Chris Ledger reports on how a 1994 academic study highlighted the links between the Madchester music scene and the decline in football hooliganism.


The relationship between drugs and football hooliganism was on the slow-burner for many years but, according to the academic researcher Mark Gilman, this changed in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Drugs and raves suddenly became popular in football culture, as the Madchester and acid house movements managed to unite football fans in peace.

To understand how this happened, a look into the history of football hooliganism is required. Until the late 1980’s, as Gilman explained in his fascinating study ‘Football and Drugs: Two Worlds Collide', football hooliganism was rife amongst the working classes.

Although the 1960’s saw the birth of the first psychedelic movement and orchestrated chants, working class supporters – who were often known as mods and rockers – did not take LSD and cannabis. University and art college dropouts in Cheltenham, Oxford and Cambridge took these drugs instead, during their period of “self-imposed poverty”. Football supporters felt that these drugs were not for “real men”, as middle-class students took them, so they took amphetamine tablets and capsules instead.

In the 1970’s though, drugs and music made more of an impact on terrace culture. Working class supporters enjoyed the Northern Soul scene, and David Bowie’s classic LP’s ‘Hunky Dory’ and ‘Diamond Dogs’ helped to increase football fans' LSD intake. Skinhead supporters, however, continued to consume copious amount of alcohol.

Gilman explained that “acute dexterity in mind-body function” was required for football fans to brawl. The increased LSD intake, therefore, started to reduce the number of brawls between football fans. The launch of Operation Julie, though, meant that this was short-lived and football hooliganism still frequently occurred during this period.

The 1980’s took a turn for the worse, with the emergence of the football casual. Casuals wore designer clothes, instead of replica shirts, with good fashion sense and style being a pre-requisite to join a crew. Although these crews were not restricted to a particular class, they were exclusive to few supporters and members were well known in the football community.

The reduction of football hooliganism in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s emerged due to two particular scenes: punk and Madchester. The football casual era had by 1988 lost its initial buzz, as hooligans found it more difficult to cause damage, due to strict policing. CS gas and Stanley knives were popular, but football casuals would have to cause more damage in even less time.

As football casuals became less common, supporters got their fixes from elsewhere with Madchester and acid house music becoming popular in the late 1980's. Former football casuals helped to organise raves, as well as supplying herbs and chemicals, with the main emphasis being on “fun, celebration and participation”. The focus on these raves having “good music, good drugs and no violence” was a stark contrast to the violence seen in the early 1980’s. These raves were also a throwback to the DIY ethos of the punk movement in the late 1970’s, which was popular amongst football supporters for a short period. It started with speed and glue, but it ended just as quickly with “heroin, needles, overdose and death”.

The pivotal moment, when drug and music culture prevented crowd trouble and football hooliganism, was in May 1991 when Manchester United reached the European Cup Winners' Cup Final. Nothing was going to stop the supporters from having a week-long party – despite the best efforts of football authorities, Manchester United’s administrators and the media – according to Gilman. Although the final was held at the Feijenoord Stadium in Rotterdam, various unofficial match trips went to Amsterdam before the match, where they found the police to be welcoming, helpful and friendly.

Cafes in Amsterdam were soon packed with Manchester United fans taking cannabis and behaving like “excited children” in “one long unbroken hedonistic celebration”. Music also played a big part in the pre-match celebrations, as was the case during Italia ’90. During an Inspiral Carpets concert in the famous Paradiso club, for example, a Manchester United flag was raised by supporters with “LSD eyes, extra large cannabis cigarettes and three beers perched precariously on top of each other”.

The Cup Winners' Cup was not the only thing that returned to England in 1991. Supporters also brought their new-found knowledge of Italian house and Belgian techno music to England, with spectators at Old Trafford becoming regular ravers by the end of the 1991-1992 season.

Even in Manchester and Yorkshire nightclubs, bumping into shirt-wearing Manchester City and Leeds United supporters did not turn to violence. They, instead, spent the whole night happily dancing and celebrating with each other. The link between football hooliganism and Madchester, however, was less concrete in the South, as a group of right wing Chelsea supporters released a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Hooligans Against Acid.”

Gilman’s study may seem irrelevant to some at first but, when analysed alongside other studies about football hooliganism, his points make sense. John Kerr’s 1994 book ‘Understanding Soccer Hooliganism’, for example, developed Michael Apter’s influential study on reversal theory, to explain the behaviour of football hooligans.

Kerr explained that when supporters are anxious, bored, angry or sullen, their reactions would be unpleasant - irrespective of their arousal status. But if supporters are relaxed, placid, excited or proactive - their behaviour is usually pleasant. The Madchester and acid house era, therefore, led to relaxed and excited supporters who wanted to be active participants and the stars of the shows, as well as having the buzz that confused the line between love and hatred.

Gilman said that the punk movement achieved the opposite, by only having a few “stars”, explaining why raves struck a chord with football supporters. Pride still existed but feelings of resentment and humiliation were lost, which reduced unpleasant behaviour even further.

It was predicted by Gilman, though, that “the reverberations and the return to violence could be as swift as was the move towards peace and love”. And he was right. In October 1993, just before England’s World Cup Qualifier against the Netherlands in Rotterdam, 50 drunken hooligans attacked innocent bystanders and threatened them with knives. Eight of them were charged with assault and a further 30 were deported back to England.

Football hooliganism continues to be a problem even now, as seen by the violence at St Andrews after the recent League Cup match between Birmingham City and Aston Villa. It may make sense to bring back The High and all-night raves, if it reduces violence between football supporters. In fact, if ‘Shall We Take a Trip?’ by Northside is played during every Birmingham derby, England may even host the World Cup one day.

This article was originally published on IBWM in 2010 but we couldn't resist using it again now.  Slutty?

To read a full copy of the report, click here. To read for from Chris, visit his outstanding Obscure Music and Football blog, and follow him on Twitter @obscurefootball.

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AuthorChris Ledger
CategoriesSubculture