Offside’s Premier League A-Z: V is for violence

V is for violence…

Mirrorpix: Willie Young raises his fist to strike the nearest Arsenal player during a 1976 North London derby. Those players would become his teammates 3 months later.
Mirrorpix: Willie Young raises his fist to strike the nearest Arsenal player during a 1976 North London derby. Those players would become his teammates 3 months later.

Football violence in almost every form has gained a strange sense of nostalgia over the last couple of decades.

As the Sky era swept through the English game—derided by its critics as some sort of middle-class revolution—the full-bloodied tackles and terrace warfare has largely faded into history, but the brutality is still longed for by those who feel it gave the game some sort of visceral integrity. To some, the game really has gone soft, on the pitch, in the stands and in its relationship with the establishment. It’s all a bit too cosy, sanitised and twee.

Mirrorpix: Crowd trouble at match with a fan held by a police officer, with his head bleeding Manchester derby 1968.
Mirrorpix: Crowd trouble at match with a fan held by a police officer, with his head bleeding Manchester derby 1968.
Mark Leech: A gap opens on the Selhurst Park terraces as police officers move in to stop the trouble between rival fans.
Mark Leech: A gap opens on the Selhurst Park terraces as police officers move in to stop the trouble between rival fans.
Mark Leech: Rival Everton and Southampton fans fight on the pitch after the match.
Mark Leech: Rival Everton and Southampton fans fight on the pitch after the match.

For others, the “bad old days” have become something to fetishise and pine for, like how young boys lust after old, romanticised war stories and Call Of Duty games. The mini-industry of ex-hooligan books, documentaries and feature films now appears to exist largely to offer such Johnny-come-latelys a few silly thrills and spills. It’s almost become a route by which pumped up teenagers from comfy towns and nice villages can fake some sort of working class realism and grit to prop up their fantasy role-playing on match day.

Violence is still out there of course, just not tolerated in the same way as it was. Polite society demands that spectators tut tut and sigh “oh dear” whenever trouble flares up but let’s not kid ourselves: a good scrap can liven up a dull game and become as welcome as a goal for entertainment value. Hell, even during five goal thrillers, a bout of fisticuffs can get the blood going, especially if the combatants are comically mismatched, or acting out of character.

Glyn Thomas: West Ham fans fight with the Stoke City stewards.
Glyn Thomas: West Ham fans fight with the Stoke City stewards.
Mark Leech: Colin Hendry grabs Juninho by the face.
Mark Leech: Colin Hendry grabs Juninho by the face.

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As much as each calendar year adds yet more chronological distance to life on the school yard, most adults aren’t so far removed from the days of crowding round to watch fights at lunch time, at least not mentally. Football is as much a soap opera as a sport at the best of times, and a dust up—along with the juvenile wit of a chant designed to goad a rival, the vitriol spewed at officials and players, and general lapse of inhibitions that takes hold during a game—fits right into the sense of the theatrical.

Mirrorpix: Nobby Stiles shouts at injured Newcastle player whilst Wyn Davies pushes Denis Law and George Best aside.
Mirrorpix: Nobby Stiles shouts at injured Newcastle player whilst Wyn Davies pushes Denis Law and George Best aside.

Offside is the UK’s leading independent sports photography agency, home to an extensive collection of classic First Division and Premier League pictures as well as other images from across the world of sport. Explore Offside’s unique library at www.welloffside.com.

Follow Offside on Twitter at @welloffside.

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Author: gregianjohnson

Football writer for The Blizzard, FourFourTwo, The Mirror, Squawka and VICE amongst others. Follow me on Twitter at @gregianjohnson.

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