Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Why Football Fans Are a Suitable Case for Sociological Study; A Group of Brighton Sixth-Formers Will Be Observing Millwall Supporters at Tonight's Match. They Should Learn a Fair Bit

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Why Football Fans Are a Suitable Case for Sociological Study; A Group of Brighton Sixth-Formers Will Be Observing Millwall Supporters at Tonight's Match. They Should Learn a Fair Bit

Article excerpt

Byline: Dan Jones

IF YOU hop on this evening's fast train from Clapham Junction to Brighton, you can catch Brighton & Hove Albion playing Millwall FC in the SkyBet Championship, the second division of English football.

When you get there, you may see a group of sixth-formers taking notes.

These bright young things will be from Varndean College in Brighton. Previously, Varndean's sporting claim to fame was that Des Lynam attended the school as a young man some time in the 19th century, I think. But this week the college surpassed even that, as Varndean's sociology department became nationally famous for advertising a students' trip to tonight's football match with a slightly patronising poster.

The tone was sort of: "Roll up, kids! Roll up! Watch the funny working-class people shout at their funny little sport! Then learn how to make owlish statements about their behaviour!" "You will see Gender performance the New Lad and Hyper Masculinity and women challenging gender norms," it said, also promising "working-class culture and habitus Issues around Sexuality, Race and Ethnicity". That bit presumably refers to the songs sometimes sung by visiting fans to Falmer Stadium, which suggest that the home supporters are uniformly homosexual and wonder: "Does your boyfriend know you're here?" The poster also invited students to "observe and even talk to football fans from Brighton and the notorious Millwall FC" and consume "a delicious pie" and "a nice warm beefy Bovril". In other words, the trip was being sold as class tourism human shark cage diving with clipboards.

Still, as far as I can see, that is where whatever small grain of offensiveness in the poster ends. Others disagree. It has been suggested in response that football is not, in fact, a working-class sport, that Millwall's fans are not "notorious" and that a football game is somehow an inappropriate case study for students wishing to grow up to be goatee-stroking sociologists.

All of these suggestions are obviously stupid and wrong.

Premier League research suggests that 76 per cent of people who go to watch football are men, and that 83 per cent of those men are of a social demographic defined as being below ABC1. In other words, 63 per cent of the people you can expect to encounter at the average English football game will possess a penis and drop their aitches. It is a workingclass sport, and although it is generally accepted that football's audience and ethics are slowly being hijacked by winedrinking middle-class jessies like me, the takeover is far from complete.

As for Millwall: well, things have changed at The New Den, but the man on the Clapham omnibus would still associate Millwall FC with the antics of their most infamous hooligan firm, the Bushwackers, who are scary bastards, for want of a better phrase. The club don't thank you for pointing it out, but they have been involved in some of the most infamous football violence in living memory.

The nadir was the 1985 Kenilworth Road riot in Luton, when Millwall fans from an overcrowded away end invaded the pitch and the police were pelted with concrete blocks. …

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