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World Cup 2006: ‘Low Profile’ Policing Prevents ‘Hooliganism’


Lessons learned from the behaviour of England fans and Portuguese police at ‘Euro2004’ include:

- Low profile policing is the most effective way to tackle English football hooliganism abroad.
- Unnecessary use of ‘riot police’ can lead to conflict.
- The low profile approach works by helping to support positive forms of English football fan identity

- Positive English fan identity improves relationships with other fans and the police whilst at the same time undermining the activities of hooligans.

Hooliganism has been referred to as the ‘English disease.’ With the World Cup 2006 less than 2 weeks away, the behaviour of England fans and the actions of the police in Germany will be under intense scrutiny. But in June during Euro2004 there were only minor incidents of ‘hooliganism’ in Portugal and none in match cities. So how can the almost total absence of violence among England fans in Lisbon be explained? And can the answer to this question help us to understand the key to peaceful matches this summer?

Research published today in the European Journal of Social Psychology provides answers to these important questions. The research, led by Dr. Clifford Stott, lecturer at the University of Liverpool, provides a scientific look at the behaviour of England football fans at Euro2004 in Portugal, focusing on key incidents in match cities and the two ‘riots’ in Albufeira .

One of Portugal’s two main police forces, the Policia de Seguranca Publica (PSP) which has jurisdiction over all of Portugal’s major cities was prepared to listen to these researchers. Consequently, they used the research to inform the development of their policing strategy for Euro2004 and invited the authors to conduct a scientific evaluation of the policing of the tournament. Their study argues that the PSP implemented a low-profile, information led approach which was very close to the model of good practice. The study demonstrates how, despite the fact that hooligan fans were present in Lisbon, rioting did not develop because of the low profile approach and ‘self policing’ among England fans.

Strategies employed by the PSP included:

- Low profile policing using officers in normal police uniform and keeping riot police out of sight.
- Uniformed police officers present throughout the crowd to be friendly toward fans whilst monitoring for problems.
- Small groups of plain clothes officers working within crowds to act against individuals becoming disorderly.

It is argued that because of these tactics England fans saw their collective relationship with the police as positive. As a consequence they began to see their relationships with the police and with other fans as friendly and saw themselves as antagonistic to those violent fans seeking to disrupt these positive relations. The authors argue that it was this self policing that was critical in preventing major rioting in the match cities. Dr. Stott says, “because of this psychology England fans began to self police and it was this social psychological process that prevented disturbances.”

In contrast, Portugal’s second Police Force the Guarda Nacional Republicana (GNR) which has jurisdiction over Portugal’s small towns including Albufeira employed a different strategy. The GNR did not employ these low profile tactics and were more reliant upon the use of riot police to quell minor incidents. As such when forced to intervene in Albufeira they did so against England fans in general. This had the effect of creating and supporting antagonisms between England fans which in turn supported the influence of hooligans and undermined those England fans who wished to prevent problems.

Dr. Stott says, “the ‘low profile’ policing in Lisbon during Euro2004 appears to have provided a context for a very positive form of England fan identity in match cities. This identity was defined in terms of non violent fandom, positive social relations with the police and similarity with fans of other nations. But perhaps more importantly this psychology was related to ‘self policing’ because England fans wanted to protect this positive situation. In contrast, policing in Albufeira was relatively ‘high profile’ at critical times and resonated with England fans’ previous experiences of ‘indiscriminately violent’ police action. This set in motion a very negative psychology which supported the development of violence.”

The research not only provides evidence of the effectiveness of a ‘low profile’ policing approach but argues for the idea that this type of policing is an effective long term solution.

Dr. Stott states, “What this study does is recognise the way in which the PSP’s low profile approach helped marginalise hooligan behaviour. By maintaining the legitimacy of the police the PSP promoted a situation in which fans began to isolate and marginalise those seeking disorder. Our science shows that it is this kind of positive psychology that is essential to preventing major riots. The findings, of course, have important implications for those planning policing strategies for the World Cup 2006 in June and the European Championships in 2008.”

Polly Young | alfa
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