By Dr Regina Weber
Europeanisation in football is ubiquitous since at least 20-25 years. While there has always been an international and – especially – European dimension in football, the past decades showed an unprecedented development of structures and governance, moving more and more towards a Europeanised game.
Parts of the Europeanisation can be considered to be both a top-down development: player markets and broadcasting rights have been heavily influenced by institutions of the European Union as they are potentially subject to the common law. The most prominent case of European influence was the Bosman trial in 1995, which had a high impact on player markets and team compositions. At the same time, clubs and leagues have built cross-national lobby networks to advance their interests beyond the national football associations, today most prominently the European Club Association (ECA) and the European Leagues (EL). Most visible towards the fans, European competitions such as the Champions League and the Europa League are constantly becoming more visible and relevant. We can thus say that we are facing a heyday of Europeanisation of the game, both stemming from European influence on national governance but also as a result of trans-national contact and the decreasing relevance of national borders for club interests.
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The research project “The identity effect of Europeanised lifeworlds: Becoming European through football?” (EUFoot) departs from this situation and seeks to understand how such Europeanisation of the structures and governance influence the spectators and supporters. This project analyses how fans in England, France, Germany and Austria perceive their national top league, the Champions League and the Europa League, and what is important for them regarding players, clubs and rivalries. For this purpose, we ask for you to take part in the 10 minute online survey: www.eufoot.de/survey
The brief overview of Europeanisation developments in football shows that key structures of football should leave an imprint in fan experiences: The Bosman judgements and their consequences accelerated the development of an increasing Europeanisation (or internationalisation) of the players’ markets. An international team is the rule in most clubs. There are many indicators that this does not prevent football fans from identifying with “their” team (Ranc 2012). The evolution of the Champions League (and the Europa League) into a de facto European league (closely linked to the combined influence of the top European clubs) let fans experience regular competition between clubs from other countries and clubs in their league (i.e. either their clubs or their competitors). This suggests that Europeanisation affects not only football structures, but also fan-orientation and -identification.
While the structural developments are well elaborated (Brand and Niemann 2007; Brand, Niemann and Spitaler 2013; García and Meier 2012; Niemann and Brand 2013; Niemann, Brand and Spitaler 2011), we know little about the impact of these developments on supporters. It can be assumed that the change in football will also change fans’ perceptions and experiences. From other areas (e.g. Erasmus student exchanges, binational marriages, stays abroad for professional reasons) we know that contact and regular cross-border exchange influence one’s own self-image and lead to a stronger sense of belonging to Europe. Therefore, the question inevitably arises as to whether this is also the case in football.
In recent years, a number of fan researchers have initially dealt with these questions. It has been indicated that football fans are influenced when they are regularly confronted with “Europe”. It is the regular contact between fans following their club at matches against European teams that lead to a greater interest in foreign leagues (e.g.King 2000; King 2003; King 2004; Millward 2006; Millward 2009). Nowadays, fans have extensive opportunities to obtain information via the Internet. In addition, surveys of football fans in various European countries have shown that interest in the Champions League and Europa League is high – regardless of the participation of their own club. Many football fans are convinced that football contributes to European cooperation (FREE 2015).
But there is reason to believe that the developments are ambiguous. It can be assumed that positive effects, such as a greater openness to football and its supporters in other countries might apply only to some fans. For financial reasons alone, travelling to European cities is only possible for a few, not to mention the time and kick-off times in the middle of the week.
The change of European football potentially includes a change in the fan scene: Europeanised top football will certainly reach only a small proportion of the fans directly. It remains to be seen how it will affect the broad mass of fans. This is the core task of the research project EUFoot.
Brand, Alexander, and Arne Niemann. 2007. “Europeanisation in the Societal/Trans-National Realm: What European Integration Studies Can Get Out of Analysing Football.” Journal of Contemporary European Research 3(3):182–201.
Brand, Alexander, Arne Niemann, and Georg Spitaler. 2013. “The Two-Track Europeanization of Football: EU-Level Pressures, Transnational Dynamics and Their Repercussions Within Different National Contexts.” International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics 5(1):95–112. doi:10.1080/19406940.2012.665381.
FREE. 2015. Football Research in an Enlarged Europe – project final report. FP7 Project, Funding Scheme FP7-SSH-2011-2.
García, Borja, and Henk E. Meier. 2012. “Limits of Interest Empowerment in the European Union: The Case Of Football.” Journal of European Integration 34(4):359–78. doi:10.1080/07036337.2011.611400.
King, Anthony. 2000. “Football fandom and post-national identity in the New Europe.” The British Journal of Sociology 51(3):419–42. doi:10.1111/j.1468-4446.2000.00419.x.
King, Anthony. 2003. The European Ritual: Football in the New Europe. London, New York: Routledge.
King, Anthony. 2004. “The New Symbols of European Football.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 39(3):323–36. doi:10.1177/1012690204045599.
Millward, Peter. 2006. “’We’ve All Got the Bug for Euro-Aways’: What Fans Say About European Football Club Competition.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 41(3-4):375–93. doi:10.1177/1012690207077706.
Millward, Peter. 2009. Getting into Europe: Identification, prejudice and politics in English football culture. Saarbrücken: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller.
Niemann, Arne, Alexander Brand, and Georg Spitaler. 2011. “The Europeanisation of Football: Germany and Austria Compared.” Pp. 187–204, in The Making and Mediatization of Modern Sport in Europe: States, Media and Markets 1950-2010, edited by C. Young, D. Holt, and A. Tomlinson. London: Routledge.
Niemann, Arne, and Alexander Brand. 2013. Europeanisation from below? Football Spectatorship, Mediatisation and European Identity. UACES 43rd Annual Conference. Retrieved July 2, 2018 (https://www.uaces.org/documents/papers/1301/niemann.pdf).
Ranc, David. 2012. Foreign Players and Football Supporters: The Old Firm, Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain. Manchester, New York: Manchester University Press.