Liverpool psychology helps bring peace to European football


'Low impact' policing is the key to overcoming 'hooliganism' at major international football tournaments, according to ESRC-funded research.

It found that while preventing known troublemakers from travelling is important, the way to foster incident-free events is a 'low profile', friendly-but-firm police presence, and dealing with fans on the basis of their behaviour not their reputation.

The study, led by Dr Clifford Stott and Dr Otto Adang of the University of Liverpool School of Psychology, analysed the impact of police tactics on levels of hooliganism at Euro 2004 - the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) championships held in Portugal in June and July of last year.

Researchers included a team of observers from the Portuguese Police Academy and the Universities of Coimbra, Oporto and Lisbon.

Their report shows that when England supporters are treated from the outset as fans rather than 'hooligans', they see themselves as on the same side as the police, sharing the same interest in preventing violence.

Faced with this 'low profile' policing approach, ordinary fans are more likely to oppose trouble among other supporters through 'self-policing', and to regard themselves as friends with fans from other nations.

The findings give a definite 'thumbs up' to the 'low profile' tactics adopted by Portugal's Public Security Police (PSP), in line with advice given to the force by the Liverpool psychologists before the tournament.

If police were visible and the risk of trouble was thought to be normal, the proportion of uniformed officers visible in the crowd was on average only four per every 100 fans.

Where police were present, they were in standard uniforms rather than full riot gear, and were used simply to monitor fan behaviour. Riot police were positioned close by but deliberately out of sight. They could, however, be quickly on hand if needed.

Extensive use was also made of plainclothes police, deployed wherever fans gathered in large numbers.

Dr Stott said: "Importantly, during Euro 2004 there were almost no incidents of disorder recorded during our observations in areas controlled by the PSP.

"In spite of a low visible police presence, incidents with the potential to escalate were responded to quickly and appropriately, and clear limits of behaviour were established which ensured that situations quickly calmed.

"In most of the rare cases where something did occur, interventions were rapid but with very low impact, and most fans didn't even notice that an arrest had been made."

Preventing known troublemakers from travelling to Portugal was another important factor, says the report, along with initiatives developed by visiting police forces, fan organisations and British Embassy staff.

Even so, it was clear that individuals known as 'hooligans' or acting as such were present. The Liverpool theories on avoiding trouble are strengthened by the two major incidents which did occur in Albufeira - a town controlled by Portugal's national gendarmerie (GNR), which did not adopt the same tactics as the PSP.

Consequently, concludes the report, the GNR were unable to set limits of behaviour early on, or to differentiate between troublemakers and bystanders when forced to intervene. More fans were drawn in, and trouble escalated.

Dr Stott said: "Our approach was valid and useful in the planning of a successful tournament. We have also begun to understand that use of overwhelming force may manage conflict in the short term, but over time could entrench 'hooligans' within fan culture, and undermine critically important 'self-policing' efforts of legitimate fans."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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