Hall, S.  (1978) 'The treatment of "football hooliganism" in the press  , in Ingham R, Hall S, Clarke J, Marsh P and Donovan J "Football Hooliganism": the wider context, London: Inter-Action Imprint.

[I have only recently read this piece {Feb 2004}, and was immediately struck by the similarities with both the earlier  'mugging project' in Hall and Jefferson 1976, and with the later 1981 piece Policing the Crisis... All the main ingredients are here -- moral panics, amplification spirals, the insidious role of professional news values, and the suspicion of an authoritarian drift towards a law and order society. As I said in my 1992 book, the earlier precedent in 1976 makes the  'discoveries' of the 1981 book look particularly contrived. Here, the same theoretical mechanism is being used to explain football hooligans just as it explained black muggers in the other pieces  -- the suspicion arises that this is general social theory 'applied' to a number of concrete examples in the manner that Hall himself once described as  'lazy theorising'. As it is an earlier stage, the theoretical resources are much more eclectic, and much more obviously borrowed from bourgeois sociology and from radical deviancy theory. The 1981 book attempts some sort of theoretical purity, driven by the struggle with Althusser. This piece is also worth reading for putting into context the dubious and evasive remarks trying to explain deviant activities in relative terms while avoiding any moral comment  {what I call 'apologetics'}. White liberals were cautious about spotting this tendency in the material on black muggers -- with the exception of Cohen's critique -- but I wonder if they would be as tolerant with white football hooligans?]

This article focuses on the role of national and local press rather than television, because the former is easier to study [and, later, it is noted that TV and radio are subject to far more constraints about the need to be impartial and objective, and thus are more hesitant in framing stories as news]. Few people have direct experience of football hooliganism, but it is a popular press topic, which leads us to ask how information is constructed, and how impressions and definitions get established. The press can be both primary definers and amplifiers here. Generally, they have a unique role of  'articulating public opinion... [the press]... mobilises support for certain lines of... action' (16). The press can moderate public opinion, as in the case of demands for capital punishment, but can also activate it. TV and radio often depend on the press to define the issue in the first place.

Although the press can be divided into 'highbrow' and  'popular' options, in both cases sport is segregated from other content, and usually reported at the back. It is  'set off, in a world distinct from other kinds of news' (17). Sport can be the source of bigger stories than the official news --  'For many readers, the lead  [sports] headline on page 46 is the most important story of the day' (18). [No actual evidence for these or other claims of course]. Stories can break out of the sports enclave if they have particular importance, as when 'sport has gone political' (18): there may be stories of Olympic boycotts for example, although the best example is football hooliganism. [This implies a kind of logic of discovery, with the import of football hooliganism emerging from an innocent study of the press?]

It is difficult to pin down the role of the press. It is not just a mirror reflecting events, but always a selection, a process of presentation, which gives it an active and constructing role, which can in turn effect new events. Criticism of the press is unpopular, and it is necessary to assert that there is no conspiracy theory here. Instead, the press and its coverage is itself taken as a problem to be analysed. This will turn on news values and how news is selected and treated: these values in turn can order the world.

News values are often rendered by journalists as some kind of sixth sense or intuition, but in practice they are learned informally and can become habitual. They are best seen as a 'code and set of conventions' (22) [links to later work, of course] . There are two underlying important values -- news involves change and change for the worse. These themes add impact to stories, especially in the tabloids, but not exclusively. Journalism becomes a  'search for novelty' (23), hence the interest in really rather unusual activities such as murders or strikes [it was the 1970s!]. These novelty items are then compounded and elaborated and become a trend. They are dramatised, and values are added to them.

The press sensationalises and amplifies, picking up on public panic and developing an amplification spiral. This is seen in the coverage of drugs and drug use [and Jock Young's classic is quoted here, page 25]. We need to be cautious with the coverage of football hooliganism, but can conclude that it is certainly not 'careful, judicious, measured, inquiring', and so on  (26). [This seems quite weaselly here -- Hall is not attributing to the press a positive ideological role, but resorting to what is essentially a truism -- of course press coverage is not going to be academic analysis!]

The press edits for impact, and uses for example violent language and warlike metaphors in its coverage of both football hooliganism and sports reporting more generally. There is a 'language of thrills and spills... struggle, victory and defeat' (27) [for sinister ideological reasons, or because this is the way to popularise the story?]. There is a great deal of dismissive labelling and the use of words such as hooligans, thugs, animals, insane behaviour and so on. This sort of language denies a rationale for football hooliganism, and violence becomes 'an entirely irrational collective spasm' (28).

There are reasons for football hooliganism, however. The state has always taken an ambiguous view of violence, and has ignored, for example, the violence inherent in poverty and unemployment. It has also ignored the real grounds for social conflict. Labelling and stigmatising such conflict helps to flatter 'normal' people as well [a bit of Durkheim has crept in here?]. There are also class culture differences. Working-class violence is traditional, with  'a perfectly rational source in the conditions of life' (29)  [getting close to dangerous apologetic here?]. Working-class people feel a sense of permanent exclusion as the context for what they do. The stigma applied to them is only to legitimate social control itself. Even hooligans must have reasons for what they do, and we need much deeper inquiry [and we're going to get some familiar ones sketched out below].

What if hooligans are best understood as being similar to fans, ordinary working-class people? What if they are merely over-identified and over-involved in sport?  (31). Football can be seen as offering their  'only claim to cultural space and territory' (31). This is never explained in the press [although see below]. Other theories and approaches are discounted in favour of a line that hooliganism is simply irrational. Explanations might be found in realising that hooliganism is separated from courage and commitment only by a thin line, that fans have suffered over involvement, a neglect by managers and the owners of clubs [sounds like Critcher, but is actually attributed to McIlvenny --a journalist!]  (32). Such approaches would not count as news. The plea for more research is usually denied in favour of a short-term interest in control: paradoxically, it is this response that is irrational! [So Hall is not above attributing irrationality to the action of 'straight' societies? This rhetorical flourish leads to a more conventional explanation for what the authorities and the press are actually doing, as below -- Hall has never seen it as necessary to actually investigate their motives, of course].

The concern for football hooliganism has increased at a moment of severe economic decline. No conspiracy is being invoked here, but there is a general drift to authoritarianism, part of a general  'backlash against permissiveness' (35). This has been associated with far right themes about moral decline [clear signs of the later work of Thatcherism here]. Football hooliganism offers an excuse to try out authoritarianism. It becomes a symbol of decline, a sign of moral panic (35).

There are connections between football hooliganism and the development of youth subcultures. These collections are complex but must not be neglected  [more evasions?]. In both cases we need to grasp 'why our society produces such phenomena, but also why it treats them in the brutal shorthand and simplifying way it does' (36) [more apology?].

Meanwhile, the press are predicting violence for the forthcoming season. The stories act as  'Meat and drink to that tiny bircher and cager inside us, struggling to get out' (36). [What a very odd final sentence! Hall is appealing to liberals to feel guilty? He is confessing that he also feels ambivalent about football hooligans? He is attributing some natural origin to right-wing authoritarianism?].

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