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Red Army: The largest hooligan firm in Britain

Football hooligan firms are organised groups that purposely take part in violent or other anti-social behaviour surrounding football. Frowned upon in contemporary society by most, hooliganism was at its peak in the United Kingdom during the 1970s and 1980s. Although on a smaller scale, football hooliganism remains an integral part of football culture. Hooliganism has influenced many aspects of the match going fan. For example, it is not unusual to see many fans dressed in football casual attire all over stadiums in the UK.

Manchester United’s hooligans are known as the Red Army. However, various sub-divisions of firms have been created amongst United fans due to large numbers. Some of these sub-divisions of the Red Army are known as Men in Black, the Young Munich’s, the Inter City Jibbers, the M58 Firm and the Moston Rats.

The name Red Army is often used to refer to all sections of Manchester United’s support. However, United’s more active fans were called this originally in the 1970s. The Red Army made a name for themselves in the 1974/1975 season whilst United were playing in division two. The Red Army would travel around to market towns and smaller grounds across England causing havoc. Regularly the Red Army would outnumber the home support of the team they were away to.

Manchester United are one of the biggest football clubs in the world and this has resulted in gaining a fan base from all over the world. Consequentially, this means that United have hooligans based all over the United Kingdom. Various sub-sections of the Red Army such as Cockney Reds, Coventry Reds, and Carlisle Reds have been recognised.

Traditionally, Manchester United have had more arrests made due to football-related violence than any other club in the country. In 2005, United had 160 supporters arrested for hooliganism and 100 supporters received banning orders. This is almost double any other club in the United Kingdom.

Notably, clashes between United fans and St Etienne fans in the 1977 European Cup Winners’ Cup resulted in United being forced to play a home match in Plymouth. Consequentially, due to the reputation the Red Army had developed allowed French police to be prepared for what was in store. At the time there was a bakery strike on in the UK, this resulted in the St Etienne fans throwing stale bread at United fans. This escalated in various clashes with St Etienne fans. As a result, 33 people were taken to hospital whilst police continued to escort United fans out of the stadium. The trouble resulted in United being forced to play the return leg 200km away from Old Trafford and Plymouth was the chosen venue.

In more modern times, the Red Army has been involved in serious clashes with fans of A.S. Roma. When the two sides met in the 2007 Champions League deadly incidents occurred. Five United fans were left stabbed and furthermore four United fans were jailed. At a bridge near the Stadio Olimpico, Roma Ultras were preparing to ambush United fans. However, word was let out and United fans were alerted. Three hundred members of the Red Army angrily marched towards this bridge and took the fight to Roma’s Ultras. The Red Army gained respect from the Roma Ultras however, this does not mean the violence stopped. After the clash, many United fans retired from hooliganism. Whereas others waited for the return leg in Old Trafford to target the Italian hooligans.

Although Premier League football has become saturated with commercialism and clubs aiming to grow a global fan base hooliganism still exists. Whether people like it or not, it remains one of the few working-class aspects of the game today. Just this season gone, before the derby game at the Etihad, both United and Manchester City fans clashed. Hooliganism is an issue that will be forever associated with football.

Written by Shane Purcell

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