms of men and citizens (Art. 1 of the Constitution);
  • A sovereign, unified and democratic state of law (Art. 1 of the Constitution);
  • The substantive requisites of the democratic, law-abiding state may not be amended (Art. 9, par. 2 of the Constitution);
  • That people are the source of all state power (Art. 2 of the Constitution);
  • The free competition of political parties respecting fundamental democratic principles and rejecting violence as a means for asserting their interests (Art. 5 of the Constitution);
  • Majority decisions shall respect the protection of minorities (Art. 6 of the Constitution);
  • All people are free and equal in dignity and rights. Their fundamental rights and freedoms are inherent, inalienable, may not be limited, and irrevocable (Art. 1, Art. 3 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms).

    In my opinion, the aforementioned elements are related to political extremism. Since it is impossible to consider football hooliganism primarily as a political activity, football hooliganism may not be viewed as political extremism, although some verbal displays (only by individuals or groups) at football stadiums are directed at minorities and thus at inequality in human dignity etc.
    These extremist attitudes, however, are not sufficient to convey into activities operating either directly or influencing over the long-term as destructive toward the democratic political-economic system (cf Report on the Issue of Extremism in the Czech Republic in 2001).
    During displays of football hooliganism, for the most part it is possible to see criminal acts of violence against groups of inhabitants and against individuals, national and racial slander, disorderly conduct, injury to health.

    Situation in comparison with other countries

    To match football hooliganism and political extremism in this context is imprecise and misguided, since it would mistakenly generalise all football hooligans as extremists (left wing/right wing). Abroad, however, the political situation in football matches is entirely different. In England, for example, there has been a link between the far right terrorist organisation C 18 and the football gang, the FC Chelsea Headhunters. Combat 18 split off in 1993 from the BNP (British National Party), which in the seventies and eighties supported primarily many English skinheads and football hooligans. The BNP also worked to support football hooligans in the magazine Bulldog, which also monitored and described activities of football hooligans of individual English clubs and emphasised racist cheers (cf Marsh, P. et al. 1996).
    Although England is often presented as the model country affected by football hooliganism, it is necessary to note the fact that repressive measures have eliminated violence only at football stadiums. Hooligan action has merely shifted outside the range of the police and camera systems at stadiums and also has become much more organised. Generally presented as another example of politically oriented visitors to football matches are the so-called ultras in Italy. Ultras are markedly distinct from football hooligans in England (who in a certain sense are considered to be models), but also from hooligans in the Czech Republic.
    Italian radical groups are primarily more politicised, many groups link football and politics, so during football matches there are often attempts at propagating political opinions (in the form of banners, songs, etc.). In the context of their activities, organisation, membership, requirements, “programs”, it would be possible to assess some groups of organised ultras as interest groups, which, for example, engage in conduct with representatives of football clubs and advocate their own (not merely) football interests.
    For ultras, creating an atmosphere during football matches is characteristic and sometimes these groups even engage in street battles, confrontations, and provocations may only be due to the different political orientation of rival ultra groups. The political orientation of individual groups could be marked as extreme right (e.g. Lazio, Inter Milan, Ascoli) or left (e.g. Bologna, Turin, Livorno).
    Another country often linking football hooliganism and the extreme right scene is Germany. The German media plays a significant role in this, noting the penetration of extreme right opinions to football. It is impossible, however, to mark German football hooligans as neo-Nazi, even in the eastern parts of Germany (the former GDR) where these displays are more frequent. Extreme right wing opinions are most frequently apparent in the use of Nazi symbolism, which would be a provocation as well as an expression of political opinions (cf Marsh et al. 1996).
    If the hooligan scene in the Czech Republic could be assessed, it is possible to state that, for example, groups of hooligans from Poland, Russian Federation, Bulgaria, Hungary, Germany, Italy, England, Greece, Brazil, Columbia, Argentina or the Netherlands are far more active, aggressive, and socially dangerous than groups in the Czech Republic. At the same time, it is possible to state that some foreign hooligan gangs (e.g. in Russian Federation) directly share in the activities of far right groups and sympathise with the ideas of these groups. The problem of football hooliganism is significantly heterogeneous and as has been noted in this paper, it is impossible to investigate this area merely in the context of a single science.


    It is absolutely possible to agree with the fact that what is stated in the Report on the Issue of Extremism in the Czech Republic in 2001 in connection with perpetrators of this criminal behaviour. Perpetrators of criminal behaviour with an extremist sub-text “are decisively not automatically followers of extremist organisations, on the other hand in the predominant majority of this criminal behaviour, it is impossible to establish a connection between perpetration of a criminal act with explicit motivation and a certain proportion to organisation falling into the extremist spectrum”.
    From the definition alone, it is obvious that football hooliganism cannot be considered a display of political extremism, but as extreme displays of anti-social behaviour, which is often established in biases usually linked with the right wing extremist scene.
    At the same time, it is necessary to be aware of the fact that no generalisation of a football hooligan is possible because there are several dozen such individuals operating in the hooligan scene in the Czech Republic, all of which have the most diverse socio-economic background, origin, profession, status, political preferences etc.
    In the first instance, football hooliganism needs to be seen as the asocial/antisocial behaviour of a markedly specific sub-culture, which may (but need not) also have political attributes. As a specific form of criminal behaviour, however, it has become a political problem, which is resolved in the context of internal security and in reality (e.g. in the Czech Republic), the policy toward it is linked with anti-extremist departments of security community (which from a political value standpoint, however, is not the determining factor) (Mareš 2003).
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