Supporter Culture: Imitation is Flattery

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To understand the culture of the football supporter, one must look at underlying aspects of the Pop Culture around them. Much in the way that art reflects its society, and time; you could say the same for the culture of football support. And this become especially evident, when you begin to break it down geographically. Over this article, and more, I want to take a critical look at this culture, what it pulls from, its values, its hypocrisies, and how it draws people in. Especially as it pertains to the culture in the US.

Most supporters in the US, whether they played as kids or not, were first truly exposed to football through Premier League or UEFA Champions League matches on television. Others came to the game through FIFA or Pro Evolution Soccer (PES). And with that came aligning yourself to a certain club. Some formed supporter chapters, locally, for their clubs abroad. Others chose to start clubs. Or form rec league clubs, based on their favored club. But, the beginnings of engagement were there.

With the proliferation of the internet, social networking, and other forms of social media, came opportunity - the opportunity to connect with supporters of your favored club. To learn about its culture, albeit remotely. To participate in the culture, again, albeit remotely. And to subconsciously imprint that culture locally. You can see videos of Liverpool supporters singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” or of Italian Ultras waving their flags and flares while singing opera. There is access to what the supporters do, that isn’t always picked up by the mics at the match.

The interesting thing is seeing all of this play out on a much smaller scale, locally. Where the influences of those big clubs and their culture play out in support of the supporter’s local club. In my experience, the nascent supporter culture that grew around Louisville City FC’s maiden season, pulled elements from all sorts of places. Seeing how discordant it was, at first, then watching the pieces gradually fluidly come together, it was a neat sight. But that’s what the supporter culture does. It assimilates these elements outside itself: pyrotechnics, songs, chants, rituals, marching, banter, fisticuffs; ultimately growing into a gestalt.

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The influences shine through though. Due to the derivative nature of football supporting, one can usually trace where elements were lifted from. Be them appropriated from other groups. Or from Pop Culture. Or even from culture that is regionally specific. But that’s the nature of creation, isn’t it? To borrow, lift, steal, pilfer, plagiarize, appropriate, and “get inspiration from” someone else’s idea to gradually morph into something of your own. My group, The Boarding Crew, shamelessly borrowed from a few other groups. Sometimes we got permission to lift those elements, other times, we just took and modified as necessary. I can cite three specific instances, in fact. One of the more engaging chants we had, was “The French Chant” which was taken, with permission, from the Northern Guard Supporters. We also, when we found a way to incorporate it, sang a modified version of Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy”. And, we were one of the first supporter groups in the US, as far as I’m aware, to bring “Will Grigg’s On Fire” over from Europe. But again, that’s the derivative nature of the culture. Innovation comes in the form of taking something known somewhere else, and making it instantly recognizable to your group, or your club.

With understanding the role, and influence, of Pop Culture and entertainment within the football support culture, it opens a new way of understanding and engaging at matches. And in the next installment, I will discuss further how football supporters, at matches, are playing out an ancient theatrical tradition.

- Eric Major

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