2012 December | FREE

Archive the month of December 2012

December 27, 2012

Christmas 1914: did the Brits and the Germans really play football?

Michael Foreman's children's novel

It’s one of the most endearing stories of World War I: the short Christmas truce in 1914, a pause in the fighting where British and German soldiers are said to have left their trenches spontaneously on Christmas day, smoked some cigarettes together in the no-man’s land, suddenly produced a ball and engaged in an unorganised football match, with over 30 on each side and no one keeping score. The story has been turned into a very nice animated short film named ‘War Games’ (Dave Unwin, 2001, 29 min., based on the 1989 children’s novel by Michael Foreman) and it played a key role in the 2005 major French movie ‘Joyeux Noël’ by Christian Carion (see trailer here).

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : History, Memory, Posts - 1 comment

December 22, 2012

The human factor and the big picture

Guest contribution by Bartosz Wiśniewski, research assistant to the FREE team in Poznan and currently writing his master thesis on media-created football fandom image. Bartek recently attended the conference ‘Football: Politics of the Global Game’ organised by Faculty of Journalism and Political Science of the University of Warsaw.

Bringing together global and local perspectives on a widespread sociocultural phenomenon is a difficult task. Is it even possible to examine globality and locality with the same tools? Of course not, which is why interdisciplinarity is essential. But are qualitative and quantitative methods really commensurate? If you leave out the former, you reduce your study to statistics and will hardly escape harmful generalisation, losing sight of the human beings that are behind the figures. On the other hand, if you abandon quantitative methods, you reduce your work to a somewhat simple comparison of two or more mainly local communities, which excludes the big picture you also need for understanding the phenomenon.

Similar things can be said about political research, especially when it focuses on discourse analysis. Discursive structures are important only when they also manage to take into account the human factor on the level of the individual.

Identity research, a favourite topic for anthropologists, also often leads to dramatic misinterpretation. The main dangers are “essentialisation” of what in fact are rather mobile and fluid identification processes, which in turns produces over-interpretation through extrapolation of individual cases. Without intelligent triangulation of your research you run the risk of developing elegantly named, but rather meaningless categories that in principle stand for nothing more than a rather artificial classification of observations.

Post by : FREE-TEAM in the category : Identities, Posts, Public Sphere - No comment

December 12, 2012

Why cheer for OHL or the auri-negros?

We have an idea of what makes supporters fill Old Trafford, the Parc des Princes or the Allianz-Arena. We also know that Anfield Road, Santiago Bernabeu or the Arena auf Schalke are, despite their impressive capacities, actually too small and could easily welcome even more spectators each week. But what about less glamourous stadia in championships where you are not going to see Rooney, Ronaldo or Ribéry, but players with rather obscure names that are far from the Champions League spotlights? What are the main motivations of fans to turn up each week?

Take for instance ‘Den Dreef’ and the ‘Estádio Municipal de Aveiro’. Just in case you were not familiar with these names, they are home to the Oud-Heverlee Leuven (OHL) and the Sport Clube de Beira-Mar (also called the ‘aurio-negros’), both playing in the 1st division of Belgium and Portugal respectively. Mariana de Carvalho, a young researcher who is completing a PhD at the University of Porto and the KU Leuven, decided to study the motivations of spectators in these two cities that are rather comparable in size and population, whose clubs are comparable in standing within their national league, but which have very different infrastructures. While Aveiro has been offered an oversized state-of-the-art stadium with a capacity of over 30,000 for the 2004 European Championship,the ‘OHL’ can only dream of such facilities: Den Dreef has a capacity of 7,000 and the ‘OHL’ faces the same dilemma as many Belgian clubs: if they want to have more spectators, they would need more attractive and more comfortable stadia, but in order to be able to build such stadia, they would need more potential spectators to start with.

Fans of the auri-negros.

Mariana has carried out field work in both cities in order to find out what weight different factors had in the motivation of young spectators to attend matches in the stadium while they could sit at home and watch Ibrahimovic or Iniesta on television. Her main objective is to determine how important ‘sportscape perception’, i.e. the perceived quality of the physical environment of the stadium including the services offered, is in comparison to more classical factors such as team identification, place attachment or other sociological motives (such as socialisation, fan performance, excitement, peer group esteem etc.).

