Practices of Embodiment

Whereas most parts of this chapter deal predominantly with narrative strategies in football fandom regarding selfing and othering practices, the last part focuses on practices of embodiment in the nexus of performances of loyalties and rivalries. This subsection discusses the role of merchandising in football fandom practices of Fenerbahqe and Galatasaray fans in Vienna. Here, I will focus on the use of the fan shirt to show how the intersecting strategies and motives that were discussed in the previous subchapters are reflected in symbolically charged items. Ayla summarises the role of the football shirt in football fandom quite picturesquely:

Going to the stadium without a football shirt is like swimming in the nude.[1]

Metin’s case (Sect. 4.2) illustrated the important and symbolic role that merchandising obtains in loyalty and rivalry constructions. The embodiment or incorporation or even the shifting between constructed loyalties can be expressed by wearing (different) football fan products. This particularly but not only applies to football shirts. The importance of the ritual of putting on a football shirt is the ‘rite depassage'' (Gennep 1981 [1909], p. 14; Turner 1979) that is part of this process.

In football fandom, fan clothing can be considered an important item for ‘rites of passage’. Wearing a Galatasaray or Fenerbahqe shirt does symbolically ‘transform’ a person into a football fan. The football fan then is recognisable by others not only as a fan in general but as a fan of a certain club in particular. In this new ‘state’, a different set of rules and norms apply for the fan (Turner 1979, p. 235). In Mikhail Bakhtin’s interpretation of carnivalistic gatherings, football shirts can be considered ‘costumes’ that generate equality among fans. Football is to a certain extent a carnivalistic event where social hierarchies and rules are replaced in this specific context (Bachtin 1998; see also Pearson 2012).

The new rules and norms encourage and require the fan to act differently compared to how he or she behaved in the former state. A Galatasaray fan whom I met in Istanbul put this ‘rite of passage’ in a metaphoric nutshell when he was talking about his experiences with the clashes between fans and the police:

My football jersey is a kind of a uniform, I feel wilder with it. It’s like Clark Kent and Superman. I need the jersey to fight the police.42

He describes how he can ‘switch’ between two modes or two ‘personalities’. Football shirts are an essential instrument to express the belonging to a club’s fan culture even beyond the stadium:

But in addition to the stadium, the football shirt has become a focal point, a signifier and a communicative tool in the social space occupied by football. (Hofmann 2016, p. 178)

Global club merchandising products, which are corporate and uniform designed items, are used in quite diverse ways and trigger different meanings depending on who wears it, where and when. For the following analysis I will refer to Stuart Hall’s encoding/decoding model (1980) to underline how global codes are, to a certain extent, decoded in local ways that depend on the time, background, and socio-cultural context of the person that is reading the text. In this case the text is Fenerbah^e and Galatasaray merchandise, specifically football shirts.

In his theoretical concept, which stems from the 1970s, Stuart Hall criticises how the research of media and mass-communications has been far too one-dimensional in assuming that there is a sender, a message, and a receiver who reads the message in the way the sender had intended. He prefers to think of this process as ‘production, circulation, distribution/ consumption, reproduction’ (Hall 1980, p. 117). Hall categorises three positions from which readers can decode the encoded message:

  • 1. The dominant-hegemonic position (the reader takes the meaning as intended),
  • 2. The negotiated position (acceptance of the hegemonic definition and at the same time adaption of code to local context),
  • 3. The oppositional position (full understanding of intention of discourse but contrary decoding) (Hall 1980, pp. 125-7).

The main hypothesis of Hall’s concept is that a message, which was encoded to transport a certain meaning, is not necessarily decoded in the way the message was intended. However, he makes it clear that codes or signs that carry dominant-hegemonic discourses and have an accepted meaning in a society rarely leave a chance for an unintended interpretation. Bernd Jurgen Warneken emphasises that this especially applies to newscasts that rarely leave a chance for any oppositional decoding (Warneken 2006, p. 310).

Whereas Hall refers to media, I will apply the encoding/decoding model to football shirts that can be considered signs that carry meaning and therefore a form of communication. The dominant-hegemonic codes that are encoded into a football shirt are, amongst others: loyalty to the club, identifying with the team, showing others that you belong to this club only, and showing others that you are a good fan because you bought official merchandise. The aim is to discuss how and when these codes are negotiable and what other relevant codes Galatasaray and Fenerbahqe fans add in a locally situated, migrant and postmigrant context in Vienna.

  • [1] Interview Ayla, 25 years old, female, Fenerbah^e fan, 30 April 2013, her work place, Vienna,afternoon.
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