FOOTBALL MEDIA IN THE UK: A CULTURAL STUDIES PERSPECTIVE
Dr. Richard Giulianotti
THE MODERN PERIOD
THE POSMODERN PERIOD
THE FOOTBALL FANZINE
THE FANZINE SPECIFIC QUALITIES
THE NEW FOOTBALL CULTURE
But, there are other reasons for this shift in emphasis. And these reasons were rooted in deeper, cultural changes within football in the UK. In fact, these changes are so fundamental, that we might begin to speak about them as representing a new phase within UK football culture. They are, if you like, part of the new, postmodern period of UK football culture.
- In 1985, Liverpool played Juventus in the European Cup Final in the Heysel Stadium in Brussels. Before the match, Liverpool fans attacked Italian fans, who fled in panic. As the Italians tried to escape, they became trapped against a wall inside the ground, and this wall collapsed - leading to 39 Juventus fans dying. This disaster - the Heysel disaster - marked the most extreme moment in English fan football violence. It also signified the future decline of fan violence in England. The culture of hooliganism declined, because the size of the hooligan groups began to decline.
- In 1989, the Hillsborough disaster took place. At a match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, 96 Liverpool fans were fatally injured, due to crowd crushing in one section of the ground. The tragedy effectively politicized football, at the grass roots level. It brought into the public eye, the fact that the state, the football clubs and the football authorities, had failed to give football supporters a safe, decent and enjoyable context in which to watch football. One consequence of the Hillsborough disaster, has been the universal ruling, that major football stadia must be all-seated, and have certain safety provisions. In the UK, the Hillsborough disaster also provided the spark, that led to the establishment of new supporter organisations, such as the Football Supporters' Association (FSA).
- In 1990, England reached the semi-finals of the World Cup finals. The tournament was held in Italy. And, in England, it attracted a wider range of social interest than might be expected. It attracted the more public interest of a new social class, emerging in the UK - the young, educated and white collar workers. It's generally well known that football in the United Kingdom has traditionally been regarded as a rather working class and plebian sport. However, this perspective has started to change, and such a change tends to be associated with the Italian World Cup. A popular myth about the World Cup, is that sensitive intellectuals held hands, during the penalty kicks between England and Germany - which England thankfully lost. Also, just after the World Cup finals, several books were published about football culture, which became 'bestsellers'. The books - by writers like Nick Hornby and Bill Buford - were part of what became the 'New Football Writing'.
- The commercialisation of football increased, again especially in England, but also in Scotland. During the 1990s, the English Football Association has signed television deals with satellite television. These have been worth over £1 billion. Several clubs have been put on the stock exchange. Their share prices are often so high that they are valued at well over £100 million. In Scotland, the top club is Glasgow Rangers. That club recently received about £40 million in cash from an entrepreneur and tax exile; and that money gave him only a 25% share in the club - which reflects the belief in business, that there is a lot of money, at least potentially, in football.
- There is a huge expansion in UK football media currently now available. The rise of this media can be highlighted by comparing it with the past:
Television: previously, television coverage of football was shared by the main broadcasting companies - BBC and ITV. Only very big matches were shown live on television. In the early 1990s, however, Sky satellite television took over, and bought up the main broadcasting rights of football in England and, to a lesser extent, in Scotland. This led to a stronger emphasis on football in their television schedule. Today, over 5 million people who have Sky TV, pay to get live football matches, 3 times per week.
Perhaps more significantly, all of the television stations are now producing a lot of programmes which combine football with a 'chat show' format. These programmes will have a television audience, some famous presenters, and a variety of guests. The guests will include football players, but they also include rock stars, famous actors, journalists, politicians and so on - who all attend and talk about football. This reflects the new fashionability of football. Perhaps the best programme which illustrates this trend, is the programme 'Fantasy Football League'.
It is hosted by two young comedians, who claim to have a real passion for football; they released a record last year, with the England football team giving the chorus to the song, and it went to Number One in the singles charts. As I say, the two of them claim to have a real passion for football, but this is not a passion that seems to be very long, or to have any substance in terms of practice. During one of the programmes, they were challenged to juggle the ball, without it touching the ground - they completely failed at this basic skill, and managed only once or twice at this task.
Radio: radio has become much more deregulated, and there are now many more radio stations. Some of these stations have football coverage at the centre of their raison d'etre - for example, the major radio station Radio Five, has football commentary on almost every night of the week. Newspapers: previously, British newspapers could be simply divided into 3 sections:
- the lowbrow tabloids, which featured a lot of television and sport.
- the middle-market, right-wing tabloids, which mixed conservative comment with news and current affairs coverage.
- the more upmarket broadsheet or quality newspapers, which concentrated on 'heavy' issues and current affairs.
In the past 6 or 7 years, however, the last category of newspaper - the quality press - have tended to focus more and more on sport. And football is certainly at the centre of their sports coverage, today.
Popular Magazines: this is where one of the biggest changes in football culture is evident. About 10 years ago, there were no genuine football magazines for adults. Football magazines were produced only for the children's market - if you bought these, you were clearly regarded as immature and even demasculinised through the purchase. Since the World Cup in Italy, there have been a whole host of these magazines produced for an adult market. These magazines claim to have 'quality writers' who write about football. Often, they will have female writers, and have articles which appeal to a female audience. However, this feminisation of the football media is limited by the development of a wider category of new magazine - the men's magazine, which deals with male subjects such as sport, fitness, sex, travel and cars. A lot of these magazines deal with football, as well.
So, what I am saying is that football culture in the UK has changed a lot. It has entered a 'postmodern' era, for want of a better phrase. The game is less typically associated with football hooliganism. And, so too has the research field on football culture in the UK changed. It is also much more varied, in terms of who carries out the research and what areas of research are being looked at.
In the second half of the discussion, I'll map out exactly who is central to this postmodernization of football in the UK, and also discuss the main product of this social group - the football 'fanzine'.