Influences on behaviour

Fans, fanatics and fusion

The identify fusion behind footy fans and fanatics

With the changeover of football codes having just occurred here in Australia (AFL and Rugby League have just ended, the A League Soccer is about to start), fans’ tribal team loyalties have been proudly on display. Luckily, most have behaved themselves but this is not always the case. Recently, researchers from the University of Oxford have reported there are some positive motivations behind the dark side of football – namely, fan violence.


Conducting a critical review of literature on fan violence in the UK, Brazil, Australia, and Indonesia, the researchers found that bonding over a shared passion for a particular side, club or cause can lead to identity fusion, where a ‘brothers in arms’ mentality creates feelings of kinship and protection for each other, and aggression towards those considered outsiders, similar to that found in extremist activity such as gang culture or even terrorism.


Dr Denise Goodwin, Research Fellow at BWA, explains there have been many studies of football hooliganism in Europe, with a range of interventions trialled to reduce it. “Behaviours associated with football hooliganism have been well established, including patterns of behaviour that can predict likely engagement in hooligan activities.”


“identifying the behaviour is just one part of the problem, diffusing it is much harder!”

Dr Denise Goodwin


In the UK, strategies include heavy policing and the use of CCTV and face recognition technology to identify hooligans and troublemakers. “Other European countries have been more proactive”, according to Dr Goodwin, “working more intensely with supporter groups and clubs to diffuse the culture and likelihood of engaging in such behaviours from within.  Either way, identifying the behaviour is just one part of the problem, diffusing it is much harder!”


This research could lead to positive outcomes if this violent behaviour can be both addressed and potentially channelled into pro-social activity.  By starting in a relatively safe space – football bonding – they hope to extend the research to more dangerous groups like IS. 


To quote the lead author of the review, Dr Martha Newson, “Tackling one form of extreme group violence will give us the confidence and tools to apply the learnings to other areas such as fundamentalists and radicals.”


The full paper citation is ‘Football, fan violence and identity fusion,’ as featured in The International Review for the Sociology of Sport http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1012690217731293
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Melbourne football fans, May 2015