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A Psychological take on Football Fanaticism

The football industry can be said to be driven by emotions; for years, the industry has attracted interest from different arenas and brought substantial revenue from fans, advertisers, and corporations. Football fans experience different emotions related to their teams, especially on days matches are held; emotions influence fan behavior, engagement, participation, match attendance, and consumption of merchandising (Shakina et al., 2020).

Newson defines 'fanaticism' as a persistent positive or negative perception not based on reality (2017). Colloquially, fanaticism can also be described as blind love for something a person likes, the embodiment of narrow selfishness and antipathy to the unfavorable. Fanaticism is also a philosophy or logical consequence of the social science of the world (Newson, 2017).

Image 1: Madrid football fans

According to Gruman et al. (2016), the social identity of psychology explains how a person’s identity is based on social and personal types of self-knowledge. Football fans show the theory of social identity perfectly, this is because of the actions and attitudes of the members and the conflicts which occur due to group evaluation and comparison (About Those Football Fans, 2022).

One of the most well-known subcultures in the world is that of 'football fanaticism'. It was developed in Europe and is now widespread around the world. It has a sizable following and is getting more and more popular. A surge in professional competitions and matches is to blame for the increase (Football Violence in Europe - Executive Summary, 2005).

Image 2: An Illustration of fanatics

In some cases, fan culture has evolved into a separate entity that provides as much entertainment as football. Fanatics show passionate gestures of loyalty by providing some of the sports' extraordinary environments. On the other hand, football has experienced vandalism, fighting, and other harmful actions that continue to bring down the reputation of football supporters (The Importance of Ultras in Europe and South America, 2015). While an unformed outsider may find it difficult to understand why and how football supporters could get worked up over a game, for many around the globe choosing a football team encapsulates one’s identity, and clubs can thus symbolize a way of life (The Importance of Ultras in Europe and South America, 2015).

In the football setting, group rivalries are intense and are known to cause animosity between different groups. Intense rivalries exist because groups evaluate themselves through social comparison. There will be more animosity if there is a status difference, such as when one team wins many games in a football season while the other team has not (Gruman et al., 2016). The two regions with the most considerable fanatics presence are Europe and South America (The Importance of Ultras in Europe and South America, 2015).

Image 3: Liverpool and Sevilla fans fight in the stands before the Europa League Final

Football Hooliganism and Fanaticism in Europe

Football has been associated with violence since its emergence in 13th century Europe. According to Cleland et al. (2019), Football hooliganism is a common term among European fanatics. 'Hooliganism' gradually evolved into a persistent, transnational subculture that attracted many young men looking for adventure and excitement (Cleland, 2019). When their teams lost, zealots set fire to the football stadiums both inside and outside; this hooligan fervour continued as long as the game's regulations were insufficient. Although it did not stop, hooligan fanaticism has diminished throughout time, especially during World War I (Cleland et al., 2019). Even though vandalism occurred following the two wars, it decreased when match organizers considered splitting fans into multiple teams; this boosted the sense of fan solidarity.

Although football in Europe is associated with hooliganism, there are also positive sides to the love of football. For instance, football is associated with emotions, excitement, passion, and dedication (Football Passions, 2008). These associations allow fans to release frustration, strengthen family bonds, especially among fathers and sons, and foster a lasting sense of tradition and belonging. Social bonds between fans can even be described in familial terms (Football Passions, 2008). In Europe, football fans also have a strong sense of commonality; rather than divide people, football unites people.

Historical factors also influence football's social and cultural role. Such factors include decisive moments in a team's history, such as winning an important match or tournament. Football rivalries between countries also play a role in defining specific national football characteristics. They influence how people in different countries support teams at local, regional, national, and international levels (Football Passions, 2008). The problem of hostility in Europe, generally and Britain in particular, has largely been extinguished (The Importance of Ultras in Europe and South America, 2015).

Image 4: British football supporters

Football Violence and Fanaticism in South America

There is much brutality between two rival countries in South America; this has been the foundation for Argentina and Brazil for the best part of a century. Unfortunately, unlike in Europe, the situation between Argentina and Brazil does not seem to be improving. In 2012, Brazilian football saw the highest number of deaths, with 29 reported (The Importance of Ultras in Europe and South America, 2015).

In South America, the chances of football altercations and confrontations spilling out onto the streets are incredibly high. Policing in Europe is more stringent than in Argentina and Brazil (The Importance of Ultras in Europe and South America, 2015). Football is no longer a family sport in some parts of Latin America, where the Barras Bravas, similar to mafia bosses and hooligans, have turned the sports spirit into violence (Liborio, 2022). In one example, a confrontation between Colo Colo supporters and the Universidad de Chile left three people injured. What caused this confrontation was the rivalry between fans. Such violence is not just a local problem but has also become an international one (Liborio, 2022).

Image 5: Argentina’s fans run away from tear gas as they clash with riot police in Bruno’s Aires after Argentina’s World Cup loss to Germany.


'Football fanaticism' is a contemporary subculture that began in Europe and has existed for centuries. Though football fanaticism is an integral part of the community with benefits, there are still negativities associated with the fan culture, such as psychological and physical harm—the presence of football fanaticism in Europe, specifically Britain, and South American countries like Argentina and Brazil. In addition, there have been multiple cases of fan violence and club rivalry due to the loss of football matches because football has become a significant emotional influence for many fans today.

Bibliographical References

About Those Football Fans. PSYCH 424 blog - Applied Social Psychology (ASP). (2022, February 16).

Cleland, J., & Cashmore, E. (2019). Football fans’ views of violence in British football: evidence of a sanitized and gentrified culture. SAGE Publications.

Football Passions. (2008). SIRC. Retrieved November 2, 2022, from

Football Violence in Europe - Executive Summary. (2005). SIRC. Retrieved November 6, 2022, from

Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. M. (2016). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. SAGE Publications.

Liborio, L. A. H. (2018, August 3). Football and a never ending problem: the Latin American Hooligans. LatinAmerican Post.

Newman, L. (2015, May 30). The importance of ultras in Europe and South America. These Football Times.

Newson. (2017, September 18). Football, Fan Violence, and Identity Fusion. International Review for the Sociology of Sport.

Shakina, E., Gasparetto, T. and Barajas, A. (2020, May 15). Football Fans’ Emotions: Uncertainty Against Brand Perception. Frontiers.

Visual Sources


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Edikan Victoria Inemeh-Etete

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