'The pros outweigh the cons in local football'

Posted by ap507 at Apr 01, 2016 09:20 AM |
John Williams discusses fights breaking out in local football matches

Think: Leicester does not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Leicester - it expresses the independent views and opinions of the academic who has authored the piece. If you do not agree with the opinions expressed, and you are a doctoral student/academic at the University of Leicester, you may write a counter opinion for Think: Leicester and send to ap507@le.ac.uk

It is all too easy to adopt a "to hell in a handcart" view about supposed social and moral decline after the incidents of violence and disorder at local football recently reported in the Leicester Mercury.

We are likely to get especially worked up – and understandably so – if young people are involved, as seems to have been the case here. It was a junior fixture that was the focal point of the disturbances.

But not much of this is especially new.

Growing up in Liverpool back in the 1960s and 1970s I can well recall fights in local junior football when local parents or adult officials became just too involved in the outcome of matches. Back then, as now, it was difficult to accept such excesses in a sporting context. But it is also rather difficult to police.

Generally speaking, local football at parks and club level remains a fantastic positive for the vast majority of adults and young people who are involved. It generally aids with health, exercise and discipline and can provide many people from very ordinary neighbourhood backgrounds with the types of responsibility, skills and experiences in running and supporting clubs that are little available elsewhere in their lives.

It also increases knowledge of communities in distant parts of the city and county and helps celebrate local solidarities and triumphs in relatively benign ways. Thousands of fixtures take place each year, with no incidents, in friendly competition. Local football is also, thankfully, no longer quite so dominated by men as it used to be: girls' and women's football is thriving in the city and county. So, we all owe the local game quite a lot.

However (and this is quite a big however), because of its relative informality, physicality and light regulation, local football can also be a raw site for articulating ethnic, community and personal grievances. Visiting someone else's unfamiliar patch in potentially hostile circumstances can be a real emotional trial. And personal identity has become more wrapped up in winning, even at a parks level.

Which means that, on occasions, the price one pays for all this diversity, social inclusion and overt celebration of local solidarities is likely to be a small minority overstepping the mark. Unpleasant but true.

That a referee seems to have been among the victims in this latest story is perhaps especially troubling. All sport relies on volunteers to regulate and help produce its many positives, and referees are part of the game too: they need confidence and adequate protection to deliver. No doubt this is a message the local County FA will be getting over in its current adjudications. After all, without the exercise of personal restraint and respect for officials and the game, no local football can take place at all.

John Williams is senior lecturer at the department of Sociology at the University of Leicester.

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