We examine the ways fan cultures operate in football around the world. Fan activism, once viewed as a reactionary force has been re-conceptualised in our work as we explore progressive activism in Europe (such as Livorno in Italy, and FC St. Pauli and Dortmund in Germany) and analyse the role of football activist groups in the Arab Spring movements in the Middle East. We also investigate moments when football fan groups have been mobilised for conservative nationalist forces, particularly in the former Yugoslavia and in anti-immigrant political mobilisation across Europe.
In Africa, football fans and players helped spark the fight against colonial rule. Too little research has been conducted on African spectator cultures in the postcolonial era, however, preliminary research shows political leaders have been careful to both utilise and pay attention to fan groups aligned with particular clubs. In some cases such as South Africa, the dominant clubs have stronger followings than the national team, giving clubs increased political capital.
We focus on precisely how politics, in its broad sense, infuses wider society around the world. Football fans and fans of others sports are increasingly fighting for more of a voice within their clubs, federations and wider discussions surrounding sports. The ultras movement has expanded from its Italian origins to become a European phenomenon. Often seen as obstructive and confrontational, many ultras groups actively campaign for progressive political causes (for example, Sampdoria’s Rude Boys and Girls in Italy, and The Unity at Borussia Dortmund).
In England and Wales, fans have formed various organisations to lobby for their interests. From independent supporters associations and supporters trusts, to the Football Supporters’ Federation, many fans are actively engaged in sport governance debates. Similarly, Football Supporters Europe has provided an umbrella organisation for fans seeking to make their voice heard. Significantly, the European football federation, UEFA, also recognises the importance of fans to the future of the game. In the USA, major league soccer clubs have sponsored fan groups which have developed dynamics mirroring and adapting international fan cultural practices.
Researchers in this area collaborate globally with a range of organisations, including:
- Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)
- England Fans
- The Football Supporters’ Federation
- Football Supporters Europe.