Disruptive behavior in sports stands has been a topic of discussion in Finland this fall. Last weekend, supporters of Luko and TPS fought at halftime of the ice hockey SM league match. At the beginning of September, the match in the Veikkausliiga soccer league between HJK and HIFK in the Stad derby had to be stopped due to problems in the stands.
Lately, the disruptive behavior of spectators has emerged exceptionally often also in other parts of Europe. There have been serious problems especially in France, where most recently the supporters of Marseille and German Frankfurt shot each other with fireworks (switch to another service) in the middle of a football Champions League match.
A case in which a group of Bröndby supporters traveled to Germany and attacked supporters of local opponent FC Copenhagen (you will switch to another service) together with Dortmund supporters under the Champions League match. In the match itself, the problems continued, and burning torches were thrown into the crowd to other stands (you will be transferred to another service).
– The atmosphere between the clubs has been tense. A small but vocal minority wants to cause a disturbance, which others watch with concern from the sidelines, hoping that the situation does not escalate further, the editorial manager of the Danish magazine Tipsbladet Troels Bager Thögersen says.
In Denmark, the problems are mainly concentrated between Bröndby and FC Copenhagen. According to Thögersen, a clear spike in the number of disruptive behavior can be seen after the spectators have been allowed to return to the stadiums after the restrictions caused by the coronavirus have been lifted.
– The same observation has been made regarding disruptive behavior at concerts and festivals. I feel that among some people, extremist behavior is increasingly seen as normal and accepted.
A Berliner Jonas Gabler is a writer and researcher familiar with fan activities who works in an organization representing German football fan culture in KoFaS (you switch to another service) and is German Football Culture Academy (you switch to another service) member. He subscribes to Thögersen’s view based on observations he made at football matches in Germany.
– I have noticed a significant increase in the use of pyrotechnics in matches, when compared to the time before the pandemic. Another problem related to the pandemic is that there have been a lot of changes in the personnel of law enforcement, Gabler reflects.
– Many law enforcement officers have changed fields, and now there is a shortage of competent personnel. Police officers and law enforcers may no longer have experience in football matches. The routine of communication between clubs, supporters and the police has weakened, which is one of the reasons for the increase in tensions.
In Denmark, according to Thögersen, the Ministry of Justice will soon present new regulations regarding the disruptive behavior of football fans. In August, the so-called was tried in connection with the Euro match between Bröndby and Swiss Basel “double penalty area” rule (you switch to another service)within the framework of which double punishments can be imposed for violent crimes committed in the vicinity of the stadium.
– There is a feeling and perception in the country that the clubs have accepted wild behavior and have not adequately intervened in the violence, because the same groups of supporters create a loud atmosphere. We haven’t had very strict and severe order control in football matches, Thögersen states.
Ultra culture can be seen in good and bad
The fans’ stands in Finland do not have the same masses as in Germany or Denmark, but similar features can be observed in the action, for better or for worse.
Especially in HJK’s and HIFK’s supporters’ stands, you can see influences from the so-called ultra culture, which can be seen and heard in stadiums in the Nordic countries and Central Europe. The goal of ultra fans is to support their team as loudly and visibly as possible.
Flags, songs and the loudest possible atmosphere are elements that people often want from sporting events. The problem is that the activities of ultra groups also include things prohibited in most countries, such as the use of pyrotechnics. Around Europe, there are also violent aspects of hooliganism around ultra groups.
In Germany, ultra groups fight against the commercialization of football and actively work for, for example, established match times. The Monday matches of the Bundesliga, which are difficult for away supporters to travel to, were stopped a few years ago entirely due to the continuous protests of the supporters.
The activities of ultra groups in Germany also extend beyond the stadiums. The groups are active in charity, for example helping food banks, and have taken a stand against racist and anti-Semitic behavior.
Ultraculture also provides an explanation for the events of the Stadin Derby played at the beginning of September. In the middle of the match, the HIFK supporters took out the HJK supporters’ banner they had stolen earlier and tried to set it on fire with torches. HJK supporters tried to get onto the field from the other side, and the match was stopped.
