The future of football? Thought-provoking anthology about football fandom in the age of digitalization

Lise Joern
University of Southern Denmark

Stefan Lawrence & Garry Crawford (eds.)
Digital Football Cultures: Fandom, Identities and Resistance
210 pages, hardcover.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2019 (Advances in Leisure Studies)
ISBN 978-0-8153-6020-9

In technologically advanced societies, people barely pay attention to the ways in which technology has infiltrated our lives. We use technology in an almost automated manner and it is therefore no longer considered separate but embodied. Digital technologies have shaped the ways in which people communicate and interact and have a significant influence on every aspect of people’s lives. The Internet provides a new and parallel space, where it is easier to exchange information, reach out to others, and form whole new personalities and identities.

Advances in technology have, of course, also had a profound impact on sport, including football. Digital technology, and specifically the growth of social media, is transforming aspects of football and football fandom, which is increasingly being intertwined with digital technology. The book Digital Football Cultures. Fandom, Identities and Resistance, edited by Stefan Lawrence and Garry Crawford, examines the impact of digital culture on football and especially its supporters. The editors have compiled a collection of high quality contributions. The book is divided into three specific themes: ‘Theorizing digital football cultures and fandom’, ‘Football and social media’ and ‘Football (sub)cybercultures’.

Part one, ‘Theorizing digital football cultures and fandom’, is divided into three chapters. The collection of chapters uncovers a small portion of existing digital football cultures, and introduces some valuable insights into how to view football and football fandom within a digital context.

The first chapter in this section, “”Feel it closing in”. Digital football cultures in a claustropolitan age”, is written by Steve Redhead (1952-2018). Redhead theorises the relationship between football and digital, social and global media, incorporating concepts from Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio and Alain Badiou.

Redhead demonstrates how today’s football culture echoes the accelerated, fast changing modern world. He presents his ideas of accelerated culture and ’claustropolitanism’ (”the feeling that we want to stop the world and get off” p. 28), and states that digital football culture highlights this claustropolitan tendency. Redhead’s work can be challenging to consume, but it is worth the effort.

The next two chapters both focus on transnational football fandom and the challenges that technological development poses to the ’traditional’ way of ’consuming’ football. Mediatised ways of watching football have not stopped fans attending live sports events but have added to new ways of following and ‘attending’ the game, which involves differing levels of both club attachment and ways of consuming events.

The second part of the book, ‘Football and social media’, includes three chapters. Two of the chapters explore a particular type of deviant interaction, that of abuse within digital environments. Cyber-bullying in football is becoming increasingly significant as a social problem. Social media have created a rich environment for these undesirable social interactions.

The chapter “From backstage to frontstage: exploring football and the growing problem of online abuse”, by Daniel Kilvington and John Price, is demonstrating a worrisome example of maltreatment through social media. The chapter points out that instances of racism in digital football culture unfortunately are becoming more common.

Technological development leads to significant changes; much, however, remains the same and is merely old wine in new bottles.

The chapter “Gender trouble in digital football fandom: a Swedish perspective” by Aage Radmann and Susanna Hedenborg focuses on the still under-researched area of female football fans. The authors show clearly that traditional gender norms, prejudices and sexism are at least as widespread in digital football fandom as in the stands.

Although racism, sexism, homophobia and other types of discriminatory behaviour are widespread in football, hostile and abusive messages have proliferated, largely propelled by social media. The findings of these chapters reveal that there is still a long way to go until football will overcome prejudices and embrace diversity.

The third chapter in this section is more uplifting. It tells the story about how the American author and YouTube-star John Green became inspired to use ad revenue from his popular YouTube channel to help finance AFC Wimbledon, a club owned and run by its fans.

Finally, the third part, ‘Football (sub)cybercultures’, consists of five chapters. The first in this section explores the digitalisation of football violence, while the next three chapters focus on video games or so-called fantasy sports. Fantasy sports are a game where participants build imaginary teams. The teams are made up of real-life players. You compete based on the statistical performance of the players you’ve selected. The chapters explore the permeation and impact of fantasy sports and aspects of how and why fans become engrossed in it.

I found the last chapter, ‘Football 2.0? the (un)changing nature of football and its possible futures’, written by the editors, Lawrence and Crawford to be one of the strongest and most interesting in this section. The chapter focuses on the impacts and potential future impacts of the net on the structure of football and football fandom. Technological development leads to significant changes; much, however, remains the same and is merely old wine in new bottles. The remaining chapters in a way underline the arguments of this chapter using various examples of uses and users of the Internet, their purpose and potential reasons for those uses and outcomes. These chapters read as a number of informative and illuminating cases to illustrate more fully the key points presented in the last chapter.

Taking a critical perspective on digital football practices will require ongoing research and theoretical development to understand the phenomenon. Overall, we have a book that provides interesting and critical insights into an immensely complex social technology which affects all cultures in our modern world, and each chapter provides a launching point for further research or discussion.

This book offers valuable contributions to an underrepresented area of focus within digitalisation and football studies.

Copyright © Lise Joern 2019

Table of Content

  1. The Hyperdigitalization of Football Cultures
    Stefan Lawrence, Garry Crawford
  2. ‘Feel It Closing In’: Digital Football Cultures in a Claustropolitan Age
    Steve Redhead
  3. Transnational Digital Fandom: Club Media, Place and (Networked) Space
    David McGillivray, Elizabeth McLaughlin
  4. Between Old and New Traditions: Transnational Solidarities and the Love for Liverpool FC
    Renan Petersen-Wagner
  5. From Backstage to Frontstage: Exploring Football and the Growing Problem of Online Abuse
    Daniel Kilvington, John Price
  6. Gender Trouble in Digital Football Fandom: A Swedish Perspective
    Aage Radmann, Susanna Hedenborg
  7. Shifting Patterns of Football Fandom and Digital Media Cultures: YouTube, Fifa Videogames, and AFC Wimbledon
    Ashley Hinck
  8. Exploring the Digitalization of Football Violence: Ultras, Disembodiment and the Internet
    Magdalini Pipini
  9. Football Videogames: Re-shaping Football and Re-defining Fandom in a Postmodern Era
    Jonathan Ervine
  10. Restoring ‘The Football Kingdom of the Far East’: The Limited Potential of Videogames for the Development and Promotion of Hong Kong Football
    Tom Gibbons, Marco Lau
  11. “Good Morning Beautiful People … I Love You but I’ll Beat Your Arse in Fifa17”: The Negotiation of Social Capital and FIFA17 Match-making of Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson Twitter
    Theo Plothe
  12. Football 2.0? The (Un)Changing Nature of Football and its Possible Futures
    Stefan Lawrence, Garry Crawford
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