Translocal Practices and Changing the Codes

I will refer to one example that is quite common for fans that live abroad: the altering of official merchandise products to the local setting. The new merchandise also embraces the code of the official merchandise (colours, emblems), as well as regional codes to recognise transnational support. Richard Giulianotti and Roland Robertson call these practices ‘hybridization’ (2007a, pp. 143-4). Most importantly, here, is that practices are always ‘hybrid’, which is the reason why using the term hybrid only in a migratory context is rather problematic. In the following I will therefore work with the terms contextual and flexible.

In the case of Fenerbah^e and Galatasaray fans in Vienna I will refer to one example of the fan group that call themselves ‘Young Fenerbah^e Fans in Vienna’ (Young Fenerbah^e Fan Club). They wear the official merchandise just like they wear the merchandise that they have produced themselves with the name of their group. Thereby, they are simultaneously expressing their loyalty to Fenerbah^e in Istanbul, their (Turkish) football loyalty, and likewise a strong connection to their hometown Vienna, as most of the members were born and raised in Vienna. This transnational display of fandom represents multiple layers that are relevant for their fandom practices: identifying with a football club, with Turkey or Turkish football, family and a Turkish diaspora in Vienna, and with the city Vienna as the centre of their lives.

Highlights are moments when the members of the Young Fenerbah^e Fan Club receive recognition for both of their encoded signs, for example when they are mentioned on Turkish or Austrian TV and in newspapers as the Viennese fans of Fenerbah^e displaying customised banners. This ‘multi-dimensional atmospheric experience’ (Hofmann 2015, p. 182) happens not only when Galatasaray or Fenerbah^e fans travel to the stadium in Istanbul, but also particularly when the clubs come to Austria or a neighbouring country, giving them the possibility to show that they, as the Central European fan base, support their team. Achieving the recognition by official Turkish and Austrian news (sports) channels is considered to be a great success and posted and reposted on Facebook for days.[1]

However, merchandise is not necessarily only important when fans wear it on their bodies. The symbolic effect of the fan product extends to cars, apartments, pubs - spaces of different kinds. When I met Metin in his apartment for our interview he gave me a tour from one Galatasaray fan product to the other.[2] There were little boats, sockets, a variety of clothes at the coat rack, tea-glasses and fridge magnets. In his daughter’s room he showed me a huge Galatasaray flag among many other things.

His son’s room also was dominated by the colours yellow and red. His wife commented smilingly that she is sometimes fed up with the yellow and red colours everywhere.

Probably the utmost embodiment of club loyalty is a tattoo of the club. You literally inscribe your club loyalty onto your body. Emre, the pub owner, has a Fenerbah^e tattoo on his body. He likes to make jokes and exaggerates a lot when he describes his loyalty to Fenerbah^e and also when he talks about his tattoo. The loyalty to the club represents for him a continuity in his life which is never supposed to end or to change, and guarantees him stability, which not even a marriage could provide. This is then symbolised in a tattoo that lasts forever:

Nina: Oh, you’ve got a Fenerbahfe tattoo?

Emre: Exactly. Of the year when we were founded. 1907. Many people

said “what’s’ that?” I said, it’s the thing that will never change in my life. Of what else would I have a tattoo...? Not even my wife’s name because we could get a divorce. (Nina laughs loudly). It’s like that. Why? It can change. I marry, I maybe get a divorce. What will I do with my tattoo then?[3]

Merchandise and the respective colours are important instruments in the Fenerbah^e-Galatasaray antagonism and the related loyalty and rivalry constructions. By displaying them one can easily declare whom he or she belongs to. Throughout my fieldwork activities many of the interviewees tried to convince me to become a fan of their team. All of them were aware that I was interviewing both Galatasaray and Fenerbah^e fans. Therefore some were eager to check every time when we met whether I had ‘fallen for the enemy’. All the time I was (half-)jokingly accused of wearing colours of the opposite, wrong, team (nail polish, cardigans and so on).

Playful performances of the rivalry were common practice. Sometimes, though, there were rather serious situations. The day when I had the breakthrough in the Fenerbah^e Pub (Chap. 3) and was finally invited to the seats right in front of the screen, I felt so relieved that I was eager to be polite to everybody.[4] When Emre gave me a Fenerbahqe fan shirt as a present, I felt honoured but also uncomfortable. I knew that ‘taking sides’ could block my access to other people, in this case to Galatasaray fans. Anyhow, in that specific situation it felt rude to decline putting on the Fenerbahqe shirt. Consequently, I put it on. Shortly after, it became clear how powerful the signs and symbolic effect of a simple t-shirt can be. Alper, the Galatasaray fan, entered the pub and saw me. Usually, he used to welcome me with kisses on the cheeks but this time he just looked at me angrily and I somewhat forced him to say ‘hello’. The shirt felt so uncomfortable that I had to pull it off immediately. I had ‘put on a sign’ that symbolised a certain belonging to a community that I did not fit into.

Merchandise products have agency because ‘[...] any thing that does modify a state of affairs by making a difference is an actor’ (Latour 2005, p. 71 [emphasis in the original]). A simple football shirt does modify many ‘states of affairs’ as we have seen in this subchapter. Merchandise ‘might authorise, allow, afford, encourage, permit, suggest, influence, block, render possible, forbid, and so on’ (Latour 2005, p. 72). It may express loyalties and the limits of shifting loyalties. It can reflect hegemonic discourses in a society or help to ‘take’ a researcher on one’s side.

  • [1] Fieldnote from 31 July 2013, fan bus from Vienna to Salzburg stadium, with Metin and hisfriends, Fan Club, Young Fenerbah^e Fan Club, more than 14 hours.
  • [2] Interview Metin, 45 years old, male, Galatasaray fan, Metin and his family’s apartment, Viennesesuburb, afternoon; together with his daughter Derya, 15 years old, Galatasaray fan and his wifeNevin, in her forties.
  • [3] Fieldnotes after interview with Emre and Alper, 29 and 23 years old, both male, Fenerbah^e fanand Galatasaray fan, 20 March 2013, Fenerbah^e Pub, Vienna, afternoon.
  • [4] See Chap. 3. Fieldnote from 14 April 2013, Fenerbah^e Pub, Vienna, with people in pub,Fenerbah^e vs. Eskifehirspor (Super Lig), evening.
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