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The link between cocaine use and football hooliganism

Work with offenders looks at intriguing new research on a possible link between cocaine use and heightened aggression at football grounds

New research published this week (4 May, 2021) finds that football fans who use cocaine are most likely to be aggressive towards rival fans. The research, from Martha Newson who is based at the Universities of Kent and Oxford, is based on an anonymous online survey of almost 1,500 British football fans.

The survey asked about participants’ cocaine use. Overall, 6.2% of participants had used cocaine in the previous 12 months. That is double the national average age for people in the age range of those completing the survey.  Of those survey participants who reported cocaine use in the last 12-months, more than a third (36%) had used cocaine at least once while watching football, and more than one in six (17%) had used it at a stadium. The most interesting finding of the study was that nearly a third of all the survey participants who had gone to a match in the last year said they had seen other fans using cocaine in the stadium.


The survey asked about a range of aggressive behaviour towards rival fans including:

Most survey participants reported very little aggression toward rivals in the last 12 months. However, fans who had used cocaine were significantly more likely to report aggression toward rivals than fans who had not.

Ms Newson suggests that football fans may be a population where the aggressive outcomes associated with cocaine use are exacerbated. Previous research on cocaine use among football fans has associated the drugs with the construction of ‘hyper-masculine identities’ and associated aggression. The author argues that cocaine has become an element of ‘Lad’ culture and, alongside alcohol, fuels competitiveness and aggression from travel to a match, until well after it is finished. She points out that, in a similar fashion, the masculinities embedded in ‘hooligan’ football cultures have persisted for many years and are linked to the phenomenon of violence in city centres during the night time economy which, in many places, has been accepted as normal.

As a side note, Ms Newson mentions that there is little or no research on how the growing number of female football fans navigate this masculinised world of violent football fandom.

The author does, however, caution that just as with alcohol, cocaine may be too heavily blamed for fan aggression. By way of example, she notes that there are large fan cultures who drink heavily, but are known for their peaceful fan interactions, eg, Irish national team fans and fans of Scandinavian clubs.

There are no specific initiatives established for targeting cocaine-related violence at football games. However, there have been calls for inquiries into its use by UK police forces and the subject is regularly debated in the media. Nonetheless, despite a doubling in cocaine-related arrests making headline news in 2019, actual figures are low – there were just 83 police reports of cocaine use or possession by football fans in the financial year 2019/20 according to official Home Office statistics.


The other factor that this research looks at is the extent to which “ identity fusion” – an academic term which describes the tribal bonding between fans of the same team – is also related to cocaine use and football violence. There is a strong evidence base which, unsurprisingly, links identity fusion with violence and aggression between fans supporting different teams.

However, this study concludes that this tribal bonding and cocaine use interact, with those fans with strong tribal identities with the club they support  who also take cocaine more likely to report aggressive behaviour toward rival fans.

The author suggests that the use of cocaine may make footballs fans feel bolder and more powerful (and less inhibited), which in turn amplifies the sense of reciprocal strength felt by a group of fans with a strong bond with their club and each other. The product of cocaine (and alcohol) use with a strong tribal identity is likely to stimulate more aggression between rival groups of fans.

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