My football fandoms, performance, and place

Abby Waysdorf

Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

[0.1] Abstract—In this personal essay, the author discusses negotiation of identity in the various spaces of football fandom.

[0.2] Keywords—Fan spaces; Slash; Soccer; Sports fandom

Waysdorf, Abby. 2015. "My Football Fandoms, Performance, and Place." In "Performance and Performativity in Fandom," edited by Lucy Bennett and Paul J. Booth, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 18.

1. Television and tifo

[1.1] For the last American group game of the 2010 World Cup, a crucial match against Algeria for a spot in the knockout rounds, ESPN filmed in the bar that the Seattle chapter of the American Outlaws called home. It was a big deal—ESPN, the biggest name in sports in the United States, wanted to showcase us as US soccer fans on perhaps the biggest day in US soccer. As a member, as well as a member of a supporter's group for the Seattle Sounders (the Emerald City Supporters), I was a regular at other viewing parties and therefore knew how to behave. I knew what to wear, what to chant, and how to act to make us look the best on the big stage, to showcase to the rest of the country and indeed to the rest of the world that Seattle fans knew how to be proper football supporters.

[1.2] Football fandom is largely about performance, especially when you get into the supporter's culture that the American Outlaws and the Emerald City Supporters embrace. Based in the traditions of Europe, especially that of Italy, Germany, and to some extent the Balkans, it's a style that demands commitment and extravagance. Groups pride themselves on their tifo, ranging from small displays held by a fan or two to massive "carnival-type demonstrations of support involving the whole stadium end and requiring considerable outlay in money, labour and co-ordination" (Roversi and Ballestri 2000, 188). The Emerald City Supporters prided themselves on their ability to create such displays—massive hand-painted banners stretching across the end of the stadium we stood in, sometimes with multiple layers and moving parts. Major games, like derbies against the hated rivals in Portland, featured the most elaborate performances, and it was part of the challenge to come up with something better each time.

[1.3] Even when there wasn't a display, there was singing, another habit borrowed from the Europeans. Chanting is a major part of the performance of one's fandom, as "the integral relationship between supporter and team demands, at least in theory, that fans must also do their part in the contest, which, disallowed as they are from entering the field of play, they largely manage through song" (Power 2011, 100). We gave our full 90, just as we expected of the team on the field. At games, song sheets were provided, and it was expected that if you were in the Brougham End (the name given to the general-admission section of the stadium), you would be performing. Through this performance, we could feel like we were making a difference at the game and could show off to the rest of the country—and the world—that we were real supporters, that we could hold our own with fans from countries with more storied traditions. By performing our fandom so flamboyantly, we could be respected.

[1.4] The bar was too small for tifo, and it wouldn't have been appropriate anyway, but the idea was the same. Through our singing, cheering, and bandanas, we could show to a broad audience that we were truly fans. Having the ESPN cameras there magnified this sense of performing our fandom, of needing to make sure that the way we were acting was how fans were supposed to act. Others would watch—we had to look good.

2. Among the fans

[2.1] Performing football fandom goes beyond tifo and chanting, however. I performed in the bars even when cameras weren't there, in chatting with other fans before and after games. This was more of a performance in the sense described by Erving Goffman (1959), a performance of everyday life, or in this case fan life. Like in any fan group, there are acknowledged ways to perform one's fandom. Outside of the theatricality of the game, there is a performance in dressing, acting, and communicating fandom and fan identity. In how I talked about leagues, teams, and players, I performed myself as knowledgeable and authentic, a real fan of the sport.

[2.2] As many female sports fans will attest, being a female fan is often fraught. It's well acknowledged that we must prove ourselves as authentic or real fans in a way that men do not—we're tested on our knowledge of the offside rule or a team's players, when male fans are assumed to be real fans until proven otherwise. The assumption that female fans are somehow inauthentic is also part of academic discourse on football fandom, as Victoria K. Gosling (2007) and Katharine W. Jones (2008) discuss, with the latter noting, "When women are mentioned in the literature on football fans, scholars often assume that they are less authentic and committed fans than men and that they operate outside of the 'imagined community' of fandom" (517). Football, and sports fandom in general, is a man's pastime, and women have to prove themselves to be part of it.

[2.3] This requirement is often linked to the specter of eroticism. As Gosling discusses, it is "the belief (and unease) of male fans that women attend male mass spectator sports merely to 'swoon' over the players. Women fans are therefore viewed as inauthentic and not dedicated enough in their support" (2007, loc. 4810). The accusation that women fans are just there to lust after players is a sentiment expressed in a variety of studies on female football fans, including Israeli fans who "are accused that their motivation is not genuine, but is related to eroticism" (Ben-Porat 2009, 888), English female fans who complain about other women who "'let…us all down' by finding players attractive" (Jones 2008, 528), and Japanese female fans who protest that "I'm not a mi-ha fan, I'm watching soccer seriously" (Tanaka 2004, 54). To be a real football fan, you are there for the game or for the team, and you can't give any hints otherwise.

