10 de julio de 2000

The play of verbal violence in football

Por Jesús Castañón Rodríguez

The play of verbal violence in football

Jesús Castañón Rodríguez (*)

(*) Text based on the intervention inI National Conference of football supporters Aficiones Unidas, was held on the 17th of June, 2000.

The eternal problem of violence in football is something as old as the play itself. It has given literary signs since 1925, when Enrique Jardiel Poncela published the one-act farce «El once del Amaniel FC» in the magazine Aire Libre. This club in the «El once del Amaniel FC» was the one which played with the agility of a pessimistic rhinoceros to whom was reckoned eleven and then it was given seven. It was a club that thought «the honour of the association is the leite motives of the existence, and before an affirmation that kind I lose my head and the automatic lighter», according to its president. And in order not to lose honour, he planned tactics kicking in the shin, thumping with the ball in the nostrils, also by means of strong loads, elbowing people’s stomachs, trodding on people’s feet…to the extent of players gave the chairs kicks to train when they were going to go out.

In 1988, and according to some surveys, it was the sixth factor that caused violent arguments, the second element that had tendency to end up fighting and the first one that cause violent attitudes too.

Football as a scope for violence

For the new framework of consumers of feelings, because this is what the fans have become in, we must emphasize that in football a new match is contested, felt as a magic experience, between three different and close aspects which are interwoven in an amazing way: passion, aggressiveness and violence strictly speaking.

It’s a match where passion is understood as chaotic spirits, as a very lively preference for something and as vehement hobby. Aggressiveness comes into football as decision-making ability for an action, as a possible tendency to offend or as a fact which implies provocation or attack. And violence includes actions out of a natural mood or condition, what means impetus and strength, what is done abruptly, actions against taste, pleasure, facts out of reason and justice, embarrassing situations (for example when Tamudo scored a goal against Toni in the final of «Copa del Rey») and the impetuous temper which allows itself to be persuaded by anger.

So, it’s practically impossible to put an end to violence in football, but it’s possible to fight intensely against its signs by means of rage or without listening to reason or justice and reducing the fateful circumstances. We may work in order to improve the behaviour linked to the three football scopes where there is any kind of exacerbate violence:

1º) The play, together with direct competitions related to players, trainers and references.

2º) The offices, with the use of a psychological violence which wants to intimidate to persuade in a different negotiations and to get better results.

3º) The row of seats, in the broad sense of the term, fans and mass media try to influence on the results by means of pressure.


So, football has an innate violent behaviour but regulated and another associated violence which has come out to the side-line to get worried all sports stratums and authorities: cruelty above all, among the spectators.

Its possible causes have been analyzed and we may come to the conclusion that it affects two scopes. First, regarding the play, violence developed in the pitch stimulates the spectators’ aggressive behaviour. So, taking into account the surveys carried out by the AFE in 1988 and 1992 it was concluded that this violence was due to managers who accept it, trainers who prefer to select the most violent football players and due to referees because of their bad training, their consent of aggressive actions to the local team and finally due to the inadequate system of designation.

And second, as far as the row of seats are concerned, there’re two phenomena. For the spectators, it has been concluded that provocative placards may produce violence. And in a survey organized by the Spanish Real Federation of Football in 1991, and between the fans it was concluded that violence is not generated by football but society and it emphasized as people to blame: referees, football players, fans, the Federation itself, journalists, presidents and trainers.

The mass-media are accused of resorting to violence and heroic values as a lure to catch spectator’s attention, together with transforming a simple competition into a passion show. And sports advertising stimulates an exacerbate materialism and in occasions, it has pulled off a good deal because of violence by means of products like the video «Tarjeta roja» where some images are recreated, one of the most striking ones based on violent and foul play.


In the last two decades several solutions have been proposed: to extend the goals to diminish the slow cadence of goals; the presence of a fourth referee and the change of the colour of the referee’s uniform, those men in black and bad-wishes; the referees’ professionalism and the change of the designation systems; the hardening of the penalties in the rules to pursue the violent play; to remove the barriers of the stadiums to avoid the sensation of the spectators of being like in a cage, to remove the location to be standing up; the bettering of the stadiums security…

All these measures have been developed, since 198, from the European Agreement about violence in sport, in the section number 66 of Law based on Sport in 1990 and in the section 12th of the Juridical Regulations of the Sports Anonymous Societies (1).

The risks of verbal violence

The bettering of behaviours comprises actions based on prohibition, prevention and alternative ways. So far, it has been paid more attention to the first two ones than to the third one.

The panorama is complex because for some supporters football is useful to express an identification, give a new meaning to their life and improve their esteem to the extent of becoming something typical of them; something which deserves somebody fights for it and something that may replace family or partner.

Football relieves frustrations and takes in everybody organizing its supporters into sympathizers or fans according to the level of feelings, emotions, sufferings or ways of reacting with which they enjoy football. It’s a sentimental and vehement experience that shows us positive values based on tributes, obligations, faithfulness, superiority or perseverance; and also based on the negation of the existence of the opposing, jokes or establishment of social differences. It’s an experience based on «Love-spirit-courage» to be favourable to self-esteem and «Threat- insult» in view of the possibility of losing the identity.

