Rituals of Violence

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

As a prelude to a radio programme on the rituals of violence, Laurie Taylor writes about his memories of following my own football team, York City. The last line is a great image…

I’ve supported York City ever since I took up my lecturing job at the university in the late sixties. There have been a few magical moments over the years since then – a 3-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford in the 1995-6 League Cup – but most weeks the fans have to dine on pretty thin gruel.

Like other supporters of lesser teams, though, they keep themselves going by telling jokes about their own team and its relative lack of success. They’ll talk about the time the new and much criticized striker finally earned a corner and the entire team did a lap of honour. And they’re bound to come up with the story of these two York fans fighting each other on the terrace. A policeman jumps over the barrier to separate them and says ‘Why are you two fighting. You’re on the same side.’ And then the fellow who started it all points to his protagonist and says ‘It’s not my fault. It’s his. He tried to shove a season ticket in my pocket.’

At some matches the only thing that enlivened the proceedings was the prospect of a little hooliganism. Even though visiting teams rarely brought more than a couple of hundred fans with them, these were routinely segregated from York supporters by a line of constables.

All was usually relatively quiet for the first half-hour of the match. Nothing much more than the routine chanting of insults between the two groups of fan. But then, after a particularly nasty foul, or a dramatic goal-mouth incident, matters would escalate and fans from each side would attempt to breach the police line, waving their fists in the air and shoving and pushing.

From close-up, it might have been disturbing but viewed from the other end of the pitch, it had a deliciously ritual quality. Half-a-dozen fans who were braver than the rest would shove against the police line, while their rivals would shove back the other way. And so it went on with neither side striking a blow until one fan – there seemed an element of arbitrariness about this – was picked on by the police and then, to cheers and chants all round, escorted along the touchline and out of the ground.

In the old days what added even more to the ritual quality of the hooliganism was that at half-time away supporters were often allowed through the police line so they could join home supporters in the queue at the tea stall.

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