Football Hooliganism throughout Europe
The Barcaccia fountain in Rome was vandalized

On 18th February, approximately 6,000 fans of the Dutch football club Feyenoord gathered in Rome to support their team in the Europa League game against AS Roma. The match, which went smoothly, was, however, overshadowed by the previous evening. Hundreds of Feyenoord fans clashed with the Italian police and damaged a 400-year old Bernini fountain.

It was the evening before the game and the supporters were causing some trouble on Campo de' Fiori and Piazza di Spagna. Supporters were throwing with firework, beer bottles and, according to the Italian Newspaper Repubblica, were seen urinating all over the square. Shops nearby closed early out of fear of riots. A fear which turned out to be very realistic. It took five police wagons full of Italian police to remove the fans from the historic square. 18 supporters had to appear in front of the court the next day. Six of them even got jail sentences of eight months.

The next morning, the police investigated the ‘crime scene’ and came to the shocking conclusion that the recently renovated Barcaccia fountain (created by Bernini and his son) was damaged. The fans were seen breaking beer bottles on the edges which caused some fragments to fall off. The Italian and Dutch authorities were furious. The mayor of Rome tweeted that the city was ‘devastated and hurt’, and the Dutch prime minister said that he was very disappointed and embarrassed .

Many Dutch individuals felt very sorry for the city and raised 27.000 euro to restore the fountain. Even more money was raised by companies who wanted to help, bringing the restauration money to a total of 30.000 euro. By the time the money arrived, the fountain was already restored, so the money was used to adopt a total of three fountains throughout Rome to show that the Dutch do care about cultural heritage.

The story did not end so well for the 44 supporters who appeared in court in Rotterdam on the 31st of August. There is not enough proof to prosecute the fans for demolition but they will be charged for violence against the Italian police. This can result in 4.5 to 9 years of time in prison (depending on whether there were injuries caused by a suspect).

Trouble during football games is not a new phenomena. Since the early thirteenth century the game has been associated with violence. Medieval football matches were essentially battles between the young men of rival villages and towns – often used as opportunities to settle old personal arguments.

According to ‘Football Hooliganism’, a research report published by Peter Marsh (a social psychologist) and Steve Frosdick (an independent safety expert) in 2005, disorder of some kind seems inevitable in football games in virtually every country in which football is played. In most cases violence during matches happens when supporters visit an ‘away’ game (a pattern which is seen throughout Europe) or when a match is played at club-level. ‘Apart from Britain, the nations currently experiencing the most significant problems of football-related violence are: Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. The available data indicate that levels of football-related violence in these countries are roughly similar, with incidents occurring at around 10% of matches (or around 10% of supporters classifiable as 'violent').’ There are however, a lot more countries trying to deal with sporadic acts of violence such as Greece and Russia according to Reuters.

A very different style of behaviour is, nonetheless, becoming increasingly popular. In Denmark, for example, a fan-culture called the ‘Roligans’ are promoting good behaviour during matches (Roligans coming from ‘hooligans’ and ‘rolig’ meaning peaceful).

The media is partly to blame for the problem, according to a report on hooliganism by the European parliament in 2003. The media is always reporting on outbreaks of violence during games using sensational headlines. Instead, the media should promote fair-play, sporting values and non-violent groups such as the Danish Roligans.

A true solution has, all the same, yet to be found. An increase in surveillance, restrictions and even the introduction of fan coaching schemes (schemes where the relations between fans, social workers and football clubs are being improved) seem to decrease the problem a little, but not enough. There also seems to be a general lack of initiative from the major football clubs in Europe. Hooliganism is still a big (European) issue. It might be time to come up with some really effective solutions to bring back peace during a game which is meant to bring people closer together.