Football and hooliganism have long been considered the Siamese Twins, inseparable from each other. Hooliganism, that initially started off as mischief or racial slur against non-white players playing for English clubs, has grown into organized violence used to intimidate rival clubs, their players, and fans. This has forced each club to have their own affiliated firm of hooligans. Many a time the losing team’s fans indulge in violence or force the matches to be abandoned. The right-wing political parties who thrive on hate politics have looked at hooligans as their support base and used them to intimidate or even kill immigrants. The law enforcement authorities have struggled to stop this cult of violence for long. It looks sustained campaigning and confrontation in England to overcome the racial bias in football.
While hooliganism related to racism has declined in England from the 1990s, it has picked up steam in Russia since the break up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. With authorities turning a blind eye and sometimes politicians encouraging it as a display of nationalism, violent hooliganism has flourished in Russia. Young boys in their early teens are picked up and put through a structured training regimen in the forests adjoining the cities. Forest fights are organized among the hooligans attached to the different clubs. Boys who display sustained fighting qualities and a never say die attitude rise through the ranks and become leaders. It has become an organized trade and each major club in Russia has 4 or 5 firms of hooligans who travel with the team to the match venues. Street brawls before and after the matches are common and often result in violent clashes and deaths.
The worst display of Russian hooliganism was witnessed on 10 June 2016 during the European Championship match in Marseilles, France. About 150 Russian hooligans perpetrated violence previously unseen during a Football match anywhere in the world. They attacked any England fan encountered on the streets with ruthless violence. Two England supporters were left in a coma. Initially, the Russian politicians including President Vladimir Putin tried to brush aside news reports of the barbaric violence as a hyperbolic creation of the Western media. However, they soon realized that unless they brought these firms of hooligans under control, the ability of Russia to hold the FIFA World Cup in 2018 would become questionable. In December 2016, police officers and members of FSB, Russia’s high power security service, conducted raids on hooligans’ homes and arrested many of them. Many of the hooligans have been banned from entry into football stadia. Last year, the Kremlin assigned an FSB agent to each of the 11 clubs in Moscow. They work with a fan liaison officer, usually a senior hooligan from each firm and try to control their members. Many of the Russian hooligans feel let down by this sudden turn of events and Government crackdown. Whether they will choose to lie low until the end of FIFA 2018 is anybody’s guess.