2015 August | FREE

Archive the month of August 2015

August 23, 2015

Magic, not religion

A guest contribution by Katarzyna Herd, PhD candidate in ethnology at the Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences of Lund University.

In the autumn of 2012, when studying Applied Cultural Analysis at Lund University, I was accepted as an intern at Malmö FF. Shortly afterwards I saw my first match live, and that left me with many questions. Simply, I could not make sense of the intense emotional involvement, of the loud singing and flares, of about 16,000 people adorned in white-blue scarves who would voluntarily spend their evening in cold rain screaming abuse at referees and players, and leave frustrated and upset only to return a week later to shout, hop, and suffer more mental torture.

Magic made in Malmö.

As the internship drew to an end, I found myself confused but also addicted to this strange scene. Thus, my MA thesis called Dream Factory: Magic and Myth-Making in Football turned out to be an attempt to understand what football as a socially constructed space is, and what role it has in its local environment. The fieldwork was collected during eight months that I spent in Malmö FF, using ethnographic methods like interviews, go-alongs, observations and focus groups. The material included in the thesis shows how creative, flexible and rich this environment is.

Theoretically, the analysis is based on magic and myth-making. I used the concept of magic as presented by Marcel Mauss in his book The General Theory of Magic (1972). Mauss places magic between religion and technology. He distinguishes magic from religion in that its rites serve technical objectives, unlike religion which carries the notion of the sacred. Magic employs gods and demons, but these are treated as tools, not sacred beings to be worshipped. Magic is also context-based as a magical rite cannot happen just anywhere. That is why some of the behaviour that would be unacceptable in other circumstances appears during matches, as for example aggression, but also men hugging and singing become parts of the rite.

It is clear to me that football, contrary to the common cliché that compares it to a religion, relates to magic. Rather than worship, all different groups involved in football co-create their different rites while performing them. They use each other as means to achieve their objectives. Being ‘magicians’, those involved believe in their powers and they all try to claim ownership over their creations. It is common enough to hear supporters say that they are the club, not the fast-changing players or the management. The reference to magic may also explain how a collective phenomenon can assume individual forms as football offers a plethora of possibilities to get engaged on a personal level.

The local football club supplies its spectators with a possibility to create stories and histories. The relative vulnerability of the football club opens up possibilities for creative struggles and interpretations, and invites spectators to use all possible forms to express themselves, show their views and make the emotional side of football visible.

The depth of football’s history and context makes it into a perfect battleground for myth-making. No matter whether the focus of the different groups involved lies on football skills, financial benefits, making of banners, local patriotism or violence, all are able to tear a bit of the club for themselves and add their own interpretation of what football really means. As the French sociologist Henry Lefebvre wrote, every society needs a space where one can perform an act of rejuvenation, crown a king, and sacrifice a deity. On a match day, at a stadium, you can have that all.

Feel FREE to download the complete master thesis
under https://lup.lub.lu.se/search/publication/3954704 .

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Identities - No comment

August 21, 2015

Play with pride

Casey Stoney playing for Arsenal.

It seems as if there is no week in which a British elite athlete comes out as an openly LGBT+ person. The last one, Rugby League star Keegan Hirst, who confessed to have been on the verge of suicide after having to live his homosexuality in secret, being even married with two kids. Before him, England’s football captain Casey Stoney or Olympic diver Tom Dailey also grabbed headlines with their respective coming out stories. The stories of Hirst, Stoney and Daley have all three elements in common. First, the three athletes are top performers in their respective sports, with Daley being even a World Champion and an Olympic medallist. Second, the public reaction to their coming out has been extremely supportive and positive, from the media, the fans and, if reports are to be believed, also team mates, coaches and officials. Third, after each one of these, there is one recurring question: Will we ever see a top male footballer coming out in England? Not for the moment, it seems, but perhaps the first steps are being taken to make this easier.

The FREE project research has reminded us of how masculine and hetero-normative top professional football in Europe is. However, in our research we have also found positive stories of inclusion and fight against homophobia in the game. In this post I would like to focus on the efforts of fan groups in England to make football a safer environment for both players and fellow supporters. For example, in our Loughborough conference we listened to a paper that presented the (mostly positive) experiences of a Norwich City transgender supporter.

