Football Hooliganism, Left-Wing Political Activism and Secondary Industrial Action, in North-Eastern England and Yorkshire during the 1970s and 1980s.

Gary Daly at Stockton Town Football Club 28/11/15. © Harry Cook Photography.

Gary Daly at Stockton Town Football Club 28/11/15. © Harry Cook Photography.

Project Aims:

This research project aims to fill a void in the social, political and cultural historiography of Northern England by examining the link between the engagement in violence by political activists on picket-lines, and at football grounds by young men during the 1970s and 1980s. My original stimulation for exploring topic came from hearing the term ‘scab’ banded around stands of North-Eastern football stadia over the last thirty years. The use of this term in this environment appears to stem from the animosity that was whipped up during the Thatcher Government’s time in office when the act of strike-breaking, (scabbing), was actively promoted by some politicians. This was an act that was at the time viewed as being the equivalent to treason in many northern working class communities and therefore one that was a gross betrayal of their community, which was deserving of punishment.

The inspiration for initial idea for this project came from some of the anecdotes that I heard during my time working in the steel-industry. I discovered that acts of retribution, for this act of betrayal, not only took place on the picket-line, but also on the terraces of the local football grounds. It appears that this link between crowd violence at football matches and industrial unrest was particularly strong during the miners’ dispute of 1985, and that it also occurred during disputes involving other groups of blue-collar workers. This connection between industrial disputes and football violence has been largely neglected by historians and hooligans who have published auto-biographical accounts of their involvement and it is this gap in the historical assessment of the causes of football violence that this project aims to address.

Through this research I intend to demonstrate that those involved in the use of football hooliganism as a vehicle for left-wing political activism operated within a subculture, which had a much more nuanced relationship with their community, and society in general than politicians and mainstream media at the time suggested. This will be achieved by using material compiled by sociologists, psychologists and historians in conjunction with the oral testimony of those who were involved. I intend to use this material alongside press reports, government papers and auto-biographical material to show that the cultural life of working class people was far more complex than it was portrayed at the time.

Project Impact:

This project aims to enrich the cultural heritage of Northern England, by taking a fresh look at a topic that has until recently only been addressed by either those who seek to explain away the causes of hooliganism by dismissing its protagonists as degenerates who were disconnected from society, or by ex-hooligans who have sought to profit from their past actions in publishing what Steve Redhead (2010) has dubbed ‘hit-and-tell literature’. I intend to achieve this by approaching this topic from the perspective of the working class communities, that those who involved themselves in these acts primarily came from, and show that regional, social and class loyalty were just as important to those involved in hooliganism, as the nationalistic, misogynistic and racist values that have been identified by those who have previously examined the topic. This project will challenge the existing consensus view that the phenomenon of football hooliganism was just young men engaged in violence for its own sake and use the assertion that football violence is the product of the ‘fault-lines’ that exist in society, which were created by the dysfunctional relationship between disaffected youths and the establishment. It will also show that football hooliganism during this period was a product of social marginalisation and not merely an expression of masculinity. The value of this project is that it is seeking out and trying to understand a marginalised and forgotten voice, and show that these groups were just as culturally significant as their counterparts in the punk and feminist movements


I am a Heritage Consortium PhD research student based at Teesside University who, before recommencing my studies in 2009, spent twenty years working in the steel-industry. In 2012 I received a BA Hons degree in History from Teesside, where during the course of my studies I focussed upon social, cultural and political history, with a particular emphasis on the reaction of the British left to the actions of the Thatcher Government.  I explored this relationship further, whilst reading for my MA in history at Teesside, and this developed into a more focussed interest in subcultures and how they interact with society. I have alongside my studies also played an active role in local heritage projects, working in the past as a tour guide for The Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum and as an interviewer for the M86 oral history project, which was an attempt to create a recorded connection between Middlesbrough’s sporting and industrial heritage.

Supervisors: Professor Nigel Copsey, Teesside University and Professor Dave Waddington, Sheffield Hallam University.

Previous projects: The Use of Britain’s War Dead as a Political Tool | History at Teesside