„Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.“
Legendary Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly
People across the globe define themselves as fans. They invest passion, loyalty and significant amounts of time, money, blood, sweat and tears in supporting a club or league in good as well as bad times. A fan expresses affection in victory and in defeat.
A fan’s emotions are all consuming. They are omnipresent in work and leisure time irrespective of whether a fan is single, has a family or is in a relationship. The decision to become a fan is deliberate. It is often taken at a young age. It defines a person’s behavior and often is for life. Fans share their passion with like-minded others in support groups that develop symbols, myths and rituals and at times even collective identities. Taken together, they constitute a fan culture.
The Institute of Fan Culture researches and analyzes these cultures and the issues and problems associated with them. These can vary starkly. They run from hooliganism to expressions of racism on the stands to highly politicized groups that for example played a key role in the overthrow in 2011 in Egypt of President Hosni Mubarak to the criminalization of the barras in Argentina. Clubs in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America view fans as constituent, albeit sometimes troublesome, partner. Fans across much of the globe share that view and at times go further to claim that they are the real owners of the club. By contrast, clubs and fans in the United States agree that a club’s supporters are clients, much like customers of any other business.
One important focus of the institute is the study of how fan culture influences a person’s behavior in his or her daily life and the extent to which that behavior changes once the fan is with his or her support group or the club or in the stadium as a passionate supporter. It also looks at the impact of globalization as well as corruption of sports that has boosted a small number of clubs like Manchester United in establishing themselves as global brands and creating in the process global fans whose loyalty frequently is less of a commitment and more dependent on a team’s continued success.
To do so, the institute has built a network of international scholars, institutions, fans, politiciians, lawyers and businessmen as well as an interdisciplinary team of sport science, social science and cultural studies researchers. The institute produces academic and policy research.
Current projects include a research program focusing on:
- The role of soccer fans in sustaining and toppling autocratic regimes
- The employment of soccer by ethnic and religious groups to project nationhood and achieve statehood
- Sports governance in Middle East and North African soccer
- Women´s soccer in the Middle East
- The acquisition of top clubs by wealthy institutions and individuals often from the Middle East
- Mega events like the World Cup as platforms for campaigns for human, gender and labor rights