I recently attended the football supporters’ congress, organised in Manchester by Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Federation. It was a positive surprise to find out that one of the workshops of the congress was focused on the development of a community of LGBT+ fan groups. Under the generic name of Pride in Football, LGBT+ fan groups of different clubs in the professional game are coming together to build a support structure that could ensure an inclusive football experience in the stands. Their objective is to work together to ensure that as many clubs as possible in the English leagues have an LGBT+ fan group if the supporters want to stablish one. This is still a small organisation, but it has grown from only three clubs to twelve fan groups, which is encouraging for it seems as if supporters are also feeling free to ‘come out’ in the stands. What is more important, English football stakeholders are supporting the development of Pride in Football. For example, the Premier League has recently provided some funding for a ‘strategy day’, where LGBT+ fan groups came together, in Birmingham, to discuss their next steps.

These are all small steps, but having an inclusive atmosphere in the stands can only be positive for football in general and, hopefully, this will lead to players feeling safe to come out when they are still at the peak of their professional careers. There needs to come a day in which, like Hirst, Stoney or Daley, any top male football player can play with pride, and for this to happen the role of the supporters should not be underestimated.

Post by : Borja García in the category : Posts - No comment

August 4, 2015

Historical landmarks

One of the first posts of this blog dealt with clever screenwriting in television drama. In the brilliant Danish series Borgen the Prime minister used a landmark in the country’s football memory – the Euro 1992 surprise win against Germany – as a kind of emotional reminder of national solidarity.

But most of time, football memory actually serves as historical landmark, smartly used by screenwriters to help their audience link the story to the epoch and setting in which it is supposed to take place.

Paul Gascoigne on his way to his most famous goal (15 June 1996).

Football memory turns out to be an instant reminder of an era. For those old enough, it is a link to their personal biography: many will easily recall where exactly they were when Gazza scored his incredible goal against Scotland or when Gareth Southgate two weeks later missed his penalty.

Three examples from recent TV fiction:

The first third of the rather ambitious television drama From There to Here is set in June 1996, a period in which according to director Peter Bowker, ‘football came home’ and there ‘was a confidence in British culture as Cool Britannia was in full swing and Blur and Oasis did battle in the charts’. To no surprise, both the Gascoigne stroke of genius and the Southgate tragedy are used as anchors to conjure up the spirit of the times.

The popular crime fiction Endeavour – a kind of prequel to the legendary Inspector Morse series of the 1990s is set in the Oxford of the 1960s. Season 2 takes place in 1966, and in one of episodes the World Cup is of course on every television screen, and the story is organised along the successive matches of the English team.

Nandor Hidegkuti scores the final goal for Hungary (25 Nov. 1953)

And in the rather unpretentious detective series Grantchester, set in the vicinity of Cambridge in the early 50s, another football landmark is used in the dialogue between two of the protagonists. When the (presumably working class) police inspector informs the (presumably rather high-brow) vicar that he is in bad mood because ‘England lost 6-3 last night – we got beaten 6-3 by a team from nowhere, at a sport we invented!’, it is clear that the legendary Hungarian victory in Wembley on 25 November 1953. The fact that the rest of the episode clearly takes place in late spring does not really matter, does it? Why use the coronation of Elizabeth II (which took place in June), when you can create the atmosphere of the period so much better with a football result?

Football events as convenient anchors in time. Not really surprising in a country like England, where football is engrained in popular life and collective memory. And where there will always be at least one among the screenwriters to make the link between an epoch and a football event for himself. In a national culture like France, where football plays a much less important role and screenwriters may have different educational backgrounds, this is less the case.

Take for instance the excellent mini-series Disparue, a fiction in eight episodes inspired by the Spanish TV hit Desparecida and comparable in quality to the Danish series The Killing. The entire story takes place, very explicitly, between 21 June and mid-July 2014, and not a single person in the city of Lyon only once mentions the World Cup, neither in the restaurant run by two of the protagonists nor in other public or professional environments. My own memory of these weeks would rather suggest a lot of talk on 21 June about the surprisingly brilliant performance of the French team against Switzerland, or at least one reference to the totally exaggerated media hype preceding the quarter final against Germany on 4 July.

Of course you don’t need football as historical anchor for a story supposed to take place in the present. A reference to the World Cup would, however, have certainly added plausibility. French screenwriters – take note!

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : History, Memory - No comment