|VIRTUAL FANDOMS; FUTURESCAPES OF FOOTBALL - John Bale|
The 'Problem' of Spectators
Modern football is highly commodified - something to be bought and sold to consumers. Spectators/consumers at sports events create a problem for my theory of sport as a model of placelessness because, as noted above, in even the most sterile stadium the crowd acts as a form of 'noise', creating a place out of nothing. The modern partisan spectator, in many sports, creates problems for the notion of 'fair play'. Crowds at team sports undeniably influence performance; they contribute greatly to the 'home-field advantage', even in the domed stadium; their Bakhtin-like carnivalism (as Richard Giulianotti has theorised the behaviour of Scottish - though not English - football fans) may contribute more to topophilia (a love of place) than to placelessness (Giulianotti, 1991). It is the crowd which produces a 'home field advantage' in the most sterile of environments. This assertion is supported by studies into this form of (unfair?) advantage in the United States. For example, a typical study revealed that the home advantage was most strongly felt in sports such as basketball and ice-hockey - those with the most artificial and 'placeless' playing surfaces - and that it was in the environmentally variable sport of baseball that the home field advantage was least evident (Schwartz and Barsky, 1977). It has also been shown that the home advantage is significantly greater in baseball games played in domed-stadiums - those playing environments where the natural environment has been most neutralised (Zeller and Jurkovac, 1989). The enhanced home field advantage in such situations was attributed to the closeness and involvement of the crowd.
In the early days of modern sports the fixed boundaries which now exist between spectators and players were absent. The explicit white line separating players from spectators was not introduced in soccer until it was recognised that spectators would walk onto the field of play and interfere with the game. Hence, although the spatial parameters were established in 1863, the insistence on a marked line did not occur until 1882. The boundary communicates the notion of territoriality, as outlined by Sack (1986)as the imposition of power over space. Territoriality may therefore be seen as a way of solving the problem of spectator interference in sports. The boundary line did not prevent aural interference with play, however, which would logically help to favour the home team. For this reason early applause was directed at the visiting team in order to accord with the ethics of fair play. This 'gentlemanly' conduct gradually disappeared with partisanship in the place-focus of many team games. What could have become sports spaces were clearly reclaimed as meaningful places by the crowd. The sports arena was not a space where one discriminatingly attended a 'performance'; it became a meaningful place to support 'our' team.
Such crowd interference reveals the spatial boundaries of sport as limen. The liminality of sports space has been addressed by the anthropologist, Bradd Shaw (1995), who notes that in many sports the spatial boundaries are constantly (and in some cases, deliberately) being violated. The crowd involvement, which makes the nature of boundaries in sports such a good example of liminal space - neither one thing or the other or a world betwixt and between playing and spectating - is not present in all sports, nor has it always been present in sports where it is currently found. For example, an article in a football programme for a Sheffield United football match in 1907 encouraged polite, non-dialogical behaviour among spectators, carrying the note: 'continued bellowing at the top of your voice ... gets on people's nerves and takes away a lot of the enjoyment of the game' (Mason, 1980). In the case of tennis, however, territorialisation has not only served to confine the crowd as a collective body to a particular segment of the sports place; it has also served to contain noise to particular times of a game. Here the crowd engages in courteous turn-taking, polite applause being reserved for periods when the players are not actually engaged in the game. The referee requests silence when it is the turn of the players to take part in the game. The logic of sport is that, if it is to have spectators, it should assume the model provided by tennis - a model which, it seems, may have once been assumed by football. On the other hand, current tendencies in tennis, badminton and other sports suggest that there is a move towards greater interaction between spectators and players, indicating greater liminality than previously existed. Nor can it be denied that in some cases place-making has been tutored by business and capital.
We may have a synthetic isotropic plane, we have a territorialised space, but because of the place-making quality of people as sports spectators it might seem that my emphasis on placelessness has been misplaced. What seems to exist instead is a constant tension between place and space in an activity where placelessness would seem to be logically paramount. However, my story does not end here and while placelessness might typify modernity it is the sportsworld of the post-modern, as reflected in the writing of Jean Baudrillard and Paul Virilio, that I now turn.
In The Transparency of Evil Baudrillard (1993) devotes several pages to the Heysel disaster and other aspects of football stadiums. At Heysel football was perverted into violence. In Baudrillard's words, 'there is always the danger that this kind of transition may occur, that spectators may cease to be spectators and slip into the role of victims or murderers, that sport may cease to be sport and be transformed into terrorism: that is why the public must simply be eliminated, to ensure that the only event occurring is strictly televisual in nature' (Baudrillard, 1993). In Baudrillardian sport, however, the expulsion of spectators from stadiums also serves to 'ensure the objective conduct of the match, ... in ... a transparent form of public space from which all the actors have been withdrawn' (Baudrillard, 1993, emphasis added).
The gradual territorialisation of spectators has been progressively enforced in British stadiums during the course of this century. From relatively open spaces to enclosed, all-seat stadiums, the football environment has become increasingly panopticised, subject to an increasing number of hierarchical and disciplinary gazes. Televised sport continues the general trend. The banning of spectators furthers the domestication and the spatial confinement of the spectating experience. In an empty stadium, the world could watch on tv 'a pure form of the event from which all passion as been removed' (Baudrillard, 1993). The shape of the future is recalled by Baudrillard in his allusion to a football match between Real Madrid and Naples - a European Cup match in 1987 when the game took place in an empty stadium as a result of disciplinary measures against Madrid from a previous game. This 'phantom football match' is described by Baudrillard as
...a world where a 'real' event occurs in a vacuum, stripped of its context and visible only from afar, televisually. Here we have a sort of surgically accurate prefigurement of the events of our future: events so minimal that they might well not need to take place at all - along with their maximal enlargement on screens. No one will have directly experienced the actual course of such happenings, but everyone will have received an image of them. A pure event, in other words, devoid of any reference to nature, and readily susceptible to replacement by synthetic images (Baudrillard, 1993).
