Popular accounts of ‘football hooliganism’ have identified the phenomenon as being harmful and damaging for both the sport of football and the interests of spectators who attend matches. As a result, it has been generally assumed that ‘non-hooligan’ supporters disapprove of their hooligan counterparts and their activities. However, this one-sided account does not recognize the views of a significant proportion of match-going fans who consistently express positive attitudes towards the ‘hooligans’ who follow their team. Based on a series of ethnographic studies of football fans from 1995 to 2010, this article casts light on the positive role that hooligans are perceived to perform by many fans who attend home and away matches with their club. The research demonstrated that hooligans were believed to play vital roles in distraction, protection and reputation for many non-hooligan fans and even when fans did express disapproval of ‘hooligan’ activity, this was often for practical rather than moral reasons. Furthermore, fans who express positive attitudes to hooliganism– or ‘hooligans’ – have to be acknowledged and understood if the problem of football crowd disorder is to be controlled.