At this point it’s where some factors come into play such as the seduction of words and the possible risks to fade away frontiers between aggressiveness, passion and violence.

So far, the preventive measures have taken into account that they couldn’t take part into the Cabinet of Administration people who have been penalized for being favourable to certain behaviours, attitudes together with aggressive and unsporting gestures of football players when they go over to the referee, other players or the spectators as well as for making public statements that urge their teams or spectators to be violent with managers, trainers, referees, sportsmen or members.

However verbal violence has been able to find a sphere in speculation of sense of football environment, in the springboard for the ideas and money combinations according to the definition made by the Honour President of the International Association for a Sport without Violence, the Prince Rainero of Monaco.

Current professional football has a resonance box where in the violent language forms several types of factors may intervene:

1º) According to some supporters, the stadium is a place of ritual violence where brutality, insolence and coarseness are basic expressions which take part in the festival.

2º) Professional football has created a new frame of reference where journalist is not only a mere informant but he has to develop functions as educator, adviser of the information and commercial mediator. It’s in the middle of the spectators’ passion, the typical violence of the play, the commercial and advertising frenzy which tries to get achievements urging to consumption and assimilation of several events which occur at the same time and the most striking has to be selected.

3º) There is a generalized tendency to look for expressions that generate emotions, feelings and impressions of the sports show. The technical thing is only understandable for those who have taken part in football, while words with figurative meanings telling what it looks like are understood by more spectators

4º) More frequently, when talking about leaders, free verbal attacks together with unnecessary offences and defamations appear.

5º) Sometimes main figures make impact statements where many times there are disqualifications, insults or provocations. Sometimes to put pressure to get a better result and now and again to catch the spectators’ attention and get a greater activity in order to support them; never to get a greater economic takings.

6º) The excesses of fact interpretations and the plays assessment which occur very fast are usually done with a constant stress and emphasis, when it should be used only in important occasions. And in this atmosphere, from time to time, accusations, threats due to this fear of losing the identity and the boasts fit.

7º) In the social presentation of football, the myth of success predominates together with the local passions, if this is not so, tension sources appear. Sometimes, it has been curious the fact that it has been celebrated as a triumph the fact of losing a match or demoting.

8º) The last factor has to do with the typical matter based on the warmongering football language. Fortunately, this characteristic is less obvious in football and it has its own history. The spreading of football around the middle of the century fell to the military world, which not having terminology in the different languages told about football by means of the one it has handy: shot, howitzer, artilleryman, cannon shots, etc. This war language did helped to form a mood tending towards discipline, working as a team, the dedication to achieve an aim, but within the whole of football words it occupies a low percentage.

The work by Julián García Candau is very recommendable to be read about this aspect and also a book which will appear soon, La Seducción de las Palabras, written by Álex Grijelmo.

The mixture of all these aspects and the exacerbation of sports passion, the commercial frenzy and the associated feelings and values is what make the spectators fade away the boundaries between the necessary aggressiveness, passion and violence within the ground.

The leap from the violence forms of the ground and the offices to the tiers, the lack of inhibition of the people when they act in group, the fact of showing the wins as a praise of the lack of control and the defeats as a conflict makes violence may live between the spectators with face to face confrontations, and only in exceptional cases against the other football levels.

When several forms based on aggressiveness, passion and violence act at the same time, some people react in mass and situations related to passionate wars where everything is accepted appear: attacks on people and destructions in the stadiums; savagery, murders, disturbances and actions against the football players’ interests out of the stadiums.


To sum up, verbal violence also takes part in football environment and it can help other forms which are less desirable are present too thanks to its charming capacity. I wish the fans- in the new football frame as an industry based on leisure where they carry out the function of consumers with feelings- would keep promoting that football is only a show, a business or an entertainment, which is » the landing of the stairs of the week», according to the poet Carlos Murciano it’s the country where people can forget disillusions, the break which keeps on giving freedom, dreams, calm… As Jardiel Poncela would say «I wish that by means of the fans’ help football doesn’t lose neither its head over nor the automatic lighter».


(1) Cf. European agreement about violence, 1987. The article number 66 of the Law 19/1990, on the 15th of October about sport alludes to the prohibition of putting on show placards, symbols and emblems which urge to violence. The article number 12th of the Royal Decree 1084/1991 on the 5th of July about the Legal Regulation of Sports Anonymous Societies establishes that there are certain people who can’t take part of the Board of Directors, these are the ones who have been penalized because of the fact of favouring aggressive and unsporting behaviours, attitudes and gestures of some footballers when they head for the referee, other football players or the spectators, as well as making public statements which urge to their teams or spectators to violence on managers, trainers, referees, sportsmen or members.

Bibliographical references

CONSEJO DE EUROPA, Convenio Europeo sobre la violencia, 1987.

DEAN, Paul, «Ira en las gradas», El País, Madrid, 10 de diciembre de 1990.

GÁNDARA, Lelia, «Las voces del fútbol. Análisis del discurso y cantos de cancha», Lecturas: Educación Física y Deportes número 17, Buenos Aires, 1999.

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JARDIEL PONCELA, Enrique, «El once del Amaniel FC», Aire Libre, Madrid, 1925.

Ley 19/1990, de 15 de octubre, sobre el deporte

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