Free, M. and Hughson, J.  (2003)  'Settling Accounts with Hooligans. Gender Blindness in Football Supporter Subculture Research', in Men and Masculinities, Vol 6, No 2: 136 - 155.

[This is a very insightful piece, taking the general form of McRobbie's famous critique of subcultural theory, especially Willis's study of the lads { McRobbie, A.  (1991)  'Settling accounts with sub culture: A feminist critique', in A. McRobbie  Feminism and youth culture: From  "Jackie"  to  "Just 17", London: Macmillan}. Basically, McRobbie had argued that Willis had not grasped the full significance of gender relations themselves in his account of the lads and their masculinity. Masculinity was seen as primarily located in working-class culture, and acted as a source of resistance to middle-class dominance. McRobbie argued that there was a significant absence in this analysis -- relations between men and women, parents and children in working-class families themselves. Willis noticed the sexism of the lads, but did not investigate the full context of that sexism. As a result, he could even be accused of having colluded in it! There is also an implicit criticism of ethnography as a method here, which had failed to pick up the gender dimension in its own right.

This article want to re-read some ethnographic accounts of football hooligans and supporters to identify a similar absence. Again, the researchers involved have focused on the characteristics of football supporters and their responses to authority, while somehow neglecting the issue of gender itself. Accounts of certain incidents derived from this research are reinterpreted to show that they do reveal an unexplored context of gender politics. The reaction to women as  'other', and as subordinate, is implicated in the very mechanism of performing masculinity itself -- in brief, men have to constantly assert the masculinity by contrasting themselves with others, mostly women or feminised men. Thus when the supporters of a football club encounter a small group of rivals who run off and hide in the women's toilets, they decide to let them depart peaceably -- not so much as a result of some code of honour and chivalry implicit in the game of being a football supporter, but rather because the rivals have feminised themselves. The same kind of analysis goes for  'carnivalesque' performances, when {Scottish} football fans apparently engage in self parody and celebration -- not only does sexism remain unparodied, but it seems implicated in the very process of carnival itself.

Finally, the article points to some very interesting re-readings of Willis. Far from social class being the major source of masculinity, so to speak, football hooligans indicate that it might be the other way around. They are not working class themselves necessarily, for example, but still feel it necessary to embrace a working class identity at the imaginary level. This has got much more to do with celebrating an idealised working-class masculinity than with just nostalgia.

In what follows, I am going to omit largely the detailed criticism of the ethnographic work in question, the so-called  'new ethnographies' associated with Guilianotti and Armstrong {details of which are in the article}. It is always a dubious business to reinterpret some else's findings, and I don't know this work well enough to comment on the validity of the reinterpretation. I'm reading this as an exercise in feminist reconstruction, insisting that there is and must be a powerful but absent effect from gender politics].

Despite the deep knowledge gained of football supporters by the new ethnographers, gender relations are not studied. This arises because of several dubious omissions:

(1) The work focuses on the public lives of football supporters and ignores their private lives, especially their relations with women inside families. Was no sexism observed? Deciding to enter the world of male football fans simply takes heterosexuality for granted, for example. There was also a 'failure to address the potential dependence of masculine identities on a produced and reproduced hierarchical duality with the "feminine"' (138). There are good reasons to think that the game being played with authority is also a game touching upon the performance of masculinity, seen in terms of hegemonic masculinity. This performativity aspect is missed by the ethnographers in question.

(2) Work as a source of masculine identity has declined, and so leisure, especially football, is now the main area in which '"hard"  masculinity' is performed (139). In this sense, football hooliganism refers not so strongly to class but to  'disrupted masculinity' (139). Armstrong sees actual hooliganism as an improvised game rather than an organised activity as the authorities seem to think. There are rules, codes of honour and a sense of fairness, including  'the refusal or reluctance to provoke fights in the presence of women' (140). However, one aim of the game seems to be to preserve a sense of masculinity, often by differentiating the hooligans from various others: these are essentially masculine codes and rules, and women are classically excluded as contaminants. For psychoanalysis, masculinity is always defined in relation to difference, so that others are necessary for contrast. The importance of  'race' in the accounts Armstrong delivers can be seen in gender terms too: black males  'were endowed with a hypermasculinity to be feared' (141), and therefore could play a role in differentiation. Sometimes friendships arose with rival fans, and Armstrong notes that this can cause embarrassment -- perhaps because it then becomes impossible to construct rival fans as a fully satisfactory 'other'. This last example shows how playing the game of football hooliganism can be disrupted by ambiguities and contradictions in masculinity. The same unexplored theme also accounts for the replacement of hooligan activity by marriage and respectability -- this offers a more acceptable and connected form of masculinity, once  'hard' masculinity has been established. We need to know how these different conceptions of masculinity relate to each other in whole biographies.

