A Fragmented Diaspora? Online Communities and ‘Exiled’ Soccer Fans.

Nuttall, D (2013) A Fragmented Diaspora? Online Communities and ‘Exiled’ Soccer Fans. In: Football and Communities Across Codes. Interdisciplinary Press, Oxfordshire, pp. 93-106. ISBN 978-1-84888-241-6

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Generally speaking, sociological studies of soccer fans have labelled specific fan practices as ‘authentic’ or ‘inauthentic’, often doing so on the basis of a subjective prioritisation of ‘traditional’ forms of soccer fandom. Consequently, computer mediated communication (CMC) has become stigmatised and fan interactions via the internet have been widely regarded as one of the many negative consequences of the globalisation of the sport. An unhelpful dichotomy has thus emerged, which divorces CMC from ‘authentic’ fan practices and excludes those that interact online from ‘genuine’ fandom. Thorough research, therefore, into the nature of such interactions, and the distinct communities that emerge from this, has been largely neglected.
Ironically, several studies, which have used online fan interactions as a source of data, have reported the replication of (or potential for) several forms of traditional soccer fandom within online settings – most notably, the centrality of geographic identity and origin, as well as the establishment of meaningful relationships and genuine communities of soccer fans. The results of such studies also suggest that it is precisely those fans engaged in traditional practices who are the most likely to converse via the internet.
The central aim of this paper is to address the dearth of research on CMC between soccer fans and, more specifically, to provide conceptual outline for our understanding of online communities and the nature and consequences of online interactions. A case study on ‘exiled’ fans, based on a netnographic observation of an online forum, analyses the use and membership of online communities by soccer fans who are no longer connected, in geographic terms, to the club they affiliate with. Despite this, such fans are able to express their identity to a club (and/or place), establish relationships with other fans, and form a distinct community of soccer fans – features considered hallmarks of authentic fandom.

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