5 Most Dangerous Fanbases in English Football During the 2013-2014 Season
English football has a long history of dangerous fanbases, some of which have become cemented in football folklore, while the notoriety of a few even branches out into the mainstream in the form of books and films. Each bestseller that’s printed and each movie that’s broadcast spreads the infamy of certain groups of supporters in the process.
But deciding who are England’s most dangerous can be difficult and is often skewed by this subjective evidence. Films such as The Football Factory, Green Street Hooligans and Cass—as featured in The Guardian—further fuel the debate with directors often forgoing facts in the interests of a good storyline.
But gripping literature and compelling British-made films aside, what kind of bleak picture do the official statistics released from the Football Banning Order Authority paint? During the 2013-2014 season was it the same old terraces that are glorified in fiction that must be feared? Or are there new stadiums that should come with a danger warning to visiting fans?
Well it seems—solely based on objective data for the 2013-2014 season—you may want to think twice about booking your ticket to Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, Bristol Rovers' Memorial Stadium and even Old Trafford.
Now in no way is this article intended to glorify football violence, but here are the five most dangerous fanbases in English football today.
5. Nottingham Forest F.C.
With 69 arrests in total—16 of which being for “violent disorder”—Nottingham Forrest come in at No. 5 on the list. This is because, with an average matchday attendance of 25,297, the total number of arrests accounts for only 0.27 percent of their total fanbase. Therefore it could be argued the “danger” is diluted compared to smaller clubs on this list and therefore it’s unlikely you’ll see any violence when attending a match at City Ground.
Having said that, stories in the media show that when it comes to Nottingham Forrest fans, the danger isn’t necessarily confined to the stadium. An article in the Mirror details how, “Fifteen football hooligans have been sentenced for a terrifying mass brawl at a train station.” It involved Nottingham Forrest and Doncaster Rovers supporters who “were travelling home from separate matches in London” meaning the two rival gangs and their respective teams weren’t even playing each other when the altercation took place.
What’s worse is this incident occurred only months after the Nottingham Post reported a pub brawl involving 30 Derby County and Nottingham Forest fans following a clash between the East Midlands clubs when Forest won 1-0. It was reported, “Customers and staff were barricaded in a pub after a fight broke out.”
So because of the nature of the arrests—not necessarily the number of them—Nottingham Forrest find themselves at No. 5.
4. Port Vale F.C.
Coming in at No. 4 on the list are the lesser-known supporters of League One club Port Vale. A strange entry you might think for the small Staffordshire-based club, but 53 arrests last season for a team that has an average matchday attendance of 5,439 is a lot. In fact, this accounts for 0.97 percent of their total fanbase therefore the “danger” is far more concentrated compared to a larger Premier League club who might attract up to 70,000 supporters on a good matchday.
Ultimately this means you’re much more likely to witness “violent disorder,” “pitch incursion” or “alcohol offences” if visiting Vale Park. Or—in the unfortunate case of William Willatt—be bitten by a police dog and need 20 stitches. According to the Daily Mail the unlucky fan had a, “Large chunk of his arm bitten out by a police dog when fighting broke out between rival Port Vale and Wolverhampton Wanderers fans.”
It’s incidences like this that have prompted more “proactive” work from Staffordshire police—as reported by the Stoke Sentinel—to tackle the issue. Profiling “risk groups” of fans and collecting intelligence is now underway which is encouraging, but based on the evidence it’s fair to say Vale Park isn’t the friendliest place on Earth right now.
3. Sunderland A.F.C.
The picture of the young Sunderland supporter with his top off and arms raised in the air is actually quite fitting for this next entry. That’s because according to the Sunderland Echo there’s a new group of football supporters to emerge from the north who call themselves, “the Sunderland Youth firm.”
They clashed with supporters from West Ham in the city centre:
CCTV footage of the organised mass brawl, outside the Revolution bar in Low Row, shows punches and kicks being thrown while bottles were being broken, leaving the pavements covered in shards of glass.
It was then reported the “Troublemakers boasted about the violence via social networking sites and text messages” even using YouTube to broadcast their escapades.
So although the 62 arrests only accounted for 0.15 percent of the average 41,089 match attendance at the Stadium of Light—again it’s the nature of those arrests and the fact the offenders are in fact so young that warrants their entry onto the list.
2. Manchester United F.C.
It’s common knowledge that Old Trafford has not been the happiest place on Earth since the departure of one Sir Alex Ferguson. But it seems poor performances on the pitch are the least of Manchester United’s worries as a “shock dossier compiled by the Manchester Evening News reveals that the menace of football hooliganism is far from extinct.”
With more arrests than anyone else last season—a total of 112—the documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws show police had to deal with everything from “fights in pubs, grounds and car parks” to “supporters storming turnstiles and forcing entry into sold-out matches.”
But aside from the sheer size of the fanbase what makes Old Trafford even more dangerous is the fact it’s become a modern battlefield for football violence and visiting fans. It’s been reported “gangs of racist fans converge on the city from Europe” while West Midlands police report dealing with visiting supporters from “QPR, Birmingham City, Walsall and Shrewsbury, intent on fighting with visiting Reds.”
For all these reasons the fanbase of Manchester United make it to No. 2 on the list.
1. Bristol Rovers F.C.
Finally, the No. 1 spot for England’s most dangerous fanbase goes to Bristol Rovers F.C and anyone who was at the Memorial Stadium on May 3, 2013 will know why. Relegated from the Football League for the first time in 94 years fans invaded the pitch bringing "shame on the city" with their violent protests, according to the Bristol Post.
But again it was the nature of their arrests that warrants Bristol Rovers topping the list. Firstly, of the 57 arrests in total throughout the season, amazingly 35 percent of these were for “violent disorder.” Secondly—and more specifically—in a detailed report by the Mirror, District Judge Lynne Matthews described the violent scenes of May 3, noting, “There were hundreds on the pitch and only around 20 officers."
Again this is frightening when you consider 20 officers were tasked with taming angry fans who have an average matchday attendance of 6,420. That means for every police officer there were potentially 321 disgruntled fans to control. Continuing, Judge Mathews cites a case where a horse was punched and an officer is now suffering from fractured teeth and post-traumatic stress disorder after “he felt he was going to be lynched by the crowd.”
Now it must be acknowledged older and more “established” firms such as the Inter City Firm of West Ham United or the Chelsea Headhunters are arguably more feared. But measuring “fear” compared to “danger” is very hard.
Strictly based on the objective statistics published by the Football Banning Order Authority during the 2013-2014 season—and the events documented in the media—Bristol Rovers' fanbase was the most dangerous in England during last season and Memorial Stadium should perhaps come with a public-danger warning.