"We are the Scousers..." Chapter 2

Last updated : 21 August 2007 By Les Roberts

Having examined the facts and reasoning behind ground redevelopment and relocation, the emphasis will now turn to the fans who occupy these grounds and "possess an allegiance to the team[s]" that play in them. (Bale, 1993 p.55).

When commenting on the possibility of the development of 'Stadium Mersey' in 1990, Rogan Taylor, the then chairman of the Football Supporters Association, was quoted as saying: "Some [fans] have said 'I never want to leave.' Which you've got to expect" (Leisure Opportunities 58, 1990 p.16).

But why should this reaction be expected?

"What is special about a football ground, bricks and concrete with a piece of turf in the middle?" (Inglis, 1983 p.8).

This chapter aims to examine why this may be the common response from some fans by studying the sense of provincialism that may be strong within certain groups of fans.

It may be the case that on one level it is the sport which actually gives fans a sense of identity as "it provides them with common symbols, a collective identity, and a reason for solidarity…[and] is one institution that holds together people in a metropolis and heightens their attachment to the locale." (Lever cited in Guttman, 1991 p.183).

This is an idea echoed by Bale (1994, p.55) who suggests that "sport in its modern form, and archetypically football…provides what is arguably the major focus for collective identity in modern Britain and much of the rest of the world."

In other words, football provides, for many, a primary source of emotional bonding and feelings of togetherness and belonging.

If this is the case, particularly in football, it may be a phenomenon that has been rooted within the game from its early development as a working class pursuit and one that matured alongside the working-class youth of the nineteenth-century.

It may be that the playful competition of a 'kickabout' encouraged children to compete and thereby, in some way prepare them physically and mentally for the challenges of adulthood and "the tougher style of men" (Holt, 1986 p.7).

If sport was, therefore, part of the male socialization process, it is quite possible that as some street corner 'kickabouts' evolved into either watching or playing the more organized game, and football provided a male preserve which could underpin masculine identity.

Along with embracing the "manly, healthy and ennobling character of the sport" (Huggins, 1989 p.301) it may be that, in addition to asserting male identity, the values of teamwork which became entrenched within the game suited the attitudes and ethics of the working class and so helped to enhance a sense of working class identity (Walvin, 1975 p.76).

As Hargreaves (1991, p.110) observes; "what has been distinctive of traditional working class styles of involvement in…football…is the primacy which is given to a type of teamwork and discipline which expresses the solidarity in the collective interest, as opposed to individual ambition and achievement."

This would suggest that the sport was used to oppose a middle class hegemony and sustain a definite working class identity and ethos (Guttman, 1986 p.105).

Some authors have even gone so far as to suggest that football may have somehow usurped religion as the Marxist 'opiate of the masses' by surpressing any feelings of despair or angst amongst the proletariat.

For example, Vinnai (1973 cited in Rippon, 1983 p.18) opined that in Victorian times "English entrepreneurs promoted the new sport, hoping that it would keep the workers away from political and trade union activity."

Similarly, Murrel and Dietz (1992, p.28) observed that; "sport spectating serves as a primary diversion for many."

It would appear then that, to neo-Marxists at least, football is considered a means of escape from the everyday world.

This claim may be substantiated by the fact that some fans seemingly experience catharsis at games.

As novelist J.B. Priestly observed, football:.…turned you into a member of a new community, all brothers together for an hour and a half, for not only had you had you escaped from the clanking machinery of this lesser life, from work…nagging wives…bad bosses, idleworkmen, but you had escaped with most of your mates…and your neighbours…into an altogether more splendid kind of life." (Priestly cited in Holt, 1989 p.168-9)

In addition to providing an example of how supporting a football team can be akin to the Marxist 'opiate of the masses' this passage also highlights how 'going to the match' can be a very communal experience, again asserting the idea of an affiliation to the local community.

The idea that some fans' association may be with the locality and club rather than the actual team is suggested by Pratt and Slater (1984 p.204) who observed that, for many, it may not be "the actual playing team which is supported but the name of the home town or city."

