Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1998

Football, Nationality and the State

Vic Duke and Liz Crolley
Addison Wesley Longman: Harlow
0 582 29306 5
£10.99 (pb)
xii + 164 pp.

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For a number of reasons the topic of this book is extremely timely. Sport in general and football in particular has been a much over-looked subject in the mushrooming of writing on nationalism in the 1990s. Or more than one occasion whilst reading a specialist journal or attending a conference on nationalism, I've wondered how many of its scholars have been present in a bar (let alone a game) during a World Cup match to witness the enormous power of the phenomenon. Meanwhile the sociological study of football has hitherto been largely preoccupied with inter club hooliganism, and has not until very recently explored the creation and importance of macro identities around the game. And then from a football view point Football, Nationality and the State is apposite, the publication of the book coming shortly after the end of the European Championships in England and before the World Cup in France, raising the game's international profile to ever greater heights.

Crolley and Duke (lecturers in sociology and European languages respectively) approach the subject from under two headings: football nations within the state and football as an extension of the state. The dichotomy is in some respects false as discussion of the Spanish case actually demonstrates that a separatist nationalism, that of Catalonia as represented by Barcelona, strengthens through rivalry with Real Madrid allegiance to the nation-state within its central region. However, as typologies go this is an adequate and certainly a straightforward one. Indeed straightforwardness is very much a feature of the book. In contrast to the a fore mentioned study of hooliganism, it eschews contrived conceptual discussion in a jargon weighted prose for a series of case studies. Now both of these features are generally welcome but not at the price of simplification. Clarity is one thing but in a book that revolves around state and nation rather more than a page and half is required by way of initial definitions. They evidence only the most provisional considerations of the terms. As much space is subsequently devoted to why Barry Town and several other clubs decided in 1992 to play in English leagues rather than the newly created League of Wales!

The various case studies were presumably chosen to represent key issues. Football nations within the state are discussed through consideration of the Eurocentric bias within FIFA, Catstille - Catalan/Basque rivalries in Spain, language disputes in Belgium football and football teams located in one country who play in another. The most interesting section is that on Spain where the author shows with some subtlety how the various phases of the relationship between Real Madrid and Barcelona accord with twentieth century political development. It is well known that Real enjoyed virtually institutionalised privileges - transfer shenanigans, key refereeing decisions - in the Franco era as the team of the regime. What is less well known is how ambivalence within Catalonia itself over the quest for independence are reflected in support for Espanol. This sort of intra-nationalism analysis might have been extended to the Basque case where virtual political debates about terrorism have taken place amongst fans of Athletic de Bilbao, through banners and occupancy of different parts of the stadium. The least impressive chapter of the this section is on Belgium which seems little more than a write up of archive notes from sources acknowledged in the text, rather than in the preface. The author merely catalogues the Flemisisation of Belgium football clubs through changes in name over the period 1937-1987. Only a couple of superficial remarks are made about the way this reflected a rising tide of Flemish nationalism - something most readers will have little familiarity with.

The second section on the use by states of football as a means of national prowess is, in general, little better than the first. The chapter on Eastern Europe is largely a descriptive exercise in the relative football fortunes of Stalinist regimes during the cold war with inadequate coverage of the organisation and priority given to sporting success. Discussion of football in Argentina is again simply 'about' the game there and, as consequence, contains information on violence and club structure beside mention of the way authoritarian regimes have sort to identify themselves with the national side. The crucial role in Argentinean nation-building of the bitter footballing rivalry with Latin American neighbors Brazil and Uruguay is ignored. The chapter on Italian football, written by Rocco de Biasi, is the most interesting in the book because it moves beyond the what is commonplace - Berlusconi's Presidency of AC Milan aided his foray into government - to the way in recent years politics has aped football through metaphor, rather than is conventionally thought the other way around. The final chapter on women in football however, again does not take up in any systematic fashion the role of football in the gendering of nation, despite much recent work on this subject. Rather it consists of a general objection to sexism in football based on personal anecdote, a couple of remarks about feminism and the truly bizarre claim that Margaret Thatcher's aim was to feminise football. In fact the former British PM displayed general contempt for the game per se throughout her Downing Street reign, her most famous cabinet intervention on the subject being an inquiry on whether professional football could be shown behind close doors without any supporters present. The changes that have taken place in the game throughout the 1990s triggered by the Taylor Report, including a modest increase in female attendance, can hardly be attributed to her desire to see more women at matches. The book has no conclusion which might have compensated for the lack of analysis and coherence throughout.

To these criticisms I should add that there are several typographical mistakes of the more obvious variety - supporters of the Irish team will not be pleased to read that it made its international debut in 1982 - and that the bibliography does not contain a number of sources mentioned in the Spanish chapter. It would be nice to add that at least the photographs throughout the book are well produced, but unfortunately they are not. In sum Football, Nationality and the State gives every impression of being a rushed job. The subject desperately requires sustained analysis. This book does not provide it.

Sam Pryke
Liverpool Hope University College

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1998