(3) Guilianotti's work has done much to illustrate a carnivalesque element in (Scottish) football supporters' behaviour, which exists in relationship to violent hooliganism demonstrated by (English) fans. His work provides only glimpses of the issue of gender, but these are still important beneath the surface. Carnival does indeed disrupt normal social relations, in a licensed way, but not gender. Thus a simulated gay sex frolic breaks with the usual conventions, but not with hegemonic masculinity: it demonstrated classic stereotypical  'gay' behaviour, apparently. The same goes for the friendly reception accorded to bizarrely dressed Scottish fans by Swedish fans -- especially Swedish women. However, women were still objectified by the Scottish fans, despite the elements of parody -- 'abandon was incomplete' (144). The parody offered by Scottish fans is therefore ambivalence, but by no means a break with classic heterosexuality and gender relations.

(4) King has accorded masculinity a central place in his work, although he still thinks the main mechanism involved in football hooliganism is a working class laddish reaction to the commercialisation of the club, and 'the influx of middle-class "new consumers"' (144). These supporters reacted by adopting a kind of working-class masculinity, even though they were often themselves from non working-class backgrounds. This reaction was also inherently sexist, however, although this is missed by emphasising the class dimensions. Nevertheless, the  'consumers' were also feminised, and made into others, while adopting an imaginary working-class identity can be seen as a way to resist the same feminising forces. Thus the split between 'real' and  'new' supporters is also a way of reproducing  'the gendered opposition of  "active"  men and  "passive"  women' (146). King's insistence on the class dimension means he must reinterpret some of his own data, including the fact that some of the lads were students or middle-class employees themselves: their working class identities are better seen as 'a rhetorical self reconstruction reified by the author' (146). Another revealing issue is the supporters' ambivalence towards commercialism developing in their football clubs -- they wanted to oppose it, but also saw that it was necessary for the success of the team -- it is exactly this kind of ambivalence that requires masculinity as performance.

(5) The same sort of ambivalence and the requirement to manage it can also be seen in carnival [and an interesting discussion of Bakhtin and his insistence that carnival shares the same necessary 'dialogism' as speech ensues on pages 147 - 8]. The authors use this argument to suggest that carnival is always ambivalent, just as identity is always ambivalent. Thus carnival is not a complete alternative to hooliganism, but better seen as extension of it -- both are options in the overall masculinity game. A full description of the private lives of the supporters would have shown other possibilities as well. It is possible to insist that carnival is the overall category which best describes these contradictory options, but Guilianotti sees it as a simple structural opposition to hooliganism. He is over-optimistic about carnival as a result, and fails to see its darker side and its contradictions -- for example taunting the police by reminding them of their failure to catch the Yorkshire Ripper could also be seen as condoning violence towards women, and the same problems haunt other sexualised taunts. There is a tendency to excuse racist and sexist behaviour by seeing it as opposition to bourgeoisification, but it has its own effects which are 'historically over determined' (150). Again, racist taunts may have a hidden dimension in the masculinity game -- for example, Asians are seen as a feminised  'race' (151), while black males are seen as sexually overendowed and excessively physical [unlike 'proper men'].

These readings can only be possibilities, lacking empirical data, and is difficult to do ethnographic research. Maybe the public domain could be the only area that could be investigated? However, there are sufficient ambiguities in what has been reported to supporter an initial rereading. Ethnography may face particular difficulties in risking discussion of these taboo areas, yet there is another problem to  'override identification with the group and involving the researcher in a self-deceptive form of underdog sympathy' (152). At the very least, ethnographers need to understand exactly what it is that football supporters are resisting or attempting to resolve -- the suspicion here is that much activity is  'situated, temporally and spatially, in the every day gender relations experienced by these young men' (153).

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