Banners, Flares and Other Acts of Protest

I enjoy making revolution! I enjoy going to football! ~Antonio Negri

{About Me} I am a Ph.D student at the Karl-Franzens-Universität, Graz. This here blog is part of my reflexive process of working out ideas and making initial articulations on things related to my research and generally of interest to me. More polished missives will be published on the Contentious Blog – a collective blog I work on with 3 research partners in Graz and Rochester, NY. This one is all experimental, and because it is digital, constantly becoming something new, and probably not permanent.

{Context} A good deal of my writing here along with my Ph.D research deals with football fans and protest movements. Why is that, you ask? A few years ago, I started to notice something about football fans. It has always been there, but I only just noticed it. That they were popping up in reports on protests, and that this had a mixed to negative reception in the media, is well known. They were a vilified subject, which has a long history, so using them as scape-goats for violence was a quick out in terms of explaining a wave of militant, heterogeneous protests that shook the world from the Tahir Square on. That there might be a link between what fans experience as people attending football games and having a particular way of expressing themselves (in most cases, ULTRAS), and these protests is rarely discussed. And yet, watching fan choreographies, disrupt a match with flares, and listening to them sing, the closest emotional experience I can equate is a protest. Fans live in the same societies as the rest of us, and the sport they love is just as subject to change as anything else. Like any other community, they are inherently performative, creating and reproducing their reality. What I had started to notice, is that fans are also a political subject.

The politics of fans is not one of political parties or trade unions, rather it is one of everyday life. It is politics that comes from the relationship your identity has both with the wider society and also with institutions of authority. Here fans appear to occupy a paradox: one the one side they are often vilified and generally considered problematic, yet they are essential to the sport. A stadium must be loud to function as it should. Away teams should be intimidated by the loudness of home fans, and their choreographies should express love, devotion for the team, or a provocation of the opposition. It is, in fact, why we go to the stadium. For the most devoted fans, those deeply involved in the life of the club, this is a way of life.

{conclusion} There is a growing resistance movement in European football as the industry moves further away from the fans on all levels; from rising prices to massive profits and corruption, to surveillance over every aspect of the stadium experience. In this way the sport reflects the financialization of everyday life that has been on the rise since the fordist, industrial model of capitalism fell into crisis in Europe and N. America in the 1970s. The fans resistance to alienation from their passion is also appearing at a time when broad social struggles around the world are increasingly active and diverse. The fans analysis and forms of protest are becoming more intelligent and complex; more magazines and texts are being written on football with a basic anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic position. But at the same time, football on all levels continues to be fraught with exploitation, racism, discrimination and violence. All this makes sense if we are to believe David Goldblatt when he says football is a pretty accurate barometer of our global social condition.

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