Barras Bravas (Hooliganism) is used to refer to groups of violent fans, organized in a formal manner, with a strict heirarchical structure with a leader at the helm, to carry out disturbances inside and outside a soccer stadium.
Using mob violence and intimidation, the members of the barras bravas are young, typically aged between 20 and 25, although the leaders are frequently much older.
Members are recruited and set a series of trials to test their commitment and strategies. According to, it is common for core members to be full-time militants and not, therefore, in conventional employment. Attacks are only carried out on game days.
“Most of the activity of the barras bravas can be explained in terms of political motivation. They have connections with those involved in the running of the club … for instance the club president”, write editors J.A. Mangan and Lamartine Da Costa in the book, Sport in Latin American Society, published in 2002 in Great Britain.
Argentina is the country in Latin America with the largest, strongest organized and most dangerous supporter groups in the world. There have been 256 barras related deaths in the history of Argentine soccer up to August 2012. Several recent deaths and shootings are the result of rival factions within the same clubs. (Deutsche Welle)
In Brazil the barras only play a major role on the extreme south of the country. Elsewhere, the torcida organizadas (organized supporters) have complete dominance. While not as unconditionally supporting, they tend to be ‘more fair’ with themselves, supporting the team only when it deserves.
Manrique Yglesias González, a Tico (Costa Rican) student of Sports Journalism at the Univerty of Palermo in Argentina, writes about the barra bravas in Costa Rica , “they are a reflection of our society, they can arise from low-income people, professionals, students, parents and misfits that stain a game in the name of the group through its leaders who try to maintain a good image through social activities, donations and public acts, such as the Cinchona earthquake in 2009…”
Barras behaviour involves a wide range of acts, including:
- taunting, e.g. by abusive chanting, sometimes obscene
- unarmed fighting
- throwing of objects on to the pitch, either in an attempt to harm players and officials or as a gesture of insult (as when bananas are thrown towards players of black African origin, the implication being that they are monkeys)
- throwing of objects at opposing supporters, including stones, bricks and Molotov cocktails
- use of pyrotechnic devices such as flares and smoke bombs
- fighting with weapons including sports bats, glass bottles, rocks, knives, machetes and firearms.
- disorderly crowd behaviour such as pushing, which may cause stadium fixtures such as fences and walls to collapse. Similar effects can occur when law-abiding crowds try to flee disorder caused by hooligans.
The first instance of soccer violence is unknown, but the phenomenon can be traced back to 14th-century England. In 1314, Edward II banned soccer (at that time, a violent, unruly activity involving rival villages kicking a pig’s bladder across the local heath) because he believed the disorder surrounding matches might lead to social unrest, or even treason. According to a University of Liverpool academic paper, conflict at an 1846 match in Derby, England, required a reading of the “riot act” and two groups of dragoons to effectively respond to the disorderly crowd. This same paper also identified “pitch invasions” as a common occurrence during the 1880s in English football.
The first recorded instances of soccer hooliganism in the modern game allegedly occurred during the 1880s in England, a period when gangs of supporters would intimidate neighbourhoods, in addition to attacking referees, opposing supporters and players. In 1885, after Preston North End beat Aston Villa 5–0 in a friendly match, both teams were pelted with stones, attacked with sticks, punched, kicked and spat at. One Preston player was beaten so severely that he lost consciousness and press reports at the time described the fans as “howling roughs”. The following year, Preston fans fought Queen’s Park fans in a railway station—the first alleged instance of soccer hooliganism outside of a match. In 1905, a number of Preston fans were tried for hooliganism, including a “drunk and disorderly” 70-year-old woman, following their match against Blackburn Rovers.
Although instances of soccer crowd violence and disorder have been a feature of association soccer throughout its history(e.g. Millwall’s ground was reportedly closed in 1920, 1934 and 1950 after crowd disturbances), the phenomenon only started to gain the media’s attention in the late 1950s due to the re-emergence of violence in Latin American soccer.
In the 1955–56 English soccer season, Liverpool and Everton fans were involved in a number of incidents and, by the 1960s, an average of 25 hooligan incidents were being reported each year in England. The label “soccer hooliganism” first began to appear in the English media in the mid-1960s, leading to increased media interest in, and reporting of, acts of disorder. It has been argued that this in turn created a ‘moral panic’ out of proportion with the scale of the actual problem.
Soccer hooliganism has factors in common with juvenile delinquency and what has been called “ritualized male violence”. “Involvement in soccer violence can be explained in relation to a number of factors, relating to interaction, identity, legitimacy and power. Soccer violence is also thought to reflect expressions of strong emotional ties to a soccer team, which may help to reinforce a supporter’s sense of identity.”
“Numerous causal factors have been offered in previous literature in relation to hooliganism,” including “…alcohol and irregular tickets sales, as well as the “…criminal insouciance (disinterest) of the organizers” and the “…cowardly ineptitude” of the police. The main causes are “the media, the police, the football authorities and opposing fans.” Rowe (2002) states that “football violence is often explained by focusing on genetic and sociological theories.”
Soccer hooligans often appear less interested in the soccer match itself than in the associated violence, engaging in behaviour which will risk their being arrested before the match, denied admittance to the stadium or ejected during the progress of the match.
Barras groups often associate themselves with, and congregate in, a specific part of their team’s stadium.