This may be true for some fans, for instance, those who would rather see their local rivals win a trophy to keep it in the immediate area.

However, there are those for whom local rivalries run deeper than place identity, for example, the sectarian rivalry which divides supporters of Celtic and Rangers of Glasgow runs on a religious and political as well as a footballing level.

However, this is an issue worthy of extensive research in it's own right and, therefore, one which cannot be elaborated upon in this study.

It may also be the case that two of the scenarios outlined thus far, that football provides an identity within the locale and underpins a working class identity, may somehow be juxtaposed and manifested through equating this identity with the football ground.

Hargreaves (1991 p.107) suggested that "Localism equates class solidarity with loyalty to ones mates and to the local community".

Furthermore, Dunning et al (1992 p.206) observed how the: "positive feelings experienced by lower working class people in the company of neighbours and kin tend to be projected by some of them on to the territories where these feelings are generated, leading, however run down and impoverished these neighbourhoods may appear to an observer, to a close and emotionally salient identification with the local territory per se."

Not only does this illustrate Tuan's (1974) theory of 'topophilia', as outlined in the introduction, but also the reason why some fans are resistant to change, even when their current ground may be 'run down and impoverished'.

In projecting these 'positive feelings' onto the football ground it may be the case that fans are thereby forming an inextricable link between their feelings for the club they support and the stadium in which they play.

In addition, figurationalists have observed that "arguably, more than in other sport in any other modern, industrialized country, English football fans display a proprietorial attachment to the football ground…in which their favoured football team plays." (The Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football research, 1989b cited in Bale, 1993 p.169).

Now whilst this statement seems to generically link all fans to this feeling and can thus be questioned, it stills serves well to illustrate something which many authors have suggested; that there is an inseparable bond (or at least a strong link) between a football club and their home ground.

Inglis (1983, p.12) suggested that in the games formative years it was the mere fencing in of the pitch that, in part, "established a club identity."

He also goes on to explain how some clubs only "came into being because there existed a ground for them to occupy…[for example] Chelsea, whose birth in 1905 was due only to the fact that no existing club wanted to use Stamford Bridge." (Inglis, 1983 p.15).

Similarly, Liverpool FC only came into existence after an internal split within Everton FC which saw them leave Anfield vacant.

Therefore, as the very existence of some clubs is due to the ground in which they play, and the fact that a lot of other clubs have experienced a number of 'good times' within their grounds, it may be the case that some fans feel that their ground is "personal" (Smith,1996 p.F,1) and even have unique characteristics and atmosphere.

Canter et al (1989, p.57) suggest that "each [club] has its own 'personality'…some clubs are perceived as friendly, some as impressive, some as apathetic and some as hostile" and it may be that this 'personality' is reflected in the ground as Inglis (1983, p.8) suggested, "every ground has its own character."

The 'old' football grounds, that is, not the all-new, purpose built, out-of-town stadia described in chapter one, may also hold a place in fans affections due to the wealth of memories they have collected there (it is unlikely that many of the new grounds will have been occupied long enough to harbour a wealth of memories, but this may happen in time).

Furthermore, it may be that old buildings "are a familiar and much-loved part of the urban scene" (Latham, 1990 p.33) and Tuan (1974 p.535) suggests that they contain: "images that provide us with reasons or illusions of stability…In the home memories and time are transfixed in concrete things…our affection for home is…also based upon its role as shelter."

Although this appears to be based upon a residential home rather than a football home and again seems to suggest that these feelings are all-encompassing, it serves as a good example of why many fans may feel an affiliation towards their 'home' ground.

For some it is a place of memories associated with happy, successful times and teams and, in leaner periods, a place where they can dream of better times on the horizon.

Tuan (1974 p.534) also observes how memories of home can trigger familiar sensory experiences and notes how "most of us must have first felt the romance of our subject through some real encounter with the color, odor -the mood- of a place".

Again, whilst this statement surmises that these experiences must be felt by many at some stage, and appears almost (as he states) 'romantic' in tone, it can be applied to an experience which is felt by some fans at their clubs home ground.

