Reclaiming the Game: Fandom, Community and Globalisation. (Everyday Life).(South Sydney Rugby League Football Club, Australia)(s)

Article excerpt

Just after 10am on 6 July 2001, I received an email from a South Sydney rugby league football club supporter advising that the club had won the support of the Australian Federal Court in pressing for re-admission to the competition from which it had been excluded for the past two years. As a subscriber to a supporters' e-group, my inbox rapidly filled with dozens of messages jubilantly proclaiming the club's legal win. I felt a powerful sense of elation and of wanting to be among others who would respond even more keenly to `their' victory. This was satisfied by a visit to Souths' League's Club in Redfern where I knew supporters had been assembled since early morning. As I reached the main bar area upstairs a red and green clad man took me by the arm and, with a happiness that was both patient and effusive, asked if `George' was going to be coming up the escalator soon. He was referring to Souths' president George Piggins who, as player, coach and administrator, had resolutely maintained loyalty to the club, and in doing so had won the admiration of a great many Souths supporters. `Nah, mate', I replied, `that's Coleman' (another former Souths player and coach), who was encircled by cameramen and sound crew downstairs.

An hour later, accompanied by a chant of `South Sydney', Piggins did make it upstairs. The chanting was not tuneful or rhythmic, but it hit me straight in the guts, and I suddenly felt as if something was stuck in my throat. I quickly rationalised it as a visceral response to the very obvious displays of enthusiasm and joy that were all around. A couple of blokes near me, tears running down their faces, were straining to shout as loudly as they possibly could, with hands clasped on each other's shoulder. Everywhere I looked people were shouting at the top of their voices, hugging each other, laughing, smiling and crying, sometimes all at once. A minute later, I again found myself close to tears when the crowd of a few hundred began to sing `Glory, Glory', a song I had long thought soppy and embarrassingly nostalgic. Later, I wondered if this may be precisely why fans know and respond to it in the way they do.

The experience of being a fan has become an important object of analysis in both academic and popular discourses. Being a fan refers to a set of activities unlike those which characterise most other kinds of social and cultural practice. Shouting at the top of your lungs in a pub, for example, will most often lead to your expulsion from the premises. Being a fan means cultivating a certain kind of relationship to products or services produced for consumption in the public leisure sphere by a particular person or group. This relationship is founded on an investment--in time, money, affect, desire and emotion--by consumers who thereby feel themselves to have a stake in the performance of that person or group. The level and mix of personal investment differs between individuals.

An interest in sport implies learning a distinct set of codes and meanings due to sport's historically specific social politics. (1) Since at least the second half of the nineteenth century, sport has been widely valued as a means of cultivating individual self-discipline, camaraderie, norms of social identity (in terms of masculinity and race, for example) and respect for authority. The values, ideals and codes of behaviour associated with locality are other important features of sports cultures that distinguish sports fandom from most other fan cultures, especially in the case of team sports. While being a fan is nearly always associated with the trope of belonging and shared cultural investment, (2) sports random organises communality in a unique way, deploying ideas about locality that speak very powerfully to many people.

This article traces the localising aspect of sports random through a case study of the South Sydney rugby league football club, the geo-political, social and cultural distinctions deployed in its name, and the fans who support and uphold this set of distinctions. …