Identities | FREE - Part 3

Archive for the category : Identities

March 22, 2013

Unexpected encounters and crisp pictures

Galatasaray’s advance to the Champions League Round of 16 presented a welcome opportunity to attend a European match in the stadium. As my PhD thesis is on Süper Lig fans in Vienna, TV fan culture in bars and restaurants forms a crucial part of my research. However, mobility and transnational fan networks are important aspects of migrant fan culture, which is why a trip to Gelsenkirchen seemed promising.

‘Only English and Turkish’

While taking the tram from Gelsenkirchen Central Station to the stadium, I witnessed an interesting encounter. The train was full of Schalke and Galatasaray fans going to the Veltins-Arena — all of them wearing their team’s colours. There were roughly the same amount of supporters from the two clubs, their chants ringing throughout the tram, generating an exciting atmosphere ahead of an appealing match.

Closer to the stadium, a merry Schalke supporter boarded the tram with his friends. He approached a group of Galatasaray fans and started expressing his opinion on players from the two teams. All he got in return were irritated looks. After a moment of confusion, one man from the group explained in German that apart from him, they were all from Turkey and only spoke English and Turkish, not German.

Gelsenkirchen, 12 March 2013, Schalke - Galatasaray

Gelsenkirchen, 12 March 2013, Schalke - Galatasaray

The couple seated beside me repeated his words in hushed whispers: ‘They are from Turkey. They only speak English and Turkish.’ People were both surprised and interested. The Schalke fan was now even more eager to learn their opinion on specific players. The man who understood German was left to translate.

People on the tram were astonished to encounter football supporters from Turkey, although a Turkish club was playing an important European match. It got me thinking: Is it considered more unusual for fans of a Turkish club to travel from Turkey to watch the game in Gelsenkirchen than if they live in Germany? Is this a good sign that people with Turkish backgrounds are accepted as part of German society? I am not entirely sure whether this is truly the case, especially as during the match I heard several discriminatory comments levelled against the Turkish team and their fans from the Schalke fan that was sat next to me.

Post by : Nina Szogs in the category : Identities, Posts - No Comment

March 15, 2013

Oblivion, remembrance, commemoration

Guest contribution by Markwart Herzog, director of the the Schwabenakademie Irsee in Southern Germany, and editor of a recent book on memorial culture in football (1), which he has kindly accepted to present in this blogpost.
(contact: markwart.herzog [a]

‘Sport organises the here and now, it plans for the future and – one is tempted to add with a certain resignation – it forgets its own past.’ This is the regretful statement formulated by German sports historian Hans Joachim Teichler in a book chapter in 2012.

German sports history has produced only very few scholarly contributions whose understanding of collective memory is not limited to a mere political analysis – mainly in the context of the formulation of political injustice under the two German dictatorships – but also includes themes and issues of cultural history, such as for instance the important field of a rich and diverse sepulchral culture in football.

In the UK, to the contrary, several scientific studies have recently been published; among them contributions by Anne Eyre, Liam Foster, Neville Gabie, Gary Osmond, Murray Phillips, Maureen Smith, John Williams, Jason Wood, Kate Woodthorpe, and in particular the work of Mike Huggins (University of Cumbria), who is well-known as the author of several studies in the field of cultural history particularly rich in source material. Huggins moreover explored the commercialisation of the funerary culture in British sport during the nineteenth century. We also owe much to Dave Russell (Leeds Metropolitan University) for his study which contains rich material regarding the culture of memory in British football of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.

Post by : GUEST in the category : History, Identities, Memory, Posts - No Comment

March 11, 2013

« Our story will become legend » : history & memory at Paris Saint-Germain

By Pymouss44 (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsLast week, one of this year’s star players at Paris Saint-Germain, Zlatan Ibrahimović expressed his surprise that he & his team received booing from the audience at the Parc des Princes at half-time. Mr Ibrahimović’s comments were along the lines of ‘this is odd, because before this year, the audience had nothing’.

Mr Ibrahimović’s surprise is itself a surprise. PSG was top of the League & Nancy was bottom. PSG was playing at home, in front of its supporters. It is fair to say that the crowd could be expected to feel, and perhaps express, some disappointment in view of such a mediocre result at half-time. (However, PSG went on to win the game, as expected, stayed on top, & the crowd seemed more pleased by the end result)
Mr Ibrahimović’s psychology might partly explain his comments. He is a very talented player, & thinks very highly of his own talent, too, as evidenced in his ‘autobiography’ _I am Zlatan_ (written by David Lagercrantz) & in numerous interviews. Conversely, he often seems to underestimate the talent of other players.

