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August 4, 2012

Complicated communities

Guest contribution by Anthony May, who is currently in his final year as PhD student at Kingston University (UK) and whose research examines cultural nationalism in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Football is vitally important to the culture of both Scotland and Northern Ireland, and rituals and traditions associated with football have become an integral part of the identities expressed by communities in each territory.

Football has become a key site for the development of alternative hegemonies that challenge the official ideology of the United Kingdom. A majority of football supporters in both Scotland and Northern Ireland do not think of themselves as British. Those football fans who do identify as British in Scotland (primarily supporters of Glasgow Rangers) have reported that they feel like outcasts. Supporters of Glasgow Celtic, a club traditionally associated with Scotland’s Irish community, continue to express an Irish, rather than a Scottish or British identity. Support for the Scottish national team tends to come from outside the ‘Old Firm’.

James McClean, a Northern Irish Catholic who has chosen to play for the Republic of Ireland for cultural reasons.

One might expect the Loyalist community of Northern Ireland to report British identities, but a high level of the support for the Northern Ireland football team is actually drawn from this community! Northern Ireland national team games provide an opportunity for the expression of a specifically Northern Irish identity; vocal opposition to official state policies is a key part of the rituals seen at Northern Ireland matches. Inversely, members of the predominantly Catholic Nationalist community tend to support the Republic of Ireland as the Northern Ireland team is seen as a repository of Loyalist identity. Nationalists remain culturally and politically opposed to their Loyalist counterparts.

Many studies of nationalism and sport look at the ways in which nation-states use sport to promote official nationalist hegemony. My work is different in that it examines the way in which culture affects nationalism, rather than taking the view that nationalism is a state ideology which attempts to determine culture. I see nationalism as a “bottom-up” rather than a “top-down” phenomenon and culture plays a vital role in determining identities. States do attempt to utilise sport to promote their own interests but this is not always successful. It is certainly not successful in either Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) have made some capital out of the decisions of Northern Irish Catholic footballers to represent the Republic of Ireland, citing cultural affinity with the Republic rather than Northern Ireland. For the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) and the UUP (Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) is it more difficult to associate themselves with the Loyalists who follow the Northern Ireland team, as they are committed to a more moderate Unionist message at the moment. It can be said that football culture runs counter to that promoted by political parties in both nations.

In sum, my research shows that culture is not always the tool of politicians and does not always serve the state. Football culture offers a popular alternative to official or dominant hegemonies, and its importance is growing all the time. Through the rituals and symbols of fandom, football supporters create an unofficial but influential culture that is vitally important to communities across Europe.


Post by GUEST in the category : Identities, Posts, Public Sphere - 2 Comments"

2 comments sur “Complicated communities”

  1. Anthony May

    2012-09-13 10:26:13

    Hi David, Thanks for your very welcome comments. Your take on the Old Firm is very interesting. I think the religious aspect of the rivalry is sometimes overstated to the extent that all other explanations are ignored, so more nuanced arguments are always useful. I do think that the antipathy between Rangers fans and the Scottish national team (and the SFA) is genuine - the relegation of Rangers to the 3rd division hasn't done a great deal to help this. I'm hoping to write a paper on that some time in the next year, commitments permitting! I've seen the club vs country debate come up quite a few times with regards to the England team. From what I can tell, fans of my club (Birmingham City) are split around 50/50, but I think it would probably differ from club to club. Aston Villa fans are traditionally big followers of the England team, which I think has something to do with it... Thanks again for your comments, and I hope to see you at one of the FREE conferences soon, Anthony

  2. David Ranc

    2012-09-03 09:31:23

    I have long argued (including in my book _Foreign Players and Football Supporters: The Old Firm, Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain_) that the opposition between Celtic & Rangers is much more an opposition between locals & migrants that have never been allowed to assimilate, than a religious rivalry. It is very interesting to see an analysis that similarly places the emphasis on the political rather than on the Catholic vs ‘Protestant’ (whatever this may be) opposition. On a smaller point: I have my doubts regarding the supporters of the Scottish football team. In the course of my research, I have come across many Arsenal fans that denied supporting England. They were perpetuating the stereotype that England is mostly or even only supported by fans of smaller clubs. However, most of those Arsenal supporters were, at the same time, agreeing they would never miss an England game, would cheer for England from their armchairs, & a few would even have a number of English flags planted on their cars… The difficulty here lies in defining support: these supporters’ effort to support England paled in comparison with the amount of time, effort & money that they spent on Arsenal. This is why, they tended to minimise it. However this effort was real, & it should not be ignored. They were both committed supporters of Arsenal & distant supporters of England, but they really were supporters of both...

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