Original take on football fandom makes a relevant contribution

Lise Joern
University of Southern Denmark

Christian Brandt, Fabian Hertel & Sean Huddleston (red)
Football Fans, Rivalry and Cooperation
198 pages, hardcover.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2017 (Routledge Research in Sport, Culture and Society)
ISBN 978-1-138-21045-5

Socio-cultural research of football fandom has been largely restricted to a discussion of violence among supporters, and has sought to document the activities of ‘hooligans’. In the past decade, academic literature on football supporters began to shift focus. Especially, the rivalry-related aspect of football fandom has been given growing attention. There has, however, only been a small focus on supporter activism and cooperation.

Based on the title, Football fans, Rivalry and Cooperation, this collection of articles could make an interesting and pertinent contribution to our contemporary understanding of football fandom in an international context. The aim of the book is to provide a better understanding of cooperation – ranging from football-related to broader social issues – among rival football supporters. Largely, the anthology delivers on this objective and the reader will find some intriguing chapters on football supporters in Poland, Germany, North America, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Croatia, Scotland, Zimbabwe, Turkey, and Ukraine.

The book is introduced with a discussion of crucial issues facing rivalry and cooperation among football supporters. The editors introduce an overall theoretical scheme by framing the key concepts of “Vergesellschaftung” (based on Georg Simmel’s argument that conflict is a first form of ‘societalisation’), “antagonistic cooperation” (based on William G. Sumner’s theory on how adversaries may enter into limited but durable partnerships in order to pursue common interests) and “belonging”.

The contributors’ task has been to describe cases within this theoretical and conceptual framework to retrieve patterns of cooperation among rival supporters. Most of the researchers indicated to have employed methods of participant observations and interviews to collect data, while others primarily used various traditional and social media narratives and netnography. The contributors deserve credit for extracting valuable data from a field that can be very difficult to access.

The editors have organized the cases by the motivation for cooperation. The starting point for cooperation is ranging from a specifically football-related context, i.e. connected to the world of football supporters itself, to cooperation motivated by social or political factors in a broader context.

The editors have chosen 11 articles presenting 16 cases. Four of the cases show examples of cooperation that serve to solve issues between groups of supporters, mainly to control the level of violence between rival supporters. For example, Zucal & Hijós present a case of two Argentinian supporter groups cooperating to accumulate more manpower in fights against rival supporters. A case from Poland describes pacts signed by different supporters to prohibit the use of weapons in the fights and to avoid violent clashes between rival Polish supporters during matches of the Polish national team.

Nine of the cases in the book are concerned with the supporters’ struggle against what is referred to as ‘modern football’. Among many football supporters there is a growing concern that the increasing commercialisation of association football is having harmful effects on the game and negative consequences for the supporters. Therefore, one of the most typical common causes that lead to temporary cooperation among football supporters is the fight against ‘modern football’, i.e. the development of commercialisation, commodification and marketization of club football, and the increasing criminalization of football fan behaviour. The tension between economic interests of football on the one hand, and its cultural tradition on the other, results in many supporters’ dissatisfaction and their concomitant unified actions to oppose this development.

Three cases deal with cooperation outside the world of football. In the chapter “The unlikely alliance of Ukrainian football ultras” for instance, Maryna & Oleksander Krugliak describe how rival Ukrainian supporters united to join the large public protests known as the ‘Euromaidan’.

Football supporter rivalries can exist between extremely similar groups of fans and are often based on what is referred to as the ‘narcissism of minor differences’, a term coined by Sigmund Freud.

All of the cases provide basic information about and specific examples of the dynamics of rivalry and cooperation among football supporters. Some of the chapters make an original contribution to our understanding of the complex socio-(sub)-cultural aspects of football fandom. For instance, in chapter four, “Building a supporters’ culture and ‘growing the game’”, Markus Gerke shows that fan violence and animosity is relatively absent in football (soccer) fan culture in the US. Here cooperation between fans is more the rule than the exception. In the US, Gerke points out, many supporters identify themselves as fans of the sport of soccer or the domestic league first, and supporters of their specific teams second. According to Gerke the reason for this is, among others, the short history of the US soccer leagues and the status of the sport in the US.

