Department of Sport Sciences, Malmö University
Tifos, often used synonymously with choreography, are the visual arrangements performed by the fans before the start of football (soccer) games. A tifo mainly involves the use of banners, flags, big paintings, paper sheets, and pyrotechnics. The phenomenon of tifo has become an important element of football fandom, fan identity, and fan culture. However, there is a lack of research, discussions, and analyses about it. In their new book The Art of Tifo: Identity, Representation, and Performing Fandom in Football/Soccer (2022), Kassing and Meân describe, analyse, and elaborate on the tifo. Jeffery W. Kassing is a professor of Communication Studies at Arizona State University, and Lindsey J. Meân is an associate professor at Arizona State University.
The book employs previous research, theoretical perspectives, and examples from reality to discuss tifo. In this sense, the book is a rich and fruitful resource. The recurrent theoretical concept used is Benedict Anderson’s imagined communities. The authors wanted the book to be useful for a broader audience, including students and scholars in the field of sport studies and the fans themselves, and I think that they succeeded with this. They help the reader see how tifo represents important knowledge about fan culture and the social values related to it, and they do so with nuance and reflexivity.
From addressing the history of tifo in chapter one, the authors lead us to chapter two, titled ‘Football, Identity and Fandom’, in which they describe how individual fans find a strong identity within their fandom and how, at the stadium, the fans can become one collective supporting the same team. Kassing and Meân present earlier research about different types of football fans and emphasize the importance of understanding these types based on the different ways of doing their fandom and of being a subculture. The type of fans called ‘ultras’ are mainly those who perform and control tifos in the stands. They control banners, flags, and songs – the latter by using the drum and a capo (a person who shouts out what to do and what song to sing). These fans try to create, and control, an atmosphere at the stadium.
The authors wanted the book to be useful for a broader audience, including students and scholars in the field of sport studies and the fans themselves, and I think that they succeeded with this.
In chapter three, Kassing and Meân describe the practical and symbolic representation of tifo. One of the most important values in tifo is that it should be authentic, produced by fans and financed through collection from other fans. Tifos communicate directly as a performance with an announcement and statement of attendance; they also communicate their fandom as a collective. Tifo can therefore be seen as both a material and a symbolic artefact for an imagined community, using Benedict Anderson’ concept. The authors claim that to understand the social rules and values of tifo, the symbolic and physical work needs to be understood and highlighted.
History is a recurrent theme in the tifos, which is reflected on in chapter four, ‘Memorializing, Commemorating, and Community Building’. In it, the authors discuss how tifo is one way to document and (re)produce history. The inspiration of history could come from wars, conflicts, and historical victories of the football teams’ countries or cities. This also creates a political, nationalistic, and historical monument. Therefore, the fans who create the tifos also state what history is worth for the (imagined) community.
Rivalry, described in chapter five, concerns how tifos are used to represent an identity for one’s own and other groups of fans. Nowadays, fan groups must confirm who they are and distance themselves from who they are not. One way of understanding this rivalry is by looking at the competition between groups in terms of who creates the most neat and creative tifos. Tifos sometimes express humiliation of other teams, groups, players, and historical events. However, they can also be very clever and display a bit of humour. While expressing themselves through tifos and distancing themselves from others, they are ‘doing’ their identity. According to the fans, this hopefully affects the rival fan groups’ ingroup identity negatively.
Chapter six discusses and analyses political dimensions and common social movements within the landscape of football fandom. Fans, mainly ultras and hooligans, sometimes express extreme political views. Countries with a turbulent political history and ongoing conflicts show this more often. Due to male political ideologies, some fans become excluded, for example, women. The authors then ask the important question, who does the famous “people’s game” include?
One of the social movements within fan culture, mainly through ultras, is the movement Against Modern Football, which is about opposing the globalization, commodification, and commercialization of football that have negatively impacted the fans. For example, expensive ticket prices, restrictions to attending away games, and playing games at times that fans find difficult to attend, have limited the fans’ ability to participate. The movement also opposes restrictions by the authorities on their expressions, mainly pyrotechnics. Consequently, the ultras began to use pyrotechnics to challenge the authorities and state their own autonomy – making a symbol, and a game, of it. Against Modern Football has been frequently discussed in previous research. Kassing and Meân’s book helps the reader to understand this concept and conflict. This movement is complex, and its manifestations vary from country to country. I can add that in the Swedish context it also includes the democratic organization of sports, where fans oppose the short cuts given to rich people and new clubs.
In chapter seven, ‘Commodifying and Commercializing Tifo’, Kassing and Meân address the development of tifo and the commodification and commercialization of it. Here, they discuss how tifo becomes related to status end economic benefits for the fans, clubs, social media, as well as traditional sports media. Some fans/ultras recycle their tifos, not in performing them at the stadium but in repurposing by cutting out the fabric to smaller banners or flags. Some groups even sell the small parts. Tifos are also often documented through photographs, which are spread in social media and in fanzines made and sold by the fans. However, any financial gains of tifo in that sense go back into their own activity. The clubs also often use the fans’ performances in football game events and for souvenirs. Both social media and traditional media collect tifos, create lists/ranking, and ask readers to vote for the ‘best’ tifo. I found the authors’ discussion and reflection on this topic highly interesting.
In the last chapter, ‘Tifo and Modern Sport’, the authors discuss how tifo has been introduced in other sports such as ice hockey, basketball, volleyball, futsal, and college football/soccer within the American context. What often distinguishes these tifos from the ‘European’ way of doing them is that they are not performing the same masculinity and are often paid for by the clubs and coordinated by them. It will be interesting to see how (and if) tifos will expand in the sports field.
Kassing and Meân provide a rich and interesting insight into the phenomenon of tifo that has been missing in earlier discussions and studies. They intended the book to be interesting for students and scholars working in sports and for fans, which I think is possible since they give many examples and use readable language.
The complicated thing about tifo, and fan culture in general, is that it differs a lot between continents, countries, and even teams in the same national league. The global perspective might therefore give too small a representation of the tifo phenomenon. In that sense, the book is broad but perhaps does not go that deep. However, the book is a useful and fruitful introduction to this global phenomenon. Hopefully, more books with specific empirical investigations into this interesting and important topic and with further in-depth discussions are forthcoming, .
The book contributes with relevant questions and aspects of the fan culture that need to be investigated, mainly from the fans’ own experiences. The Art of Tifo is an important contribution to the field, and I look forward to further discussion. I will surely use this book a lot in my own research about tifo in Sweden.
Thanks to Jeffery W. Kassing and Lindsey J. Meân for an educational book about this important and interesting topic, and thanks to idrottsforum.org for letting me do this book review
Copyright © Sara Karlén 2022