A group of fans supporitng England as part of English footballing culture

Anthropology: The Cultural Significance of Football in England and Its Influence on English Identity

Football is a religion in England, it is much more than a mere sport. Similar to how Americans have American football and Indians have cricket, the English have football. In spite of football gaining widespread popularity over the years, with competitions like the World Cup, Euros etc, no one quite loves football like the English. From the deafening chants of the crowds at stadiums, supporting your local club in league football to spending a day at the stadium or local pub with your loved ones, football is at the heart of English culture.

A large group of English fans, celebrating English football and footballing culture at the stadium.
Credit: The Guardian

Origins of Football and Footballing Culture

Modern Football, as we know it, originated in Britain in the 19th Century. It’s interesting to note, however, that forms of “folk football” have also existed since medieval times. However, due to the rapid onset of industrialization, workers found themselves with less leisure time and less space wherein they could conduct their games. On top of that, legal prohibitions against more violent forms of the game led to the eventual demise of “folk football” in the 19th Century.

Shortly after, a more civilized form of football was played as a winter game between residence houses at public schools such as, Winchester, Charterhouse and Eton. Each school had its own rules, which made it difficult for those entering university after public school. However, in the late 1800’s, after multiple meetings with clubs in Metropolitan London, the Football Association (FA) was formed in England. The first order of business for the newly formed FA was to standardize and codify the rules of football, introducing some form of uniformity.

Even in its early days, there were heated rivalries between competing schools, not only between the players on the pitch but also among students. Even then, bragging rights were everything. This culture of supporting a football team that has a special connection to you, because it either represents the region you grew up in or the school that you studied in, represents an essential part of footballing culture even today.

An image of the Winchester University Football team posing with a trophy.
Credit: University of Winchester

Football Fans in England

On an international level, sport is a pivotal part of national identity. The spectacle of flags, emblems and anthems all contribute towards displaying a certain imagery of the nation, especially when it comes to football. Governments also spend large sums of money in order to host footballing events like the Euros or the World Cup, because it reinforces this sense of national identity.

From an English standpoint, rallying together at the stadiums and cheering on the English national side is a very important part of English culture. Not only in terms of sporting culture, but in a general sense as well. A pertinent example can be seen with the chant “Its coming home”, which featured in the Euros about a month ago. The anthem became culturally synonymous with all English fans, and is now sung religiously. It is the battlecry of English fans as they compete at the zenith of International football and try to “bring it home”, as it were.

A group of English fans chanting at the stadium.
Credit: Football 365

Fans of English clubs

In the English premier league, fan culture varies from region to region and club to club. The fans of football clubs that are located in close proximity to one another tend to dislike one another. For example, Liverpool and Everton both originate from Liverpool, England. But in spite of this, the two clubs share one of the most heated rivalries in all of English football, as the fans of either club want their club to be the best in that region and not share the spotlight.

As such, the fan culture varies from club to club, some fans chant a lot whereas some don’t, some fans can be violent and rowdy in the stadiums, whereas some fans tend to hold their composure. But regardless of whatever the club’s state and how competitive or lacklustre they are, the fans will continue to exhibit undying loyalty towards the club. In England, die-hard fans start supporting their local club at a very young age and continue to do so even in their old age. This fiery passion amongst English supporters is a massive part of English footballing culture and is something that isn’t often found in other footballing cultures.

Groups of Everton and Liverpool fans attending the derby between Liverpool and Everton.
Credit: AS English

Atmosphere and Fanfare at Stadiums

The atmosphere and fanfare that we see in English stadiums is truly a spectacle to behold. The way the crowd reacts to every kick of the ball and every incident that occurs during the game adds to the overall intensity of the game. For example, if the referee makes a questionable decision on the pitch, the fans will start heckling the referee through a loud and deafening chant. In addition, if a player from the opposing team commits a foul on one of the players from the home team, the home fans will erupt. In most cases, these chants tend to get into the players’ heads, adding an interesting psychological layer to the game.

Needless to say that every stadium in England has a unique and vibrant atmosphere, but no stadium is more electrifying than Anfield. Home to Liverpool Football Club, Anfield has perhaps the most intense and otherworldly atmosphere not only in England, but in the entire world. Sir Alex Ferguson, one of the best football managers of the English game, stated in an interview that Anfield was by far the most “electric” and “marvelous” atmosphere that he has ever seen in England during his time as a coach at Manchester United. In a similar vein, one of the best if not the best coaches in the footballing world, Pep Guardiola, also stated that the atmosphere at Anfield makes “opponents feel small”.

The atmosphere at a stadium is part and parcel of footballing culture in England. You cannot have a quiet and peaceful game of football in England, it just doesn’t work like that. The fans of the home team will never be hospitable or “good hosts” as it were to the away team. The fans will do everything to help their team win, because football is much more than a game in England. The club you support is part of your identity as an Englishman and you carry that mentality with you into the stadium as you cheer on your club.

A picture of the electrifying crowd at Anfield stadium.
Credit: This Is Anfield

Supporting Local Businesses

Other than fanfare and the atmosphere at stadiums, supporting local businesses is also a part of footballing culture in England. Adjacent businesses benefit from all the buzz that occurs at the start of the footballing season. Pubs in England benefit a great deal as football fans from all around the area can enjoy the game from the pub rather than the stadium.