Post by : Dàvid RANC in the category : Competitions, History, Identities, Memory - No Comment

January 22, 2013

A hand-shake

Third and final part of the little French-German blogpost trilogy on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty.

Bernard Chenez

Chenez is one of these cartoonists who are capable in no time to condense the essence of an event into a drawing, brilliantly highlighting its humorous, sometimes ridiculous aspects. And he is one of the rare masters of his craft who has devoted the largest part of his work to commenting on contemporary sport. For a quarter of a century already his cartoons have figured prominently in L’Equipe, many of them excellent editorials without words. Not surprising that this blog has already abused of his kind authorisation to use his drawings for non-commercial, purely academic purposes.

Caricatures, of course, use stereotypical shortcuts in order to be understood as quickly as possible by the largest number of readers. Eleven or twelve years ago, I asked Bernard Chenez whether we could have a talk about the stereotypes he used for national football teams. He welcomed me very nicely in his office at L’Equipe and, being confronted with a series of his own cartoons from previous world cups, admitted to being surprised how often he had actually given in to the temptation of always referring to the same, sometimes ‘cheap’ images: the Brazilian forward, obviously, portrayed as Samba dancer and the German defender, just as obviously, in a ‘Panzer’.  Concerning the latter, he said he wouldn’t use it any more, simply because it was utterly outdated. And he kept his promise: at the 2002 World Cup, German coach Rudi Völler was no longer driving a tank, but a … Mercedes!

While we were talking about football’s paradoxical power of both reinforcing national identities and bringing people together, he noticed that I had his latest “review of the sports year” with me and asked me to hand it to him to sign it. And, keeping the conversation, he drew the little cartoon below, adding a gently surrealist, but still meaningful text.

There could not be a better moment to dig this lovely hand-shake out of my archives than the 50th anniversary of a surprisingly successful and lasting treaty of friendship.

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

January 8, 2013

Where have all the World Cup souvenir books gone?

When I was a young reader each World Cup was immediately followed by the publication of an avalanche of souvenir books. These albums, usually sold in prestigious hard cover editions with excellent photos from all major highlights and curiosities of the tournament, were officially signed by famous coaches or TV anchormen, sometimes even by active players, although it was plain to see that they had hardly written a line themselves. As the ghostwriters were mainly top-level sports journalists, however, the quality of the analysis was actually rather good.

When the Euro moved in 1980 from a five-day event with four teams to a real tournament with a group phase, it also became the object of such books, perhaps a little thinner, but no less lavishly illustrated. Each two years, these books were a favourite (and actually mandatory) Christmas gift from well-meaning parents or uncles.

YouTube killed the world cup book.

Today the World Cup souvenir book is a virtually extinct species. Like video killed the radio star, internet gave a lethal blow to the souvenir book. Why should anyone care for all these photos if you can have all possible highlights of all possible tournaments permanently available in YouTube clips?

Nostalgia put aside, I can’t help but think this is a pity. These books are beyond doubt the ones that I spent the largest amount of hours with in my childhood and youth. Unlike novels, their plot and narrative unfolded afresh at each reading; they told a story that had happened before our eyes and whose drama was magnified by hindsight. They gave a face to exotic places like El Salvador (1970) and Haiti (1974) and they produced intriguing statistics and records.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Identities, Memory, Posts - No Comment

January 3, 2013

Whose memory?

One thousand pages on the fundamental elements of Europeanness. One thousand pages on concepts and events, pieces of art and objects of consumption, on all these things that made Europe into what it is today. One thousand pages, three volumes, more than 120 entries by authors from over 15 countries, and not a single word on sport (or pop music, or cinema, for that matter). How can it be that this remarkable collective endeavour of conceptualising and bringing together European Lieux de mémoire (1) suffers from such a large blind spot when it comes to mass culture?

So many pages...

In the third volume, this is particularly bewildering. Under the heading ‘Europe and the world’, this part of the series wishes explicitly to analyse how European influence has been received and acculturated by the world before being ‘re-imported to Europe in a different form’. Of course, colonialism, economic globalisation, racism, emigration etc. play an important role here, but what about football, the Beatles or the French film pioneers? Are these not relevant as cultural exports? Have they nothing to say about what it means to be European today?

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

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