In the name of the fans

Football fans around the globe are getting ready for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. To mark the occasion, Elements of Sport is shining the spotlight on the people in the stands. We talked with Matthew and Thomas, Lara Sophie (who is also a football player) and Michael (a sports photographer) about the fan community, the atmosphere in the stadium and the important role that fans play in live games. Pics by Michael Molzar

Matthew, football fan

“Often the word ‘atmosphere’ is used to describe a certain level of noise or a visual display, but I don’t think this is right. I think the term ‘atmosphere’ means ‘mood’, and really the mood in a stadium depends on so many things! The importance of the game, how well the team is doing, the optimism/pessimism in the club and among its fans, who the opponents are.

I’ve watched my team, Sheffield Wednesday, in atmospheres at Hillsborough that are anxious, confident, angry, poisonous, arrogant, desperate, jubilant, mournful, and shocked. The number of negative emotions I can remember compared to positive ones should probably tell you something about The Wednesday’s fortunes over the last 20 years.

The BBC’s South American football expert Tim Vickery notes that in football, there is feedback between the supporters and the action on the pitch. Unlike, say, in theatre, film or even many other sports, the reaction of the crowd in football can influence the players (and even the referee) and the players can influence the crowd. By attending the games and helping to supporting the team, a fan can sometimes justifiably take credit for a good result. Not only that, but only by attending games in person can you appreciate the tactical nuances of the play as you can see the whole pitch, rather than just the selection shown on TV. But more than that, the football-going experience starts from the moment you leave your house. The traditions and routines of match day make it all worthwhile despite bad results (sometimes). Getting a chant started that spreads around the stadium is also a feeling that can’t be beat!

One example of community that is becoming more visible is the commemoration of fans who have passed away. A recent ritual at Hillsborough has been to hold a minute’s applause for noted Owls who have recently left us; the fans sing “We’re All Wednesday, Aren’t We” to recognise what brings us all together and what we have in common. I think that increasingly people are identifying with their football team to fulfil their inherent tribal needs as other identities are becoming less certain or significant in the modern age.

Certainly, the football stadium is one of the few places you can go and associate with people where you know you have at least one thing in common. I think this is more prominent at away games, where you and your fellow away fans are ‘behind enemy lines’. Things are stacked against your team (as home/away win ratios show), and your group of fans is in the minority. This often leads to greater camaraderie within your group.”

Icelandic fans, UEFA EURO 2016. Picture: SEPA.Media | Michael Molzar

Lara Sophie, football player

“As a fan I really love the intense atmosphere in a stadium. Watching a game at the Allianz Arena in Munich for example is real fun. Attending a live game is something special. The atmosphere, the pace of the players and the suspense are totally different compared to watching a game on the telly.

Playing myself in front of a crowd I feel really happy and motivated. Fans waving flags and contributing to a positive atmosphere inside the stadium pushes me even more. Some fans have even rehearsed a choreography and have special chants which I find amazing.

Fans share a bond; they support their teams through good and bad times. Sharing football as a common interest connects deeply.”

Fans of FC Red Bull Salzburg

Thomas, football fan

“In my opinion the atmosphere in the stadium depends on a lot of things. The seasons/weather, the size of the football club and its fan community, the structure of the stadium etc. all play an important role. Watching my favourite football clubs at home in Austria and abroad I usually experience a great stadium atmosphere. Thanks to the visual (choreographies) and acoustic (fan chants) efforts of the fans.

For me a great match already starts before the kick-off. Most of the time fans will meet hours in advance at the stadium and start to spread good vibes. During the match, especially after a goal has been scored, cheering together with thousands other fans is a great feeling. And celebrating a victory with friends and other fans after a successful match is an amazing way to end a game.

There is definitely a great community spirit amongst fans. Chants such as “fight together and win together” don’t just unite fans but also fans and their football clubs. Everyone, regardless of their job or social background, stands united behind their team as one big community.”

Borussia Dortmund Fans, Europa-League 2015. Picture: SEPA.Media | Michael Molzar
FC Porto fans

Michael, sports photographer

“A sold out stadium definitely makes for the best atmosphere. One that gives you goose bumps throughout a match. As a photographer I love to be pitch-side and close-up to a game. At a live game you have the chance to support your team through “peaceful” actions like cheering or clapping. I would like to emphasise the word “peaceful” as sometimes fans throw obstacles from the stands and even hit photographers.

Watching a live game at a stadium is also a social event. You might meet friends you otherwise would not see that often. A football game to me is not only an atmospheric event but also a social study in a way too, as people from different backgrounds come together and connect. This, in my opinion, is the biggest positive effect of football and sport in general.

The camaraderie is pretty strong. Fans of the same football club seem to be instantly close and like extended family members in a way. It’s not important how often you’ve met before or where you come from. I’m really looking forward to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the games and the all emotions.”

Fans of Bosnia and Herzegovina

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