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The belief in the unifying force of football is understandably even stronger among surveyed football fans.

Europeans interact about football Both at national and more importantly at European levels, people do exchange views, opinions about football. Football is an important conversational topic that goes beyond boundaries. Football is an ice breaker and topic of exchange across borders, between Europeans of different origin, age, gender and social class.

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It is a key issue for establishing common ground from which to proceed in dialogue. Football increasingly provides connection between people from different countries, even for individuals who do not necessarily have access to other experiences of transnational encounter such as European mobility programmes or international tourism. A total of Sport is also a very important conversation topic at national level: respondents declare they talk more about sport On the other hand, Spain Country results vary from Germany Europeans follow football in Europe The interest in football goes beyond borders.

The research findings show that Europeans have a keen interest in football in other European countries and the European competitions. The interest also often transforms into sympathies and even loyalties. There is strong evidence that Europeans carry multiple identities in football through transnational support. According to the general population survey of the FREE project, Transnational followership is a common place for football fans as well.

Some Europeans not only watch football from other European countries, but they establish emotional bonds across borders and make these bonds part of their social identity. Among the general population, Almost 4 out of 10 respondents stated that they would support another national team in case their own team was not participating in an international tournament.

In the realm of football fans, transnational support is at very significant levels. According to the football fans survey, almost six out of ten respondents Results by country vary from The interest in football is also reflected on international tournaments. Especially the European level organizations are extremely popular.

The Champions League seems to have established itself as a true European tradition. According to the findings of the general population survey, almost three quarters of respondents watched a Champions League match at least once. Almost four out of ten respondents Country results vary from It pervades social and cultural life on a daily basis, and even those who are not particularly interested in it can hardly escape the discourse and sociability it produces.

Football in Spain - Wikipedia

Moreover, this is true across boundaries of age, gender, social class and geography. There is no doubt that football is not just a pastime or an attractive product of the entertainment industry, and that it provides structures of meaning to many individuals in a complex society.

It helps people make sense of individual and collective belongings, and cope with the tension between forces that hold society together and developments that tend to fragment it. The findings of the FREE research demonstrate that people in Europe not only watch football, but talk, discuss, exchange about it, taking part in a larger discourse surrounding football and thus creating a public sphere. Europeans engage in football as a spectator sport, but they also follow it on a European level, form and exchange opinions on current issues and football history, on clubs, tournaments and competitions, players and even spaces such as stadia.

Football does not divide but bring together people across borders. It produces interest in what happens elsewhere, provides opportunity for empathy and recognition of commonality. It is, in accordance with the classical definition of what makes a public sphere, inclusive and of unrestricted access, it transcends social groups and subcultures, it is made of discourses that produce collective self-awareness.

Football is meaningful to European citizens, but endangered.

Football in Spain

Football is generally perceived by citizens to be heading in the wrong direction. The European Institutions — Commission, Council and Parliament — have all agreed that governance must be one of the priorities of the nascent EU sports policy.

For football fans, the evolution of the game creates a complicated scenario. On the one hand there are increasing calls by the European Union institutions to engage supporters in the governance of the game. On the other, the commercialisation of football might be endangering some of the values of football most cherished by supporters. What impact has this shift in European football had on the very diverse body of supporters in Europe?

Supporters are extremely diverse in Europe, mirroring the heterogeneity of fan cultures across the continent. They have earned with their work the status of partners in the development of EU sport policy. Moreover, a large number of democratic and inclusive supporter groups already work to improve the governance of the game at continental, national and local level in Europe.

Thus, there is a clear policy discourse that advocates greater engagement of supporters. Does football need more regulation?

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Sociology of sports

It was first necessary to establish the level of demand for better football governance from the supporters. This percentage is extremely high in the UK The qualitative data gives insights into some of the reasons for this variance and demonstrates the diversity and heterogeneity of football fan cultures and perceptions in Europe. In Poland, fans spoke about their concerns such as the excessive money flowing into the game and their fears of corruption, but felt that the fan experience was actually over-regulated. They were critical of heavy police control inside and outside stadia and tight controls over freedom of speech, which can explain their answers to the survey.

They protested against what they consider to be unfair criminalisation of football supporters.