Another chapter which might be worth mentioning is written by Sean Huddleston and gives an example from Scottish football. Football supporter rivalries can exist between extremely similar groups of fans and are often based on what is referred to as the ‘narcissism of minor differences’, a term coined by Sigmund Freud. These rivalries, however, can be extremely deep-seated. In 2012 the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act became law. The act creates new criminal offences concerning sectarian behaviour at football games. It criminalizes some of the football supporters’ songs and chants. Unlike supporters from a wide range of countries who have faced and fought similar problems with criminalization and repressive laws, the Scottish supporters, more precisely supporters of Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers, have failed to unite. Huddleston traces this lack of willingness to cooperate back to long-standing antagonism in Scotland that is rooted in controversies transcending football-related issues.

The book is based on cases that show different degrees of cooperation and different starting points that cause the supporters to unite. These differences are hardly surprising given the heterogeneity of supporter cultures across the world. In order to obtain explanations, it is necessary to note the differences regarding supporter engagement between different national contexts. This, of course, makes holistic analysis and generalizability extremely difficult. In the final remarks the editors acknowledge these shortcomings of the study. Yet, the chapters in this book allow us to identify meaningful dynamics. Under given circumstances football supporters are willing to set aside their rivalry and suppress differences in order to work jointly for a common cause. Nonetheless, the cases also show that the ‘truce’ between the supporters, regardless of circumstances, is fragile and short-lived. Fan animosities and tensions seem to be a too integral and deep-rooted part of football fandom.

The editors’ attempt to provide an initial theoretical framework for the case studies overcomes the challenge when compiling an anthology of making the different contributions keep a common thread and avoid the ‘endless’ repetition of the same theories. At the same time this is perhaps one of the more debatable aspects of the anthology. Although the editors have given the contributors the option to add further or different theories, not many grasp this opportunity. Rather, they stick to matching the ‘blocks’ to the cut-out shapes of the overall theoretical ‘sorting box’. Especially the authors of the chapter “The pacts, the death of the Pope and boycotts: the modes of cooperation in Polish football fandom” seem just to be going through the motions here. Yet, most contributors have done a fine job providing valuable insights into the dynamics of football fandom in a particular country. Overall the anthology makes a relevant contribution to our understanding of the constant interplay between groups of supporters and supporters and issues related to wider society. The collection is a welcome addition to the growing corpus of literature on fan culture in football, and the insights into activism and cooperation among football supporters are quite refreshing.

Copyright © Lise Joern 2017


Table of Content

  1. Introduction: Rivalry and Cooperation in Football
    Christian Brandt, Fabian Hertel
  2. The Death of the Pope, Pacts and Boycotts: Modes of Cooperation in Polish Football Fandom
    Radosław Kossakowski, Łukasz Bieszke
  3. Divided in Colours, United in Course? The Rivalry and Solidarity of Supporting Fans in Germany
    Patrick Bresemann, Gabriel Duttler
  4. Building a Supporters’ Culture and ‘Growing the Game’: Cooperation between Soccer Supporters’ Groups in North America
    Markus Gerke
  5. Rivalry, Passion and Cooperation between Argentinean Club Supporters
    Verónica Moreira, José Garriga Zucal, Nemesia Hijós
  6. Brazil’s Organised Football Supporter Clubs and the Construction of their Public Arenas through FTORJ and ANATORG
    Bernardo Buarque de Hollanda, Rosana Da Camara Teixeira
  7. The Criminalization of Mexican Football Fans and the Emergence of the ‘Movement of United Mexican Supporters’
    Roger Magazine, Sergio Fernández González
  8. Torcida and Bad Blue Boys: From Hatred to Cooperation and Back
    Benjamin Perasović, Marko Mustapić
  9. Never the Twain Shall Meet? The Lack of United Effort between Scottish Fans against the Offensive Behaviour Act (2012)
    Sean Huddleston
  10. Zimbabwe United? Exploring Cooperation and Contestations in the Context of National Football Team Fandom in Zimbabwe
    Manase Kudzai Chiweshe
  11. Istanbul United: A Short-Lived Experience of Agonistic Pluralism
    Ekin Can Göksoy, Okan Yılmaz
  12. The Unlikely Alliance of Ukrainian Football Ultras
    Maryna Krugliak, Oleksandr Krugliak
  13. Final Remarks
    Christian Brandt, Fabian Hertel
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