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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] schwabenakademie.de)

‘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.

The new book on memorial culture in football published by the Schwabenakademie (1) now presents for the first time a study in cultural history that analyses the collective memory of football on a broad basis of single case studies: 18 authors present a range of examples from ten European countries. After two introductory contributions, four separate sections illuminate themes and issues related to media, to rituals and customs of remembrance, commemoration and oblivion in the world of European football, as follows:

1. the policy of commemoration of federations and clubs,
2. the significance of fan cultures as initiators and preservers of collective memory,
3. stadiums and museums as places of remembrance and commemoration as well as
4. politically motivated cases of “social death” and the annihilation of memory (“damnatio memoriae”), in particular under the two German dictatorships and in socialist countries of Eastern Europe.

The aim of the essays is by no means limited to the mere analysis of the written body of commemorative evidence preserved by the clubs and federations but rather concentrate on numerous other forms and displays of memory and remembrance, for example by discussing the following aspects:

-  ritualised performance/staging practices (fan choreographies, spontaneous commemorative shrines),
-  acoustic orchestration before kick-off and during breaks (minutes of silence, minutes of applause),
-  the significance of club names, jerseys, logos and pins for the collective memory of football clubs,
-  the construction and performance of remembrance as a legitimising tool for political systems,
-  the monuments, commemorative plaques, and statues made from stone and metal (monuments for fallen soldiers and military heroes, statues of footballers),
-  the business model of the “stadium commemorative bricks” and of “commemorative walls”,
-  the commemoration of military events and of club members fallen in the wars by federations, clubs and fan cultures,
-  the unifying effect of celebrated sports celebrities, of charismatic coaches and managers for the creation of collective memory,
-  the visual expression of mourning and rites of condolence by way of wearing specific clothing (commemorative jerseys, wearing of black mourning bands during the match),
-  burials in British football stadiums (sepulture of urns or scattering of the ashes of deceased players, managers and fans), memorial services as well as funerals of football players and fans as particular examples for the secularisation of the European funerary culture,
-  instances of collective mourning of fan communities in the aftermath of catastrophes in stadiums, such as Ibrox Park 1902 und 1971; Heysel 1985;  Hillsborough 1989; or after the sudden death of a popular football celebrity, such as German national goalkeeper Robert Enke’s suicide in 2009, when fans from all over Europe condoled with his club on his tragic death,
-  fan cemeteries in Amsterdam (opened in 1996), Hamburg (2008) and Gelsenkirchen (2012),

The Schalke cemetery in Gelsenkirchen

-  German, Dutch and British undertakers appointed by football clubs with a special licence for their services,
-  the objects of the everyday material culture of football which are being traded and auctioned on the market for sports memorabilia,
-  the virtual Halls of Fame of clubs and federations and the world wide web as a forum for commemoration and mourning,
-  last but not least, and this is the central focus, the book discusses football clubs which constitute themselves – as an essential part of their corporate identity – via the above-mentioned media, rituals and social practices as trans-generational communities.

This volume of essays presents itself as a first step towards the cultural-historical exploration of the wide scope and variety of memorial and sepulchral culture as an integral part of football. It is to be hoped that it will be followed by many more such investigations. For the FREE research strands concerned with the collective memory of football the volume will be of special interest as it presents a rich tapestry of connecting threads and points of reference.

(1)   Memorialkultur im Fußballsport: Medien, Rituale und Praktiken des Erinnerns, Gedenkens und Vergessens. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2013.

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