Menus Subscribe Search
soccerhooligans

Devon and Cornwall Police try to prevent football violence between Exeter City FC and Plymouth Argyle FC (PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK)

Unsportsmanlike Conduct, Off the Field

• December 12, 2012 • 4:00 AM

Devon and Cornwall Police try to prevent football violence between Exeter City FC and Plymouth Argyle FC (PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK)

Domestic violence in the U.K. is said to spike every time England loses a football match. A BBC reporter and a statistician team up to uncover the full story.

Football in Europe is a world unto itself, less a professional sport than an exercise in 21st-century nationalism: stadia take the place of battlegrounds and players the place of soldiers, while fans and hooligans hold down the home front, anxiously awaiting news of their boys overseas. Victory can ignite a country’s passion and patriotism, while defeat can sour the national mood for weeks.

Nowhere is the mania more catching than England. Indeed, Brits are such fervent fans that domestic violence in the U.K. during World Cup play rises and falls with the fate of the country’s football team—this according to a recent study in Significance, the Royal Statistical Society’s bimonthly journal.

This may not come as news; the link between football—both soccer and American-style—and spousal abuse has long been a topic. In the U.S. it arises with the canard that domestic violence peaks on Super Bowl Sunday (although it does increase when the home team loses); across the pond it entered the national conversation in 2006, when a Home Office report, reviewing crime statistics from that year’s World Cup, first asserted a correlation. But the U.K. government’s analysis had plenty of critics—not least among them soccer’s more peaceable superfans—and the phenomenon remained something of an urban legend: plausible, if unproven.

Earlier this year, Rebecca Cafe, a BBC journalist, and Allan Brimicombe, a professor of geo-information at the University of East London, decided to review the evidence themselves. Parsing the 2006 report, the pair quickly spotted some unseemly flaws: first, its authors had compared World Cup playoff days, which occurred mid-summer, to control days in the winter, opening the door to seasonal variations. Too, the data came from predominately urban districts, and were collected during a special anti-abuse campaign. Finally, the authors didn’t differentiate between England’s wins and losses, even though conventional wisdom held that it was only defeat that inspired an uptick in violence.

Brimicombe knew he and Cafe would need better data—and more rigorous methodology—if their conclusions were to stand up under scrutiny. Because “domestic violence” is broadly defined under the law, and because the Home Office doesn’t list it as a separate offense in annual reports, Cafe had to request crime logs directly from local police forces using the Freedom of Information Act. All told, she filed some 208 separate FOIA requests—a small mountain of paperwork.

Brimicombe, meanwhile, suggested more appropriate control data; from past research he knew that domestic violence was cyclic. “It goes up on the weekend, and falls down during the week,” he told me. “There are spikes during the year, at Christmas and New Year.” It wasn’t enough, then, to simply compare June 27th, 2010, a Cup match, to June 27th, 2009, because they fell on different days of the week, potentially muddying the data. It was important, too, that the researchers collect figures from across the country, as local events or shoddy police work could produce aberrations in any one city.

In the end, Brimicombe and Cafe compared four 2010 World Cup match days—two draws, a loss, and a win for England—against four non-match days in both 2010 and 2009. What they found partially confirmed the Home Office report: on days when England drew, there was no spike in domestic violence; when they lost, reports of abuse rose 34 percent. And when England won? Here, the researchers were surprised. Instead of inspiring celebration and goodwill, victory portended just the opposite—violence jumped between 28 and 35 percent.

“I think it’s a matter of getting very worked up,” Brimicombe says. “I’m sure that drugs and alcohol can have an exacerbating factor. But it also, in the mix, requires a relationship where not all is well.” As the Home Office analysis was careful to point out: “Major sporting events do not cause domestic violence, as perpetrators are responsible for their actions.” Rather, they set the stage for abuse: heightened emotions, substance abuse, and late-night carousing.

I pictured a middle-aged, jersey-wearing lout getting soused at the pub and then heading home to pick at some longstanding marital scab with his wife—until Brimicombe complicated my mental image. According to the Crime Survey of England and Wales, he told me, 60 percent of domestic violence victims are women, while 40 percent are men. “Women can lose their tempers just as well as men can,” he said. “But it tends to be female victims that become chronic victims. In other words, there is this repeat victimization over time.” And, of course, it’s female victims who suffer the worse physical abuse.

Brimicombe doesn’t care for football himself—he may be a minority of one in England—but, he says, the takeaway is simple: “You don’t hit the people you love. It doesn’t matter what the disagreement is. Just don’t do it.”

