By Rahul Keerthi
Last year, Copa90 produced a report into what they call “the modern football fan” – 16-to-24-year-olds who regularly consume football – in a bid to identify habits, preferences and behaviours of the next generation of football audiences. Based on interviews with 2,110 fans in four key markets, one key finding was a growing desire for the game to act as a platform for championing social causes, and for clubs and fan groups to take an active role in addressing issues such as diversity and inclusion.
Unusually, whilst two-thirds of fans worldwide wanted their teams to be more outspoken about social or political issues, only 52% in the UK felt this way. Regardless, we can see the landscape shifting across the country: fans are increasingly tolerant, if not accepting, of LGBTQ+ communities and players in football. Forza Football, in association with Stonewall, found that 80% of UK football fans would be comfortable with a gay or bisexual player representing one of the home countries, placing them 3rd overall globally. On football pitches and in playgrounds, children are mimicking the religious prayer during celebrations that they see done by highly visible, elite Muslim footballers like Mohamed Salah. This generation is being increasingly exposed to the behaviours, voices and appearances of previously underrepresented communities in football – this normalisation is slowly but steadily progressing.
Aside from this, there is a growing interest in football nostalgia, history and communities, which manifests itself in different ways across generations. Millenials have found aesthetic appeal in retro and vintage football shirts and memorabilia – seeking these out for themselves or enjoying curators of these items – and in grassroots football communities and stories from before their time. There are podcasts solely focused on retro shirts or football from the 90s and before, social media accounts dedicated to football ephemera or celebrating the grassroots, magazines and YouTube channels that pick apart significant (and insignificant) moments in football history, movies telling football stories that platform unusual communities – to name just a few.
Certainly these may be reflective of wider changes in society but last summer, it became clear to us that football culture has become a powerful vehicle for making meaning, bridging divides and enacting change. The World Cup, as it typically does, allowed many to look past their personal situations and find positivity in their identities and communities. Large sporting brands have capitalised on this sentiment to create impactful campaigns and products. However, in recent years, creators and curators of football culture have increasingly felt empowered to start bringing their communities into physical spaces to build meaningful face-to-face relationships – this summer more women started watching football together, more young people received opportunities to learn skills and develop personally through football, football teams were created to bring together refugees or at-risk youth – and they received positive recognition from the press and mainstream audiences. The face of football is undoubtedly changing.
Seeing the rise of these diverse, discrete groups, we felt a need to create a platform that also brought them together to celebrate them, to support their growth, and to remind the wider public that the vast majority of football culture is a force for creativity and good. That platform is Jumpers for Goalposts, a new football culture festival taking place this summer. Taking place on 3rd and 4th August in an iconic south London venue (to be publicly announce at the end of April), we aim to bring together 2500 attendees of all ages over both days. As far as we’re aware, an event of this diversity and scale has never been attempted before.
Jumpers for Goalposts is first and foremost a celebration of football culture – everything that happens either side of the 90 minutes of 22 players chasing a waterproof leather balloon. After all, football is really about the people who give the game meaning, those who create and pass on stories and tall tales, who spend their free time making things, anything, to express their love, who try to pass on the joy of football to their children, who use football to do good in society, who have built communities and friendships – or even family – through football, who find mental and physical health in it, who see football as a way of bridging divides, who understand how its history can guide us through the present and into the future.
We want to engage our attendees in ways that try to find a middle ground between tabloid simplification and academic rigour. We believe showing rather than telling gives us the best balance between impactful and accessible. But most importantly, we hope our attendees will go away with ideas of how they can get involved in football or use it to do good – no matter how small the next step is.
The event will host talks/panels, screenings, workshops, live audience events, exhibits, performances, immersive art experiences (we’re collaborating on one with Professor Paul Whitty, Professor of Composition at Oxford Brookes and Director of their Sonic Art Research Unit), a marketplace, amongst other things. Our three thematic groups are:
- Identity, Community and Modernity
- History, Memory and Nostalgia
- Mind, Body and Soul
Within these we will explore subjects such as the legacy of the Women’s World Cup, the future of football, the rise of new football communities, the changing relationship between football and fashion, and the role of nostalgia in modern football. Our charity partner, the Sporting Memories Foundation, works across these thematic groups. They use sports reminiscing as a way of helping people tackle dementia, loneliness and depression – we have partnered with them because we too believe in the power of memory, relationships and communities.
Notably, the closest football club to our venue is Millwall, a club with a troubled history and problematic present. As Daniel Taylor wrote in the Guardian recentlu, “There are plenty of people connected to the club who will argue there is more good than bad, that the media need to change the tune and that a lot has changed since the days when BBC Radio 5 had an advertising poster for “Earthquakes, Wars and Millwall reports as they happen.””
He quotes a book (“No One Likes Us, We Don’t Care”) by sociologist Garry Robson: “[Millwall] has become a byword for, amongst other things, violent mob thuggery, unreconstructed masculinity, dark and impenetrable urban culture and working-class ‘fascism.’ The archetypal status of the Millwall fan is a vexed and complex one in which myth and reality have perhaps become so closely intertwined that even some of those most closely involved are unsure as to where the one might end and the other begin. It is a story of violence and mayhem both real and apocryphal, of particular and localised patterns of masculine culture and of the ways in which popular representation of that culture meet with subcultural self‑definition in dialectics of identity.”
Despite this complexity, we would be remiss not to take this opportunity to use the festival to better understand where this has come from and its wider relevance for football, but also to celebrate those associated with the club fighting for change and education. We are in discussions with Kick It Out and other institutions to develop suitable content around this as part of our programming. As part of our wider outreach, we have offered 500 free tickets to grassroots teams and communities that are increasing diversity and representation in and around the game, and are offering a mixture of free and discounted tickets to residents local to our venue.
Every time we speak to people doing amazing thing with and through football, we are reminded that football has always provided people with a way of expressing their ideas, identities, stories, communities, and channeling their desire to create or do good. With Jumpers for Goalposts, we’re bringing these expressions and desires into a physical space. We hope this experiment is the start of something great.
We would love to speak to anyone who would like to discuss your ideas, participate in our programme, collaborate with us, or connect us to someone else. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via our website. And in any case, we hope you can find the time to join us this summer.
- Jumper for Goalposts (2019) Available at: https://jumpe.rs (Accessed: 16th March 2019)
- BBC (2013) Premier League: How Muslims are changing English football culture, Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/23159023 (Accessed: 16th March 2019).
- Copa90 Media (2018) The Modern Football Fan, Available at: https://copa90.media/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/copa90insights.compressed.pdf (Accessed: 16th March 2019).
- Daniel Taylor (2019) ‘No one likes us’ is a millstone for Millwall and those who do care, Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2019/mar/16/no-one-likes-us-millwall-wembley-everton-fa-cup (Accessed: 16th March 2019).
- Forza Football (2018) Homophobia in Football – The Fans’ Perspective, Available at: https://lgbt.forza.football/ (Accessed: 16th March 2019).