– The banner has a great importance in ultra culture, because it is the symbol of the group. Stealing it is the biggest possible humiliation you can do to another group. It’s no surprise that HJK’s group tried to get on the field, says Gabler.
But why on earth are people ready to steal tickets or even commit violence for the sake of football? Gabler believes that the answer lies in the old structures of society. According to German researchers, football-related violence has already existed in the 1920s between the world wars.
– As long as there is violence in society, there will also be violence in football. The sport is still seen in Europe as a men’s sport, and it is associated with a traditional concept of masculinity. I think that is a significant reason why violence happens around football. The idea of a fighter is very common in the sport.
Gabler uses an analogy between a football match and a concert or a movie screening. In soccer and other team games, an automatic confrontation occurs when two teams meet. In Finland, the influences of ultra culture with their tifos, flags and songs are also visible in hockey stands, just like in Sweden, Germany and Switzerland, for example.
– The symbols and colors of the clubs represent cities and history. With the development of fan culture, confrontations have arisen, which are often regional. “Football is a platform on which the regional antagonism stemming from history can be continued,” says Gabler.
The word “derby”, which is well-established in the Finnish language and means a local match, refers precisely to a regional and historical confrontation.
What is the responsibility of the clubs?
The increased problems in football events in Europe have recently led to more and more personal injuries. For example, in connection with the Champions League match between Marseille and Frankfurt 17 law enforcement officers and two supporters were injured (you switch to another service). A week earlier, 32 people were injured around the match between Nice and Cologne.
– In the Nordic countries and other western countries, an unfortunate phenomenon can be seen, where individualism and the pursuit of quick gratification are combined with a lack of responsibility and empathy. We have created a culture where a fairly significant minority believes that the world is more or less only for their entertainment and amusement, Troels Bager Thögersen reflects.
In Nice, the start of the match was delayed by almost an hour due to the commotion. Cologne captain Jonas Hector had to calm down the supporters by speaking into the microphone. As the masked supporters returned from the ruckus to their stands, the feelings also heated up among “their own”. According to Deutsche Welle (you switch to another service) chants echoed in the stands with the words “we are Köln, not you”.
In the supporters’ stands of different clubs, it is rarely a matter of one unified group, but the wholes are made up of several smaller groups, as in Finland, for example, HJK and HIFK.
Different groups can have big differences of opinion, which in turn can lead to conflicts even among supporters of the same team. It’s good to remember that the majority of active supporters behave matter-of-factly, even though they live emotionally in the game.
– According to my experience, there are many kinds of ultra supporters. It is not a homogeneous movement. For some, violence is important, while for others it’s about supporting the team and participating in fan politics, says Jonas Gabler.
Gabler calls for the clubs’ responsibility in dealing with problems.
– In my opinion, it is the duty of the clubs to be in contact with ultra supporters, to try to strengthen less radical views and to discuss the dangers of violence and the resulting punishments.
Since 2012, every club participating in UEFA competitions must have been named (you switch to another service) the so-called SLO person (eng. supporter liaison officer), i.e. the supporter’s contact person, whose task is to act as a link between supporter groups and the club. For example, in Sweden, there are also SLO people in many ice hockey clubs.
There is very little information about SLO people on the websites of Finnish clubs. SLO people from Veikkausliiga clubs are only told FC Lahten (you switch to another service) and SJK’s (you switch to another service) on the website. There is no mention of SLO people in the ice hockey SM league on any club’s website.
There is no single right answer to how best to deal with disruptive behavior. In many countries, curfews are used as a method, but in Finland, it is not possible to set them within the framework of the law.
It’s almost impossible to keep troublemakers out of the stands – Aki Riihilahti condemned the behavior of HJK fans: “An attack against one’s own club”
HIFK supporters set fire to the HJK banner in the Stadi derby – the football league match was interrupted due to crowd noise
Police arrested 35 people during and after the Stadin Derby match
The police are preparing for clashes in the Stad derby