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The Turkish participants highlighted recent scandals in relation to corruption and match-fixing, which can explain the high scores of the survey in favour of further football reform. For fans in the UK, criticism was directed at the increasing power of external stakeholders such as media companies and the perceived lack of fair distribution of incoming finances. Thus, the qualitative research helps to explain the reasons behind the responses to the surveys whilst, at the same time, also suggests different priorities in relation to football governance and regulation that are clearly linked to the local context.

There was, however, one common concern to fans across our sample: The amount of money at the top level of the sport. This was an aspect that they felt needed further regulation to control. Trust in institutions and bodies of governance It is important not to underestimate the role of trust and public perception on the integrity and good governance of football. The comparison of results between the two surveys, one aimed at the general population and the other at those who follow football closely, points to some discrepancies between the two groups polled.

Firstly, overall trust of most of the institutions was higher amongst the general population than football fans. This suggests that the closer individuals are to the daily business of the game, the more critical of them they become. In other words, the more involved people declare to be in football, the more suspicious they are of the governing bodies. Secondly, the ranking of the organisations changes slightly for the two groups.

The general population expressed greater trust in professional leagues and national football federations, whereas football fans trust supporters organisations and UEFA the European football governing body , much more. What is coherent is the higher level of trust placed in football bodies than non-football bodies EU, media and national governments for the organisation of the sport. Of particular interest is the result of the FREE Online survey targeted at the attentive public with a clear interest in the game. It is particularly interesting to note the low level of trust placed in the government to effectively regulate football.


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  5. It is not that supporters did not want national governments to legislate on football, but rather that they thought the public authorities will not be strong enough to challenge the power of football bodies. In the UK, participants were aware that the government is considering further legislation of football, and had mixed thoughts as to whether this will ever see the light. Some felt it was the only way to regain any control over the game, whereas others were of the opinion that political institutions should not get involved in sport.

    They all agreed that supporters are already making a difference and that further fan engagement is welcome and necessary for the benefit of British football. Regarding national federations, it must be noted that on the whole, the participants in our research believed in the current model of a national federation governing football in their respective countries.

    There was little interest in alternative forms of governance. It is the lack of power of those national federations what the participants in the research mostly complained about. Supporters want representative national governing bodies, but they want them to reform, enhance their transparency, fight corruption and regain some of their lost power, particularly in comparison to external stakeholders.

    Club ownership The different club ownership models evident across Europe are heavily scrutinised and debated by the media. This is significant, as Spanish supporter organisations have been actively working on challenging the current ownership model of football clubs in the country, which prevents fan participation in the professional game. Our data finds wide support for those campaigns. Qualitative data helps to illustrate the complexity of issues regarding ownership.

    British participants in the research spoke at length about this, as it is an issue high in the public agenda due to the increasing number of supporter owned clubs and the work of Supporters Direct and Supporters Direct Scotland to improve democracy in English, Scottish and Welsh football.

    What does football say about modern European society?

    Our participants expressed mixed feelings about the ownership structures of football clubs. Some criticised new foreign owners for not understanding the importance of clubs to local communities, and failing to value their fans. Yet overall, fans were more concerned with how the club was run. They accept that to achieve on-field success in modern football requires significant financial investment, so are not unanimously critical of majority owners. They acknowledge that football today is a business, and clubs must compete in this arena.

    What they want are owners that offer transparency, value their fans, engage with their communities and respect the history of their clubs, and acknowledged that this should be possible regardless of who the owner is. The positive view of the German model clearly means that our participants are in favour of supporter ownership, and see it as one way to secure democracy and links with the community in their football clubs. Supporter involvement in football governance One major question for the FREE project was: if fans agree that football is in need of further regulation, would the involvement of supporters be a step to addressing this?

    The qualitative data gave further insight into the relationship fans have with club governance structures. Supporters expressed frustration at their lack of power across all of the countries, feeling that they are not allowed to make a difference. High profile clubs such as Cardiff City in the UK or FC Red Bull Salzburg in Austria were cited as examples of the lack of influence fans have, despite their active and effective organisation. Thus, supporters are critically aware of their value to clubs. They recognise the work that has been done by fellow supporters and would like to see more of that.

    In this respect, fans are not simply consumers with blind faith to their club, but are critical stakeholders with an understanding of the equity they hold. However, they feel they are facing too many barriers to transform this collective equity into meaningful action to make a difference at the club level.

    This tends to be blamed on the lack of willingness by the federations, clubs and leagues to give a real voice to the fans, despite the work of local and European supporters groups. There is a lot of frustration amongst fans, which see the current structures of the game shutting them out.