Has lad culture in football gone too far?
By Gaby Shedwick
Hooliganism has long been associated with football, with the progression from the fans in the 70s and 80s to now. This new era of football hooliganism is an extreme threat to the modern game, with concerns surrounding the welfare and safety of others as well as the consequences of the actions of these ‘laddish’ fans.
It is important to look at this situation from two perspectives, as we have seen this lad culture narrative pervasive in both spheres. Firstly, by looking at fans and how attitudes and actions have played into this lad culture and secondly, by looking at the behaviour of those on the pitch, and how their conduct is contributing to the threats prevalent in the beautiful game.
It feels natural to start with the fans who attend the match, as this is the category I fall into myself. Importantly, it must be noted that I am coming at this from a female perspective. There is an expectation for a rowdy atmosphere on matchday. However, there is a thin line between being a source of annoyance for other fans and complete misconduct. A recent example presents itself when Derby travelled to Middlesbrough for a Championship match in February 2022, where seventeen people were arrested following what the Cleveland police described as ‘pockets of disorder’. This is not an isolated event, and it is easy for individuals to seek out evidence of this behaviour as it is rampant up and down the country. In fact, there have already been 800 arrests at English football matches this season. A real issue is presented here, as football is being turned into an unsafe environment where individuals act in a manner paralleling that of hooligan culture, which is particularly harmful to those attending with young children. Not enough is done on matchday to prevent this sort of behaviour, for many, it is shrugged off as normality, and policies such as ‘safe standing’ appear performative and are put in place by those who rarely step foot inside a football stadium.
Blame cannot be placed entirely on fans for the lad culture that surrounds football, and scrutiny should also be placed for those on the pitch. Although there are numerous incidents, the most prominent public case right now is that of Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood. Greenwood, 20, was arrested after voice recordings and photos emerged of his alleged sexual assault of his girlfriend - and this evidence was damning. It was clear to anyone that heard this evidence that the way that Greenwood had acted was completely unacceptable, but hearing him speak in such a manner was shocking. For a player with his whole career ahead of him to act in such a way that ensures he will be vilified his whole life, we must look to what the club and those around him did to prevent this behaviour and ask how this was allowed to happen. This feeds into the aforementioned lad culture, as it highlights the normalisation of sexual violence. Yes, there was a huge backlash once the behaviour was exposed, but the major problems lie in the action as opposed to the response. Questions have to be raised regarding if the Greenwood case is isolated, and the overwhelming answer has to be that it is not. The bigger issue is arguable how much is happening unbeknownst to the general public, how much of it is hidden from the mass media, and how much footballers believe they can actually get away with due to their position.
This is heightened by the glorification of such players through football chants, a video recently emerged of West Ham fans singing about Kurt Zouma and the recent scandal surrounding the treatment of his cat. If such serious events can be passed off as harmless and be sung about jovially as to almost trivialise their severity, then impressionable young fans are going to get the idea that such behaviour is actually okay and could even earn high levels of respect amongst friends. Lad culture in itself values deviant behaviour, perhaps in an implicit way, where violence and disruption can earn you high levels of admiration from others in the subculture. Yet, what makes this generation of hooliganism and sets it apart from those who came before them, is the impact of virality, which means there is a whole new set of people to impress, and individuals begin to push the limits even further to gain bigger traction on the internet. This herd mentality of lad culture that used to only exist in real life has now shifted to a whole community online which desensitizes a whole new generation to the potential dangers of their actions.
It is hard to see the downfall of players like Mason Greenwood, someone who is the same age as myself and who I watched throughout the academy. To witness him act in such a way is gut-wrenching. However, what makes it even more difficult to digest, is the realisation that this pervasive lad culture is entrenched in the modern game of football, and something must be done to stamp it out.
Image: Unsplash (Tobias)