Local pubs in England don’t lack any sort of atmosphere or ambience, people are fanatical. Going to watch the game at your local pub with some of your closest friends, enjoying good food and drink while engaging in illuminating conversations about football and life in general, is also an integral part of footballing culture in England. The pub is arguably where football fans are the most fiery and passionate, given that there’s liquor involved.

Moreover, the pub benefits financially during the season because of the revenue it gains from fans who come to the pub. Some fans have a very intimate and special connection with the pub and its owners. Oftentimes, they will keep on going to that pub specifically just to support the business and the owners. This connection between customers and pub owners is reflective of the bonds that form because of their love of the game.

A group of arsenal fans posing for a picture after the game outside their local pub.
Credit: Arsenal.com

Supporting Local Clubs

Supporting local clubs who play in the lower tiers of English football is a massive part of English footballing culture. For example, Gary Neville, a Manchester United legend, along with a few others have invested in a club called Salford City football club. The owners are passionate about this project as the club wasn’t doing so well financially or competitively before they arrived.

The new owners are passionate and want to see the club compete at the highest level. New investment means a great deal for the football club but also for the city itself. The residents of Salford city have a lot to look forward to because of the boost their club received. Supporting local businesses that are related to the sport is also an integral part of footballing culture in England.

The owners of Salford Cuty football club posing for a picture at a charity event.
Credit: Sky Sport

Business Culture in English Football

It’s important to remember that football clubs are also businesses. Some clubs aim to make money and some don’t. The club’s ownership influences the business objectives of the club. Certain owners are very carefree when it comes to spending, whereas others want to run a tight ship.

For example, American businesses own clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United. As such, these clubs are treated like an investment which will ultimately yield a return. In pursuit of this objective, the owners will do everything in their power to make sure they’re earning a profit. Whether it’s through compromising on players’ wages or avoiding big money signings, no stone is left unturned.

Contrastingly, owners of other clubs don’t necessarily share this philosophy. Clubs like Manchester City, PSG and Chelsea are run by very wealthy individuals. For example, Manchester City and PSG are owned by massive corporations backed by big Arab money. As such, they can afford to be callous with their spending. Buying the best players and facilities for their club. There is a nuance to how business is conducted in football. As such, it is a pertinent subculture of English football. These teams were also the main sponsors of the European Super League. Which is widely considered as one of the biggest scandals in modern football.

The owners of Manchester City, Paris Saint Germain and Chelsea respectively.
Credit: Goal.com

Football Kits and Footballing Culture

The kits that the players of the football team wear are also a massive part of footballing culture in England. The design of the jersey and the team’s emblem is aimed at representing the tenets, values and history of the club and, as such, has become a huge part of footballing culture in England.

For example, with regard to the Chelsea Football Club, the centrepiece of the crest is a lion. The inspiration for this came from Earl Cardogan, who was the club’s president at the time, in 1953. Moreover, the red roses on the crest symbolize England. In addition, the club’s colours historically have always been blue and white since the club’s inception. Which is what created the fabled fan chant “Blue is the colour, Football is the game”.

Similarly, with Arsenal Football Club, their crest has a cannon as its centrepiece. This is because the club originated from the Borough of Woolwich, which had a strong military tradition. In 1914, however, they added the Latin motto Victoria Cancordia Cresit, which translates to “victory comes from harmony” in English. In 2011, the club added 15 laurel leaves to the club’s crest. Symbolising the 15 men who came together to create the football club.

A collection of the football crests of all 20 premier league clubs.
Credit: Jaesthetics

Cultural Significance of Football in English Anthropology

Like I said earlier, football is much more than a sport in England. It is a religion. Football is more than a mere part of English culture. It is one of the defining elements of English culture, embodying what it means to be English. It is a cultural trinket that transcends the barriers of race, gender and age. Uniting people from different walks of life. It enables them to form life-lasting friendships and bonds through their mutual love of the game.

Children in England grow up with the aspiration of being like their favourite footballer. Fans of football clubs spend the whole year waiting for the season to restart. So they can begin supporting their teams again. Club owners will be eager to see their clubs start on a high and outdo their competitors. Owners of sporting bars and clubs will relish the prospect of their bars being full again. Players get ready to strut their stuff and show the world what they are capable of. Getting ready to show their doubters and fans what it means to be a top player at the highest level.

The start of a new football season is a huge moment in English footballing culture. The passion, excitement, the thrills and the spills are what every English football fan yearns for. Football is a massive part of the English identity. It would be weird to see an Englishman who doesn’t watch football. They live and die for this sport. It is a definitive aspect of their culture as a whole.

A picture of a large cohort of English fans holding up cards to represent the English flag.
Credits: Hello Punter


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4 thoughts on “Anthropology: The Cultural Significance of Football in England and Its Influence on English Identity

  1. C’est sûr, en Angleterre, le football (qui est d’ailleurs bien plus rude qu’ailleurs), est sacré, en particulier pour les classes populaires.

  2. Mi piacerebbe sapere se in Inghilterra ci sono cittadini di Manchester che tifano Liverpool o Everton e viceversa. Cioè se il tifo è strettamente legato al territorio di appartenenza oppure ad una pura simpatia. Grazie

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