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The K-League Needs Some Hooligans

MANCHESTER UNITED vs MANCHESTER CITY - Lines of police seperate fans.

The Korea Football Association recently announced that 2020 had been a great year for Korean football, despite the Corona Virus and the social distancing causing stadia across the world to close. The Korean season would start late, in May, as oppose to the usual February, and the games would be played to empty stands.

But let’s face it, K-League games are usually played to almost empty stands. I used to watch Daegu FC play at the World Cup Stadium. It was really sad. I could count the number of people present in this 66,000-seat capacity venue. I felt for the players. Daegu FC would eventually downsize to a much smaller venue, but it still feels empty. And this emptiness leads to losses in gate money. Compare with European clubs which boast attendances of over 100,000 per game. This allows the clubs to buy exciting players, including the best Korean players, and greatly improve the quality of the game, leading to further revenue from TV rights around the world.

This is a football loving country, so why the lack of spectator interest? It's a puzzle we should put together.


Sadly, the K league is boring. But it doesn’t have to be. It needs to merge with the J-League. There is a genuine competitiveness between Korea and Japan and each weekend would be like a mini-world cup. The passions would run high and fans would cross the water each weekend boosting the regional airline and tourism industries.


However, with these passions would come the inevitable football violence that has often been wrongly described as an English football disease. But this potential threat should not prevent giving this great sport the boost it clearly needs. The Japanese and Korean police worked together on hooliganism preparation prior to the 2002 event. For Korea’s part they trained almost 3,000 officers to form 10 teams ready to deal with the potential disturbances.

I recall the preparations well as I was writing a Risk Assessment / Threat Analysis on the event being held in the rainy season and as such would game cancellations lead to crowd trouble.

Once again England fans were the center of media attention. But this was never really an “English” problem. Indeed, North Korean fans invaded the pitch in a 2005 World Cup qualifier against Iran at the Kim Il Sung stadium, throwing chairs, bottles and stones as they were eliminated from the competition.

Football hooliganism does have its roots in England having started there in the 1960s. Throughout the 1970s as black players began to join the professional teams there were many racist chants from the stands leading to football gangs being linked to Far-Right groups. It was also in the 1970s that European clubs were identified as having aggressive fan bases and multiple research studies have failed to identify the root cause of the issue.

Whilst alcohol has often been a contributing factor to violence, branding it a causal factor might be a step too far. But that didn’t stop Margaret Thatcher’s government from banning the consumption of alcohol within view of the playing area under the 1985 Sporting Events Act.


Other regions provided designated drinking zones which allowed the police to monitor the fan behaviour, however, when no such drinking locations were created, travelling fans, for whom football and drinking are one, had no single place to congregate before a game, meaning they were widely dispersed, creating a bigger police control problem. In fact, an end to the UK alcohol ban is now being considered to allow fans to drink in their seats.

Other research suggested most hooligans are suffering low self-esteem stemming from the dysfunctional families they come from. They feel a “buzz” when antagonizing others and the rush of adrenaline influences both individual and collective deviance. But the low self-esteem description would not explain the many arrested hooligans found to be in white collar employment.

Another of the many reasons given for football hooliganism, which was also cited in the Rand Institute’s assessment for the upcoming Qatar World Cup (2022), relates to the quality of the performance of the team on the pitch, which could in some way explain the considerable drop in incidents at English football clubs since the Premier League came into being. Vast sums of money invested in world class players raised the level of the game to unprecedented levels.

There are of course multiple factors at play which lead to acts of football hooliganism, many of which might be difficult to identify in Korea and Japan on a scale large enough to create the scenes we have all witnessed across British and European stadia.

Currently there is little demand for any K League game, but once these two leagues merge it will increase because the level of interest in the game will go through the roof. Let’s support such a merger and allow both countries to develop stronger youth teams.

This would doubtless lead to some violence between some fans, but as the game progresses with the accompanying revenues, fans would become far more interested in the action on the pitch and not that on the street.

What do you think - should the K & J Leagues merge? Is this the missing piece to the puzzle?

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