A Jointventure of
idw news
A | A | A

Media help create image of the violent hooligan

The media play a major role in shaping the identity of soccer thugs and also help create the image of hooligan culture as violent. This has been determined by the sports scientist Aage Radmann at Malmö University in Sweden in his dissertation, where he examines depictions in both traditional and social media.

Aage Radmann's dissertation is based on media analyses, his own observations at innumerable soccer matches, interviews, and literature studies over a long period, starting with the 1992 European soccer championships in Sweden and the image of terror that was created not least by the tabloid press.

What characterizes hooliganism and the hooligan? It's not possible to give a simple definition, according to Aage Radmann - hooliganism is a process that is in constant flux and moreover looks very different from country to country, from city to city, club to club. But he highlights five key ingredients: hooligans are always men, violence is important, and alcohol and sometimes other drugs play a major role. Further, hooligans harbor a great love for their team and the sport, usually soccer, and, finally, it's important for them to have fun together.

"The sense of community is important. Hooliganism can be likened to a subculture whose norms and rules are seen as more important than those of society at large," says Aage Radmann.

Aage Radmann draws attention to the professionalization of supporter violence. Nowadays fewer and fewer rows take place in the arena itself. Instead the so-called "firms" arrange to meet and fight in a park a good distance from the arena.

"This is the image they disseminate about themselves. They don't see themselves as hooligans but rather as gentlemen, and they only want to fight each other. Recruitment is done in all social strata," says Aage Radmann.

The media impact our picture of supporter violence. It was previously a matter of eye-catching headlines in what Radmann calls "the old media," but the Internet and social media are now equally important. Where the old media describe this violence as meaningless, the rowdies themselves present a picture in which "violence is important to the sense of community and many people appreciate the battles."

According to Aage Radmann, the traditional media are incapable of painting a nuanced picture of various incidents. It's telling that those who have never attended a match are those who are most afraid to go. Sometimes he feels that this anxiety amounts to moral panic, like the cries that went up after the local rivalry match between Malmö FF and Helsingborg IF (two clubs from southern Sweden with a long history of antagonism) when a supporter got onto the pitch, running toward the Helsingborg goalkeeper, and the match was suspended. There is a tendency to exaggerate the scope of hooliganism. As a matter of fact, these "firms" are currently not growing. They change rapidly, and a major role is played by who the leader of the day plays happens to be.

"Social media provide a more multifaceted image, and supporters can be active there themselves, but since there is no gatekeeper function, you see threats against referees, bullying, and direct hate campaigns on Facebook and the like," says Aage Radmann.

The dissertation doesn't discuss measures against hooliganism, but Aage Radmann is also one of the investigators in a governmental study on criminality in connection with sporting events.

"You have to base it on a dialogue. Punish those who break the law, but stop issuing collective sanctions. Soccer fans must be the only group in society that are not allowed to move around in a city as they wish," says Aage Radmann, who wrote the section on Swedish "firm" culture in the governmental investigation on sports-related violence that is issuing its final report on March 21.

The main findings of the dissertation: The media image reinforces the identity of hooligans.

Violence is an important part of the media narrative.

Supporter violence has become professionalized.

Hooligan culture evinces various masculine features.

Hooliganism has been stigmatized in a manner that in some ways can be likened to moral panic.

Contact information: aage.radmann@mah.se, Phone: +46 (0)40-66 58053, Mobile: +46 (0)709-655601 Magnus Sjöholm, Communication Division, Malmö University, mobile: +46 (0)707- 89 07 14, magnus.sjoholm@mah.se

idw :: 18.02.2013