Bale (1993) chronicles the musings of a Derby County fan who equates sensory experience with the Baseball Ground (Derby County's former

home) to the point where the teams and successes appear to pale into insignificance: "When all is said and done about Derby, and you've forgotten all the players and all the matches, I think the one memory I have of Derby, or at least the Baseball Ground, which I'm sure no other club ever had, is the smell."

"For me the magic is just coming down to that ground…Football grew up with that sort of smell…Even as a kid, if I went…to that end oftown - not on match days - and happened to smell that smell, that was a football smell, that was Derby County's smell, and I can smell it to this day" (Bale, 1993 p.71)

However, if this statement were to be critiqued objectively, it may be said that the smell so fondly remembered by the author may not have been unique to the Baseball Ground but prevalent at many other grounds around the country.

The smell the spectator recalls with some affection from his home ground may have been met with repugnance had it been detected at another ground.

Nevertheless, whilst this may be considered just one fan's flash of nostalgia and may be in some way 'rose-tinted', to coin a phrase, it serves well to illustrate Tuan's (1974) point about sensory experience and love of a place.

It is unlikely that this fan, or other fans who shared this experience, will feel the same affection towards Derby County's new home, Pride Park.

The old smell that was associated not only with the match, but with the club, will be missing and so part of the matchday experience will be lost forever.

In addition, this example also serves to highlight the strong sense of tradition felt by football fans which can manifest itself in the love of a ground and heighten a sense of place.

The nostalgia felt by some fans may be a by-product of the sense of tradition which appears to be evident in football, and it may be said that the need to retain these traditions is so strong amongst some that they become completely resistant to change.

As Canter et al (1989, p.160) observe, "the present-day football supporter has inherited a football heritage that goes back more than 100 years" and "tradition is an important element of what it means to be a football fan in Britain" (Duke, 1994 p.138).

For example, an Everton fan was quoted in the Football Echo (07/12/96 p.16) as saying; "History and tradition cannot be replaced. Goodison is the soul of Everton FC."

In addition, Everton officials, when offering proposals for the new stadium, stated how it will be "a monument to the club's past" (Liverpool Echo, 06/05/97 p.31) and "will retain the finest traditions of the club." (GFE, 1997 p.C,5).

However, the question must be asked what is tradition and why is it deemed to be so important?

When citing some fan's reasons for the retention of terraces, Lord Justice Taylor stated that one reason put forward was: "an emotional one based on a desire to retain the traditional culture

derived from the close contact of the terraces…to many young men the camaraderie of singing together, jumping up and down, responding in unison to the naming of a player…the scoring of a goal, an unpopular decision…are an integral part of enjoying the match. They like to be part of an amorphous seething crowd and do not wish to have each his own place in seat." (HMSO, 1990 p.13)

Is tradition, then, merely a euphemism for familiarity or is it something more than that?

It has been suggested that, due to the fact that, for many years, they were at the forefront of ground redevelopment and innovation, the traditions of Everton FC "are primarily of innovation and maintenance of innovation…change and advancement" (Burns, 1997 p.C,4 author's own emphasis).

As Inglis (1983, p.194-196) observes: "Goodison Park was the first major football ground in England...[and] in 1971…a massive new three-tiered Main Stand was the largest in Britain".

However, such descriptions of tradition may vary depending upon which particular set of fans you speak to and what is traditional for one fan or club may not be traditional for another.

For example, it may be said that the kit in which a team plays is part of a clubs tradition and asserts identity and it has been suggested that "distinctive playing outfits promoted team identification and loyalty." (Mangan, 1988 p.70).

However, many clubs have, during the course of time, changed the colour and design of the kit they play in.

For example, Everton FC played in four different coloured kits before eventually settling on royal blue in 1907.

Despite, the actual kits themselves changing over the years with designs being updated, generally, every other season the shirts have remained, basically, the same colour.

More recently, Coventry City added navy blue stripes to their traditional sky blue shirts and Oldham Athletic have added red hoops to their conventional all blue shirts.