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Identities, Posts, Public Sphere - No comment

December 7, 2012

From mega-event to multi-event

As the readers of this blog know well, the FREE project has decided to organise eight different events in eight different European cities. It seems that Michel Platini and the UEFA executive committee have taken inspiration on this scheme of intelligent decentralisation. For the sixtieth anniversary of Henri Delaunay’s invention, the Euro will not be hosted in one single country (as in 1996 and 2004), or two neighbouring ones (as in 2000, 2008 or 2012), but all across Europe in 12 or more different cities.

True enough, with 24 participating teams the whole thing is somewhat larger than the FREE project, which only counts 9. And while our consortium’s travel budget is well provided for by the European Commission’s generous support, the potential fans of Euro2020 already started to complain in internet forums and football chat rooms about the distances when Michel Platini started to float the idea at the end of June.

But that’s not really an argument. At Euro2012 you could possibly travel from Poznan to Donezk and cover a distance of approximately 2000 km, which is significantly longer than Milan-Madrid or Manchester-Munich (without even mentioning the distances to be covered in FIFA’s next World Cup host nations Brazil and Russia…). Moreover, Europe is, after all, the paradise of budget airlines and high-speed trains, which football fans already extensively use during regular Champions League seasons.

There will be lots of spontaneous criticism all over the web: UEFA takes the magic out of the championship, the show-case effect for host nations will be lost, the atmosphere will go down the drain,  etc. etc. But these objections are mainly due to the online zeitgeist of permanent distrust in governance institutions and elite-bashing by principle.

As a matter of fact, the idea is excellent, especially in terms of sustainability. Europe already has a wonderful infrastructure of football stadia all over the place – why charge a future host nation to build oversized arenas (and hotel capacities) in peripheral cities without regular tenant that may have little use for them after the tournament and remain heavy liabilities on the home cities’ tight budgets. Or does anyone believe that Lviv (2012), Klagenfurt (2008) or Leiria (2004) will be, over the coming seasons, home to many exciting football highlights with packed terraces? ‘Play the Game’ has made the absurdity of such buildings very clear in their World Stadium Index, and Gosia Kowalska also asks interesting questions about the long-term  legacy and legitimacy of mega-events.

'Politicians ask the question. Football gives the answer!' Cartoon by Chenez (L'Equipe) published on the 50th anniversary of the European Cup.

Of course, one can easily understand that the Turkish federation is disappointed (and was the only one to vote against the project yesterday). This was to be their Euro, finally. On the other hand, the UEFA decision will perhaps give their simultaneous Olympic bid more credibility and increase its chances. And, who knows, maybe UEFA will be elegant enough to schedule the semi-finals and the final in Istanbul. This would not only be a nice nostalgic reminder of the initial format of the Euro tournament before it was blown up to 8, 16 and now 24 participants, but also a rather appropriate symbolic gesture with a championship played out all over Europe and converging for the final showdown in Turkey.

One way or another, UEFA deserves credit to have the courage to leave well-trodden paths and switch from a logic of mega-events to one of a ‘multi-event’. The European Championship will thus become an embodiment of the oft-quoted motto ‘Unity in Diversity’. UEFA claims it will be an exception, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it became the rule.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Governance, Identities, Posts, Public Sphere - No comment

December 4, 2012

Football’s come some way

Five years ago, in December 2007, I went to a workshop organised at Sciences Po Grenoble by the small but dynamic European Studies Section of the venerable French Association of Political Sciences. The very detailed call for papers had asked for contributions on ‘Likes and Dislikes between Europeans’, listing a whole series of possible topical approaches, none of which included sports or football. I nevertheless decided to present a paper on the affective dimension of our favourite ‘European Passion’ and was pleasantly surprised not only to see it accepted but even very warmly welcomed at the conference itself.

I was even more surprised one year later that Politique européenne, no doubt one of the best European Studies journal on the market, should indeed accept and publish my paper on football. But had anybody told me then that it would one day even publish an entire special issue on ‘The European Space of Football’, I would hardly have believed my ears.

But there’s no denying it: issue 36 of Politique européenne has the word ‘football’ on its cover. I have to pay homage to William Gasparini (Strasbourg) and Jean-François Polo (Rennes) for having convinced the editorial board of the relevance and timeliness of their topic. And the special issue they deliver provides for interesting reading.

It opens with an introductory article by the two editors that distinguishes between the two different angles from which the constitution of a European space of football is studied. On the one hand, there is an institutional approach focusing mainly on the impact of regulatory measures taken increasingly on a transnational or supranational level. On the other hand, there are case studies that deal with what is aptly named ‘the variable geometry of identification’ (p. 16), i.e. the symbolic space constructed by individual and collective actors.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Governance, Identities, Posts, Public Sphere - No comment