The Long Read: Beyond the Beautiful Game: Football as a Means for Control and Protest by Michael Warren
in terms of freedom of expression, soccer stadiums are nearly as important as the internet in Iran now. The protest is more secure there because the police can’t arrest thousands of people at once […] They’re showing banners and singing protest songs, which is why some games are broadcast without sound now.
In Western countries, the stadium is not as politicised or as violent a crucible, but it remains the domain of supporters with a controversial history. The British press frequently demonised fans, lumping them into one venomous hooligan cult that congregated on Saturdays. In the 1980s, the bleakest of decades for football’s public image, The Times newspaper penned an editorial that derided football as a ‘slum sport played in slum stadiums and increasingly watched by slum people’. For The Times, stadiums evoked low social stratification, arguably in a similar way to social housing. The stadium therefore became a locus for blinkered hostility towards fans and the game itself. This culminated with the Hillsborough catastrophe of 1989 in which 96 fans were crushed to death, and witness voices were silenced by a prejudiced police force and media. It took many years for this injustice to be heard (as recently documented inHillsborough Voices: The Real Story Told by the People Themselves), but this shows how with perseverance, fans can eventually tell their side of the story.
deemed to be passive accomplices to the sociopathic minority. The police see us as a mass entity, fuelled by drink and a single-minded resolve to wreak havoc by destroying property and attacking one another with murderous intent. The implication is that ‘normal’ people need to be protected from the football fan. But we are normal people.
It is not just powers of commerce that shape and share complicated relationships with fans, but also political owners. In Turkey, increasing wealth and the professionalisation of football has encouraged socially climbing owners to buy up clubs to gain political leverage and increased personal recognition. Clubs can be symbols of power, and the central football asset is Fenerbahçe – coveted by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and cleric Fethullah Gülen. The latter wished to reduce Erdoğan’s power over the club and a member of Gülen’s movement to be placed at its heart following match-fixing scandals. The club became a key piece in the political chess match between the two, as recounted in detail by Dorsey. This acrimonious dispute highlighted murky but inextricable ties between football clubs in Turkey and organised crime, with football emerging as a ploy for obtaining wider political power.