These examples illustrate how 'traditions' can change and may be open to personal opinion and may, therefore, support the claim that: "'Traditions' which appear to be old are often quite recent in origin and sometimes invented…an example [being]…the appearance and development of the practices associated with Cup Final in British Association Football" (Hobsbawm, 1984 p.1).

This statement can call into question the validity of the argument that "respect for the tradition and history of the British game is crucial if football is to retain its status as the leading mass spectator sport." (Duke, 1994 p.145).

That is, have traditions of the game simply been preconceived and grasped by a waiting public.

This statement is corroborated by the suggestion that: "Both man and middle-class sport combined the invention of political

and social traditions…by providing a medium for national identification and factitious community…the rise of sport provided new expressions of nationalism through the choice or invention of nationally specific sports -Welsh rugby as distinct from English soccer"(Hobsbawm, 1984 p.299)

If this is the case then surely tradition can be founded anywhere and, if so, relocation need not affect fans sense of place with regards to tradition as these feelings should manifest themselves within supporters new surroundings.

However, it may be that a sense of place is not merely defined by what is traditional or familiar, it could also be associated with a sense of 'ownership'.

In other words, some fans may not experience 'topophilia' simply through a sense of nostalgia.

Their place identity may stem from a feeling of ownership, that is, they perceive the home ground to be'theirs' and regard outsiders (away fans) as unwelcome.

It may be that this insularity is so strong in some cases that it causes outbreaks of violence between rival sets of fans.

Dunning et al (1992, p.207) have observed how "lower working class people tend to perceive 'the local turf' as their own property…This kind of territorial identification and sense of proprietorship tends to be extended…to…the local football ground and the streets surrounding it."

This may even be taken one stage further within the ground as certain groups of fans section parts off as their own. For example, the

section behind one or both of the goals may be considered by some as the domain of the rowdy fan who supports the team vocally and is not averse to the occasional outbreak of trouble.

This is an idea supported by Bale (1993, p.23) who claims that such internal segregation may have led to the "identification of 'football gangs' inside stadiums, and the staking out of gangs' territorial claims on the terraces behind the goals."

It may be this sense of territoriality then that encompasses some football fans sense of identity within the football ground.

Sack (1986, p.19) claims that "territoriality becomes a means of regulating social interaction and a focus and symbol of group membership and identity, ranging from the scale of urban gangs and their turf, through patterns of territorial regionalism."

A view that is supported by a former member of one of West Ham's 'firms', the 'Mile End Mob', who states: "That was who we said we were and that's what everybody else said we were; a kind of identification." (Taylor, 1995).

This asserts Jarvie's (1994) notion of a 'we group' mentality amongst football fans.

Although this example is given with regards to nationalism, it may be that localism is merely a sublimated form of this and is only manifested on a global scale when local football is not a sufficient stage on which to vent the "frustrations of small-town England" (Match of the Day Magazine, April 1998 p.12).

This idea, that localism can become nationalism, whilst an issue in itself, also raises questions on the validity of place identity.

Dunning et al (1992 p.200) identified that amongst football fans there was "the tendency for temporary ad hoc alliances to be built up between otherwise hostile fans", a phenomenon which was labelled 'the Bedouin syndrome'.

The example given cited how, in the Leicester area, intra-estate conflicts were regularly subordinated when defending the estate as a whole from gangs from rival estates.

In turn, the antagonism between these opposing groups was subverted when they stood "side by side on the Filbert Street terraces and outside the Leicester City ground in the cause of 'home-end' solidarity in opposition to visiting fans." (Dunning et al, 1992 p.200).

This process has been known to then continue into regional conflicts, for example, "Northern fans visiting London often complain about confrontations with combined 'fighting crews' from a number of metropolitan clubs" (Dunning et al, 1992 p.200) and furthermore onto the national scene when "club and regional rivalries tend to be subordinated to the interests of defending England's national 'reputation'" (Dunning et al, 1992 p.201).

Such occurrences may be considered to have serious implications

when studying place identity, particularly with specific regards to identity within the stadium.

Whilst the Bedouin syndrome gives a firm example of the occurrence of spatial and regional identity, it would also seem to suggest that these feelings may be superficial as they appear to be subordinated if another wider group is seen as of more importance.

