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June 14, 2012

Lessons learned from English football on tackling racism

As the editor of the book series New Ethnographies for Manchester University Press, I am really excited about the publication this summer of our latest title, An Ethnography of English Football Fans, by Dr Geoff Pearson of the University of Liverpool's Management School

His book is particularly timely given the extent to which racism and violence amongst football fans, from a variety of European countries, has come to overshadow the Euro 2012 tournament in recent weeks. Many of us have been shocked by images of violence on our television screens, the most recent example being clashes between Polish and Russian fans that took place yesterday in Warsaw (

For over fifteen years, Dr Pearson conducted detailed, ethnographic fieldwork amongst football fans from three clubs: Blackpool, Manchester United and the national England team itself. One of the questions he explores in his book is whether football attracts this type of anti-social behaviour to a greater extent than other sports.

In an interesting and thought-provoking Blog for Manchester University Press, he argues that incidents of racism he encountered amongst English football fans were ‘largely determined by context rather than by a disposition of football fans towards that type of behaviour or those types of views.’ He found that rather than being a ‘magnet’ for those holding racist or extremist political views, there was no evidence ‘to suggest that football fans were inherently more racist in attitude than non-football fans’.

Indeed, given how rarely he witnessed incidents of racist abuse and chanting, he claims that the good work of campaign groups like Kick It Out as well as improved legislation, better stadium infrastructure and CCTV has discouraged those fans who might harbour racist views and feel comfortable about articulating them in private from expressing them at football matches.

Dr Pearson concedes that there is no room for complacency on this issue. After all, there is an important difference between, on the one hand, challenging people and the prejudices they possess in such a way as to change entrenched social attitudes; and on the other, cultivating the kinds of (sub) cultures of self-policing football fans he describes in his book.

However, Dr Pearson concludes on an optimistic note: that the experience of English football suggests ‘it is possible to manage racism in football grounds without … excluding all those who have racist views.’

Follow this link to read Dr Pearson’s original Blog:

You can find out more about his book, An Ethnography of English Football Fans, which will be available from Manchester University Press in July 2012, here:

And you can learn more about the New Ethnographies book series I edit for Manchester University Press, here:

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