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Waving Flags - Football and Rugby Fans Showing Their Nationality on Holiday

Waving Flags - Football and Rugby Fans Showing Their Nationality on Holiday
Author: Victoria Brieske
1 Commentries
Let us imagine we are on the Balearic island Majorca in the middle of June this year. The Football World Championship in South Africa will be in its full swing. You can find plenty of pubs where football and rugby fans can watch their favourite team, although they are neither on their couch in their living room at home nor in the stadium to support their team live. Then it is time to grab the sports shirts out of their suitcase and join all other fanatics...

Usually you cannot distinguish definitely where tourists come from. But especially British and German tourists, as well as a few French, have the manner to show their nationality in many symbolic ways. This could either be the wearing of clothing in the nation's colours, sports shirts of football or rugby clubs, or flags which are waving in the wind on hotel balconies, which make it easy to draw conclusions back to the owners' nationality. But why do people show their nationality in a way which could not be more obvious than wearing your national colours, as this behaviour does not only arouse positive feedback?

Examining the topic from the socio-psychological side, explanations for this kind of behaviour can be based on two approaches. One is territorial behaviour, a way of behaving which is distinctive amongst animals. Altman and Chemers (1980) have developed a classification of territory which talks about three different kinds of territory and defines holiday destinations definitely as public territory. Public territory "would embrace those places to which all comers are entitled to usage, subject to the observation of common rules" (Altman and Chemers, 1980, cited in: Voase, 1995, p.25). Additionally, they are talking of primary and secondary territory. The problem of territorial behaviour occurring beyond tourists is that the territory where the tourists stay is in most cases public space of the local people living in the holiday destinations and tourists tend to consider their holiday space as their own and behave like that, regardless if they are in a different cultural area or not.

The second approach to this behaviour is the creation of a sports fan identity in order to socialise with other like-minded people. Zillman et al. (1980) state advantages why people feel the need to identify themselves as part of a crowd, rather than as an individual. The most important and significant advantages they are mentioning: solidarity, companionship, self-esteem as well as advanced social prestige (Zillman et al., 1980).

It is said a several times that individuals seek to compare themselves with other parts of the community and that again is based on Festinger's theory of social comparison (1989). People tend to compare themselves and are joining groups of people who are similar to them or slightly better. Referred to the topic of fans being on holiday it means that they still look for people who have the same interests and maybe also the same social status. They are going to places where they think they will find people of their kind e.g. pubs or bars. In the specific case of football and rugby they tend to dress and behave like one will expect it from people being in the particular type of bar. In this context Jenkins (1996) mentions that one of the first things we do when meeting strangers is to "locate them on our social map" and therefore categorize them.

In addition, Strauss (1959) states that enabling people to identify other people there is the need of a kind of link which might be either a formal one or any type of symbol. Wearing shirts of one's favourite football or rugby club or even wearing the shirt of the particular national team even simplifies the location of people on our "social maps". Fandom brings people together, irrespective where people come from. Crawford states that

"To create this sense of community [...], it is not necessarily the case that supporters need to know each other or even associate with fellow fans. It is more important that the supporters believe that they possess a shared sense of identity - that they are all fans together, following and supporting a common cause" (2004, p.53).

The results of a survey, which has been conducted specially for the purpose of this paper, revealed that most participants are wearing e.g. national team shirts because other people around them, especially the ones who they are travelling with, are wearing them as well. So 28.4% of the polled Germans and 36.4% are trying to identify themselves with other groups that share their interests through clothing. This motivation was ranked secondly behind the people who are wearing the shirts because they are proud of their nation. At this point it has to be emphasized that significant 91.6% of all polled British men are wearing football or rugby shirts compared to an amount of 58.3% German men. Both nationalities feature the amount of people hanging national flags out of their hotel balconies - namely 41.6% of all participants.

Taking everything into consideration it can be said that being an active football or rugby fan on holiday means, that a person makes a predominantly private experience a public experience in a foreign country. Most theories are based territorial behaviour or socialisation. But it can be concluded that this behaviour can be highly marginal and requires a huge amount of broad-mindedness from local people living in the holiday destination.

Main references:

Crawford, G. (2004). Consuming Sport: Fans, Sport, and Culture. New York: Routledge.

Strauss, A. (1959). Mirrors and Masks: The Search for Identity. San Francisco: The Sociology Press.

Voase, R. (1995). Tourism: The Human Perspective. London: Hodder & Stoughton Educational.

Zillman, D., Bryant, J., Sapolsky, N. (1989) Enjoyment from Sports Spectatorship. Hillsdale: Laurence Earlbaum.

Wearing a football shirt to meet people on holiday?
Author: Sophie Maltitz
This is a very interesting paper because it investigates a topic that I have often been wondering about. It is a well researched attempt to explain the behaviour of football and rugby fans on holiday and I have been impressed by the effort to include primary research to back up the theory in the literature.

Both approaches - the territorial behaviour and the creation of a sports fan identity - can be easily comprehended. The phenomenon of territorial behaviour can, of course, be applied to most tourists regardless of their nationality or their interest in football or rugby. Many tourists regard their holiday destination as public territory and often do not behave much different from home. I agree with you that this kind of behaviour and especially the showing of tourists' nationality through shirts or flags can be a problem because it might offend the locals in the area or make them feel uncomfortable.

The creation of a sports fan identity in order to socialise with other like-minded people as your second approach, can be further supported by Thorne and Bruner (2006) and their theory of the four typical characteristics of fan behaviour. Besides the 'wish to acquire' which means that fans want to posses objects that express their passion and explains why so many football and rugby fans own and wear shirts of their favourite club or national team, there is mentioned 'the desire for social interaction'. Fans look for people with the same passion so they can share and debate news, etc. Football fans can do so online on various fan sites or social networking sites, together with their mates at home or in the pub in front of the television and during live matches.

Being on holiday, fans often do not know other fans with whom they can socialise and enjoy their hobby with. Referring to Simmel's (1949) analysis on sociability, Giulianotti 2005, p. 294) argues that

'football typically provides a common subject matter for strangers to help 'break the ice', to engage in pleasurable conversation during social encounters.'

Knowing that the other tourist is a football fan as well might make it easier to get in touch with other people because you know you have something to talk about. Not only can football fans meet other fans of the same nationality but they can also meet international fans who might wear their own national football jersey. Even if they do not speak the same language they can, for example, swap the names of their favourite players (Giulianotti, 2005, p. 294).

Your primary research also seems to confirm that wearing shirts and bringing national flags on holiday is mainly used by people to show other tourists their nationality and to identify with tourist of the same nationality, which can act as a means to find people to socialise with on holiday.

Thorne, S. and Bruner, G. C. (2006) An exploratory investigation of the characteristics of consumer fanaticism. Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, 9 (1), p. 51-72.

Giulianotti, R. (2005) The Sociability of Sport. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 40 (3), p. 289-306.