However, these Bedouin allegiances appear to be part of a hooligan element present at clubs and may be a misnomer as it is not just, as outlined, those involved in hooligan activities who feel an allegiance to place.

On the other hand, it may be the case that hooligans have taken the place identity one step further in football grounds through their radical territoriality and extreme 'we group' mentality.

The very fact that this is the case would seem to reaffirm the point that many fans do feel a sense of place and it is the football environment that amplifies these feelings.

This would go some way to explaining why some fans do feel so strongly about their home ground, that is, they feel that it is the most appropriate stage to display their feelings of loyalty and solidarity.

This is something that has also been an unintended consequence of fencing off areas of the ground and penning fans into certain ends as Marsh et al (1978, p.59) observed: "The net effect of fortifications around Ends…is…the highlighting of their [fans] distinctive nature. The police and officials have succeeded in delineating fans' territories in a way that the fans themselves could never have done." Perhaps one of the most extreme and most basal manifestations of place identity came in the 1960's and 1970's at Old Trafford.

The press had labelled Manchester United's hooligan element the 'Red Army' and thereon in, perhaps lured by the mystique and feelings of collective identification: "young working class males from around the country started to augment United's disruptive following, particularly on away days. Regional enmities, however, were soon awaiting the arrival of 'Cockney Reds' at United's home games with the message that the 'Red Army's' formidable reputation was a matter for Manchester and not London concern." (Dunning et al, 1992 p.174)

Despite once again citing the examples of a hooligan element, this shows how even club allegiance can be subordinated when 'outsiders' from other regions invade the ground space of 'locals'.

This would seem to support the idea that some people do feel a strong sense of place and allegiance to their local area.

It may be the case that football grounds have become the stage on which many vent these feelings as "the scale of the industrial city [has] outstripped the capacity of individuals to encompass it…[and] the formal expression of citizenship through the municipal ballot box" (Mangan, 1988 p.83) may not offer the sense of place, belonging and meaning that supporting a football team brings.

It may also be that the periodic nature of football, that is, the regularity of seasons, may provide "a sense of stability to urban space, including a sense of place" (Parkes and Thrift, 1980 p.109).

This may also contribute to the suggestion that football, or sport in general, can take on the form of a quasi-religious experience.

It has been noted that both sport and religion "stir passions deep in the human spirit, and each can have profound and enduring effects on the individual and on society." (Hoffman, 1992 p.vii).

In addition, due to "a combination of seasonal and personal ritual processes, sport activity provides a continual stream of resacralization and meaning for our everyday world, just as traditional religion offers." (Prebish, 1984 p.308).

Whilst it may be viewed as heresy by some to compare religion with sport (or vice versa!), it would appear that parallels may be drawn.

Bale (1993 p.65) cites how the presence of St. Luke's church cutting into the stands at Goodison Park may once have been considered as "'the sacred and the profane'" but now reflects "the changing 'religious'allegiance of a substantal (sic) proportion of the public." (Bale, 1993 p.65).

Similarly, Inglis (1983, p.10) observed that, despite the attendance slump outlined in chapter 1, "more people still go to some local grounds than all the local churches put together."

Despite being over a decade old, one can only assume that, in light of the burgeoning 1990's attendances, this still rings true.

This may also describe why some perceive football grounds as "temples" (Inglis, 1983 p.21) or "our shrine" (Football Echo 24/02/90 p.15).

Whatever the reasons, be them socially bonding or semi-religious, it would certainly appear that some fans do feel a sense of 'topophilia' and this sometimes manifests itself in a love for the 'home' groundin which their team plays.

However, what are the implications for such fans when the issue of relocation is raised?

Will it lead to them losing their sense of place and, in turn, their feelings of a collective identity?

If so, does this mean that the hooligan element will be stamped out once and for all, due to the fact that, as outlined above, it may be that hooliganism stemmed from an assertion of territoriality, or will it lead to the problem increasing as fans try to re-assert their identity in new surroundings?

These are all issues which will be discussed in the third and final chapter, "Grounds For Concern…?"