Kevin Charles Redmon
Kevin Charles Redmon is a journalist and critic. He lives in Washington, D.C.

More From Kevin Charles Redmon

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 19 • 6:00 AM

The Most Untouchable Man in Sports

How the head of the governing body for the world’s most popular sport freely wields his wildly incompetent power.


September 19 • 4:00 AM

The Danger of Dining With an Overweight Companion

There’s a good chance you’ll eat more unhealthy food.



September 18 • 4:00 PM

Racial Disparity in Imprisonment Inspires White People to Be Even More Tough on Crime

White Americans are more comfortable with punitive and harsh policing and sentencing when they imagine that the people being policed and put in prison are black.



September 18 • 2:00 PM

The Wages of Millions Are Being Seized to Pay Past Debts

A new study provides the first-ever tally of how many employees lose up to a quarter of their paychecks over debts like unpaid credit card or medical bills and student loans.


September 18 • 12:00 PM

When Counterfeit and Contaminated Drugs Are Deadly

The cost and the crackdown, worldwide.


September 18 • 10:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Molly Crabapple?

Noah Davis talks to Moly Crapabble about Michelangelo, the Medicis, and the tension between making art and making money.


September 18 • 9:00 AM

Um, Why Are These Professors Creeping on My Facebook Page?

The ethics of student-teacher “intimacy”—on campus and on social media.


September 18 • 8:00 AM

Welcome to the Economy Economy

With the recent introduction of Apple Pay, the Silicon Valley giant is promising to remake how we interact with money. Could iCoin be next?



September 18 • 6:09 AM

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.


September 18 • 6:00 AM

Homeless on Purpose

The latest entry in a series of interviews about subculture in America.


September 18 • 4:00 AM

Why Original Artworks Move Us More Than Reproductions

Researchers present evidence that hand-created artworks convey an almost magical sense of the artist’s essence.


September 17 • 4:00 PM

Why Gun Control Groups Have Moved Away From an Assault Weapons Ban

A decade after the ban expired, gun control groups say that focusing on other policies will save more American lives.


September 17 • 2:00 PM

Can You Make Two People Like Each Other Just By Telling Them That They Should?

OKCupid manipulates user data in an attempt to find out.


September 17 • 12:00 PM

Understanding ISIL Messaging Through Behavioral Science

By generating propaganda that taps into individuals’ emotional and cognitive states, ISIL is better able motivate people to join their jihad.


September 17 • 10:00 AM

Pulling Punches: Why Sports Leagues Treat Most Offenders With Leniency

There’s a psychological explanation for the weak punishment given to Ray Rice before a video surfaced that made a re-evaluation unavoidable.


September 17 • 9:44 AM

No Innovation Without Migration: Portlandia Is Dying

Build an emerald city. Attract the best and brightest with glorious amenities. They will come and do nothing.



September 17 • 8:00 AM

Why Don’t We Have Pay Toilets in America?

Forty years ago, thanks to an organization founded by four high school friends, human rights beat out the free market—and now we can all pee for free.


September 17 • 6:32 AM

Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists’ appetites.


September 17 • 6:00 AM

The Grateful Dig: An Archaeologist Excavates a Tie-Dyed Modern Stereotype

What California’s senior state archaeologist discovered in the ruins of a hippie commune.


September 17 • 4:00 AM

The Strong Symbolic Power of Emptying Pockets

Researchers find the symbolic act of emptying a receptacle can impact our behavior, and not for the better.


September 16 • 4:00 PM

Why Is LiveJournal Helping Russia Block a Prominent Critic of Vladimir Putin?

The U.S. blogging company is showing an error message to users inside Russia who try to read the blog of Alexei Navalny, a prominent politician and critic of the Russian government.


Follow us


How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.

Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists' appetites.

3-D Movies Aren’t That Special

Psychologists find that 3-D doesn't have any extra emotional impact.

To Protect Against Meltdowns, Banks Must Map Financial Interconnections

A new model suggests looking beyond balance sheets, studying the network of investment as well.

Big Government, Happy Citizens?

You may like to talk about how much happier you'd be if the government didn't interfere with your life, but that's not what the research shows.

The Big One

One in three drivers in Brooklyn's Park Slope—at certain times of day—is just looking for parking. The same goes for drivers in Manhattan's SoHo. September/October 2014 new-big-one-3

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.