Television sport produces a sport landscape of sameness. Drawing on the writing Virilio (who, in turn, drew on the writing of Marcel Pagnol) we can note the difference between spectating at a sports event and watching it on television (Virilio 1991). At a football game no two people see the same event (because no two people can occupy exactly the same place) whereas the game on tv is exactly what the camera saw. Spectators see this wherever they sit. Television re-places spectators. More significantly, however, Virilio and Baudrillard draw attention to, and provide the solution to, one of the problems of the sports landscape already alluded to in this chapter - that the intrusion of spectators transforms what should be a sports space into a sporting place - sometimes a sport place of disport. Virilio (1991) notes that the potential exists for the placelessness of sport to become literal - stadiums can be abolished and live performers be replaced with televisul images that would be shown in a video-stadium without sports players, for consumption to tele-spectators. To some extent this already exists: the presence of jumbo-tron video screens inside stadiums, which relay slow motion replays and the fine detail of the action, has become the defining reality for many sports fans - a postmodern condition where the image is superior to the reality. It is also uncannily predicted in the recent television advertisement for Adidas, the sports clothing firm, which displays a futurescape of football in which the game is 'played' in a tightly enclosed concrete box with what appear to be simulated spectators, programmed, presumably, to applaud skill but lacking in any partisan sentiments. This also reminds us of the commercial imperatives of modern sports for which sanitised and safe places, combined with a synthetic environment which, as far as possible, should be 'weatherless', are highly desirable. It would not be totally inappropriate to describe the scenarios I have been outlining as the 'mallification' of football.
The one thing that Baudrillard and Virilio do not recognise (or do not make explicit) is that such scenarios would also satisfy perfectly the norms of achievement sport - the 'surgical' space in which this event takes place provides the placeless environment insisted on by the achievement and fair play norms of sport. Virilio's prescription that the architecture of sports places 'would become no more than the scaffolding for an artificial environment, one whose physical dimensions have become instantaneous opto-electronic information' (Virilio 1991), is the dystopian milieu but one which is predicted by my sport-geographic model.
Three Views of the Same Game and an Optimistic Conclusion
The first was the 'real' game, being played in Gothenburg. Many thousands of fans witnessed the live game from their individualised, numbered and surveilled cells at he Nya Ullevi Stadium. Although the stadium is a high-tech concrete bowl, there can be little doubt that a strong sense of place was obtained by the huge Danish contingent which crossed the Oresund from Copenhagen. Who is to say that the huge crowd of 'vikings' did not influence the performance (in fact, the victory) of the Danish team, the neutrality of the large number of Swedish spectators being temporarily removed as they supported their Nordic neighbours? Although the space of the stadium was the same as any other, the crowd transformed it into a place of power, passion and of national significance.
The second environment in which the game was (re)played was the homes of the millions of European tele-viewers who watched it. For this huge audience television provided a social context, the way of joining a crowd. Adams would regard television as a gathering place; after all, domestically-confined sports fans 'experientially inhabit it and relate to other persons through it or with it'. It undoubtedly constructs meaningful human experiences. It 'draws us in', allows us to cross experiential boundaries. But television audiences are unable (yet) to influence the outcome of the event they are watching. They are also confined in domestic space in which domestic constraints on behaviour are as rigid - if not more so - than those in the stadium at which the game is 'actually' being played. Watching sport in a domestic situation cannot easily be interpreted as a form of resistance - in fact, the exact opposite would seem to be the case. Indeed, as Adams points out, 'throwing a brick through a tv screen has not effect on what is seen on any other screen' (Adams, 1992), let alone the course of the game that is being televised. Nor, in a domestic context, would such resistance have any effect outside the domestic cell.
The third environment in which the game was played was conceptually (and geographically) some way between the stadium and the home. In Copenhagen, near the national football stadium, lies a large area of open space known as Fælled. This area was once common grazing land and was the original locus of Danish football. Today it is now a large area of parkland, given over to the playing of club-level football. The site has a certain significance to Danes, being the 'home' of their footballing traditions. On the night of the Denmark-Germany game a huge tv screen was erected in the open space of the Fælled. This was not domesticated television space in the sense of a small box being in the corner of a living room. It was open, unenclosed and contained no seats. Nor were there any obvious controls on the sale and consumption of alcohol. A vast crowd attending the game. It was mediated by television but the crowd could, for a night, celebrate in the open space. It was a form of carnival with drunken fans celebrating their small nation's victory over the German 'machine'. Who is to say that the experience of the Fælled was anything but the optimal sporting experience for late modernity - thousands watching in open spaces without being able to influence the game, but standing in opposition to the panopticised confinement which the modern stadium enforces. It was an inconguous juxtapositioning of late-modern and 'folk' traditions. In a way, this kind of situation satisfies the norms of achievement sport and also the desires of the fans. It is not quite placeless. It exemplifies a tension between the apparently logical need for a predictable environment and the place-making potential of fandom. It also illustrates the tension between the the certain world of 'the scientist' and the ambiguous world of 'the human' - or the 'hard' and 'soft' worlds of football.
Año 3, Nº 10. Buenos Aires. Mayo 1998