Oxford Utd director studied behaviour of football fans

Dr Peter Marsh

Dr Peter Marsh

First published in News

A PSYCHOLOGIST who studied Oxford United football fans to develop his theories on crowd behaviour has died aged 67.

Dr Peter Marsh was a former director of the club and researcher at Oxford University and Oxford Brookes University.

His pioneering studies into the behaviour of “football hooligans”, published in the 1978 book The Rules of Disorder, rejected the idea that the actions of fans at matches were mindless and recognised that life on the terraces was, for some young people, more meaningful than life in school.

His astute observations were made (in agreement with the club and its followers) by video-recording spectators while they watched games from the London Road stands at the Manor Ground.

In 1989 he also founded Oxford research group MCM Research, as well as the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) in 1997.

Peter Marsh was born in Leeds, West Yorkshire on September 15, 1946, to parents William and Annie.

The son of a bricklayer, he went to a number of different schools before becoming a social worker.

He moved to Oxford in 1968 to read social studies at Ruskin College and went on to do a degree in psychology at University College, which he followed with a doctorate. He married his wife, Patricia (nee Sebeston), in Cuckfield, Sussex on March 18, 1967.

During his research into Oxford United’s football fans, which he started in 1974, he interviewed more than 50 supporters and would also travel with them to away games.

His findings exposed self-imposed rules and hierarchies which outside observers previously refused to acknowledge.

“There are rules about where you stand,” he told the Mail’s sister paper The Oxford Times in 1975.

“You have an end and you don’t go down to the other one. And there is also your position on the terrace.

“You stand at the back in full gear until you’ve established your toughness and move towards the front.”

His findings identified “town boys”, “aggro leaders”, “rowdies”, “novices” and “nutters”.

He also claimed that sometimes the intervention of police in matches actually made fights more likely to break out, a suggestion that ruffled many feathers at the time.

He was appointed director at Oxford United in January 1978, after setting up the London Road Travel Club, and came to be known as a well-respected voice of the supporters.

He left as director in 1982, but kept campaigning in support of the club during its financial woes.

He said: “I know a lot of the fans, many who live near me in East Oxford.

“That is why I still take my place in the London Road end at games.”

In 1979 he visited America with colleague Dr Anne Campbell to study gangland culture in New York and Chicago.

With the help of the New York police force they explored slum areas in Brooklyn, a place of buildings gutted by fire bombs and 60 per cent unemployment.

On his return he said: “We met kids of 14 and 15 who had actually killed people – we saw the police evidence – and on one or two occasions we saw the scars on the kids involved.

“In the United States there is less talk and more action, in crude terms. “Kids over here talk a lot.”

That same year he became a senior lecturer at Oxford Polytechnic, a position he held until 1989.

During that time he studied aggression in women, as well as violent pub encounters.

Peter Marsh died on June 9. A funeral took place in the Ultimate Picture Palace, Oxford on Friday, June 20.

He is survived by his wife Patricia, his children, Jessica, 43, and James, 39, and two grandchildren, Emily, 13, and Finlay, 10.

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