[2.4] This is the role I performed when at the bar and the role that I continue to perform in person now that I've left Seattle. I knew my trivia, my tactics, my history. I loved being a football fan among other fans, loved the discussions about the Bundesliga or what Arsenal (my English club of choice) needed in order to be title contenders again. But I am also the wrong kind of football fan. When Freddie Ljungberg joined the Sounders, I wasn't excited only because of what he could bring to the team or because of my memories of him at Arsenal. I was also excited because I had collected his Calvin Klein underwear ads, and because he was one of my favorites to write and read slash fan fiction about.

3. Fandom space

[3.1] Football slash has long been intertwined with my football fandom, with the way I understood the relationships between the leagues, teams, and players. The history and trivia I was so good at came to me from this fan practice. The seasons and tournaments were interwoven with potential narrative developments and love stories, and I watched Arsenal TV more for cute interviews that could be used in shipping discussions than for match highlights. I knew from early on that there were spaces in which to enact this kind of fandom and spaces where another kind of performance was needed. Slash fan fiction is the ultimate in the wrong way to be a football fan: it eroticizes the players, treats the game as media, and requires little attendance in the stadium.

[3.2] As with so many others, I found I could be different online, at least in particular corners of the Internet. I talked about the World Cup one way at the bar and another way entirely on my laptop. Even there, too, there were differences in fan performance. I commented one way on LiveJournal but another way on the Guardian.

[3.3] As I turned my personal interest in the form to scholarly interest, I began to pay attention to the ways in which my fellow fans navigated the different identities and performances of their football fandom. One wrote fan fiction under one name and a serious fan blog under another, keeping separate Twitter accounts for each. Another spoke of dude fandom and what needed to be acted there versus how she could behave in slash spaces. Some separated their teams out as for fanning or for sport, so that they could be, for example, a fan of Manchester United in slash spaces but of Southhampton with family in the stadium. Others opted to enact their fandom entirely in the media fandom spaces of LiveJournal.

[3.4] However it was done, we all recognized the need to perform our fandom differently depending on where we were. The benefit of the Internet for us was the ability to do so—to perform one style on one site or even in person but then head back to our fandom space and talk about our favorite teams and players entirely differently. Secure in a pseudonym and in the knowledge that our friends and colleagues don't even know about this side of fandom, we can gleefully be inauthentic football fans.

[3.5] This too is a performance—I type differently in fandom space, highlight different things, offer different what-if scenarios to my friends. I perform media fandom in the way I learned how to perform it as a teenager; it's only the text that is different. I'm unwilling to say which performance of fandom is the most genuine, as they both are. They are both performative modes of fandom that I enact in different spaces.

4. Performance(s) of fandom

[4.1] Currently, I've been focusing my research on physical places of fandom. Place is an integral part of fandom, from the filming site to the comic book store to the convention, physicalizing the relationship that the fan has to the media text (Geraghty 2014). Within these spaces, it is generally thought that fans can be fans, expressing and performing their fandom in ways that might seem strange in nonfannish locations. The performances of fandom—cosplay, reenactments, talking in quotes—are accepted and normalized in these spaces, creating a sense that this is where fans can let loose and embrace their fandom without self-consciousness.

[4.2] Yet I try to remember what football has taught me. While the actions at a fannish place might seem like a natural expression of fandom, it is important to remember that these are still performances. This doesn't mean they're not fun or that the fan is faking it but that there is consideration of the audience involved. There are different ways to perform fandom of the same object, perhaps even for the same fan. While the bifurcations of football fandom might be extreme, it is not the only object that inspires such varied forms. Therefore, when investigating spaces of fandom, it is worth considering what kinds of fandom performances are appropriate there, why this might be, and what other performances are possible.

[4.3] I am a football fan. Nearly everyone I know knows that about me. How they see it, though, depends on where they are.

5. Works cited

Ben-Porat, Amir. 2009. "Not Just for Men: Israeli Women Who Fancy Football." Soccer and Society 10 (6): 883–96.

Geraghty, Lincoln. 2014. Cult Collectors: Nostalgia, Fandom, and Collecting Popular Culture. London: Routledge.

Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press.

Gosling, Victoria K. 2007. "Girls Allowed? The Marginalization of Female Sports Fans." In Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World, edited by Jonathan Gray, Cornel Sandvoss, and C. Lee Harrington, location 4635–836. New York: NYU Press.

Jones, Katharine W. 2008. "Female Fandom: Identity, Sexism, and Men's Professional Football in England." Sociology of Sport Journal 25:516–37.

Power, Ben. 2011. "Justice for the Ninety-Six: Liverpool FC Fans and Uncommon Use of Football Song." Soccer and Society 12 (1): 96–112.

Roversi, Antonio, and Carlo Balestri. 2000. "Italian Ultras Today: Change or Decline?" European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research 8:183–99.

Tanaka, Toko. 2004. "The Positioning and Practices of the 'Feminized Fan' in Japanese Soccer Culture through the Experience of the FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan 2002." Translated by Hiroki Ogasawara. Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 5 (1): 52–62.