Important ethnographic study of the social dimensions of non-local football fandom

Lise Joern
University of Southern Denmark


Nina Szogs
Football Fandom and Migration: An Ethnography of Transnational Practices and Narratives in Vienna and Istanbul
200 pages, hardcover.
London: Palgrave Macmillan 2017 (Football Research in an Enlarged Europe)
ISBN 978-3-319-50943-3

No other sport has permeated all aspects of modern society and has had as global an impact as association football. Yet, despite its global structure, football has been intertwined with class and national identities and with nationalism and sectarianism. Football has both created and affirmed social divisions. Since it also serves as an agent and a tool helping to define and reinforce multiple us/them distinctions. The many facets of football culture make it a suitable lens through which to explore major themes in political and social sciences.

Additionally, football is a powerful case for the study of transnationalism and a very useful angle from which to study and understand contemporary processes of international migration (Elliott & Harris 2015). Few other sports have such a broad reach, and therefore few other sports provide such an important case for cross-cultural research.

Nina Szogs’ book Football Fandom and Migration is part of the Palgrave Macmillan series of ‘Football Research in an Enlarged Europe’ (FREE), that aims at increasing awareness about the issue of cultural diversity and commonality in the field of popular culture and its impact on the political, economic and social dimensions of the European integration process. The book examines how globalisation, national identity, migration processes and inter-cultural communication intersect with football fandom, through an analysis of practices and narratives of Turkish Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray supporters living in Vienna.

In football, it is not uncommon for fans to support a non-local team. Having access to matches of any league facilitates the production of transnational fan identities and communities.The research on fan behaviour for non-local and distant fans has been studied from a range of different perspectives (e.g. Giulianotti & Robertson 2006, Hognestad 2009, Genz & Havelund 2015). What seems to make Turkish football supporters living in Vienna an interesting case is that they besides being fans abroad also are part of one of the biggest migrant groups in Vienna. According to Szogs that changes the perspective on being a football fan.

Szogs’ methodology relies on participant observations in Austria, Turkey and Germany and on qualitative interviews. This design aims both to elicit fans’ experiences in their own words, and to assess the wider institutional influence of external forces on diaspora fandom. The chapters focus broadly on loyalties, rivalries, ethnicity, gender and social class of Turkish football fans. The chapters are all driven by strong narratives, perhaps due to the participative methodology. Either way, it makes for a very readable and relatable text.

Despite their subjective nature, ethnographic studies of football fans have played a fundamental role in illuminating the complexity of fan behaviour.

In her book, Szogs offers a look at the construction of the “football fan identity” and situates it in a local and global context. Szogs argues that football fandom provides an opportunity for people throughout the world to choose various elements in a continual process of building their profile of (social) identity. The book offers examples of cultural hybridization, the mixing of two or more cultural forms resulting in something new while simultaneously holding onto some identifiable aspects of the original cultural inputs (Giulianotti & Robertson 2007), as a lens to explore the communities of Turkish diaspora football fans living in Vienna.

Although Szogs underlines that the political situation in Turkey is not among the book’s main research objectives, the Gezi Park protests against the Turkish Government in 2013 are mentioned several times. This is not surprising since the ethnographic part of the research was carried out during the Gezi protests and football fans in Istanbul appeared to be key elements in the protests. Nonetheless, the recurring emphasis on the Gezi protests throughout the book seems to pave the way for intriguingquestions about the politicization of football fans, which, however, is not addressed in the study.

Notwithstanding this ‘shortcoming’, the book shows how delicate discussions of identity and belonging are in today’s Europe. What Europeans with ethnic and immigrant backgrounds may see as embracing a sense of identity that incorporates both their nationality and their diverse familial roots and cultures, can quickly be viewed as hostility by the majority population. The potential for misunderstandings looms large.

Szogs stresses in the early chapters the highly subjective dispositions of this research, showing in her methodology chapters (2 & 3) that the researcher’s specific situation within the domain under investigation will affect the themes they identify and assess as the most important, interesting or significant. Despite their subjective nature, ethnographic studies of football fans have played a fundamental role in illuminating the complexity of fan behaviour. None of these studies, no matter how thorough, can by themselves account for football fan behaviour, but each places a new piece in the puzzle that is helping us gradually to understand football fan and crowd behaviour.

The book is an important contribution to our ethnographic knowledge of the social dimensions of non-local football fandom and the role of fan practices in diaspora communities. It adds to the growing scholarly production on fan research by providing a sound analysis of the identities and the emotions produced around a special case of transnational football fandom. This book is engaging reading for any student or scholar with an interest in football fandom, migration and transnationalism.

Copyright © Lise Joern 2019

References

Elliott, Richard & John Harris (eds.), 2015: Football and Migration, London & New York: Routledge.
Genz, Jakob & Jonas Havelund (eds.), 2015: Fodbold uden grænser, Odense: Syddansk Universitetsforlag.
Giulianotti, Richard & Roland Robertson, 2007: “Recovering the Social: Globalization, Football and Transnationalism” in Giulanotti and Robertson (eds.), Globalization and Sport. Malden, MA: Blackwell, pp. 58-78.
Giulianotti, Richard & Roland Robertson, 2006: “Glocalization, Globalization and Migration: The Case of Scottish Football Supporters in North America.” International Sociology. 21(2): 171-198.
Hognestad, Hans, 2009: “Transglobal Scandinavian? Globalization and the Contestation of Identities in Football.” Soccer and Society. 10 (3-4): 358-373.
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