“Here is what mass sports are today: twenty-two people play football, watched by thousands or tens of thousands. They encircle the field, criticizing, hooting, whistling, giving their expert opinion, rooting and cheering for their favorite players, applauding individual feats, excoriating the referee, whipping themselves up into a frenzy, and projecting themselves into the game. […] They fall prey to football psychosis, and they behave on the field as if not only their own well-being, but the weal and woe of the entire world depended on the result of this paltry football match.” This is how the social democrat Helmut Wagner painted the dangers of mass emotions at football matches in 1931. Yet football is emotion; football as human drama depends on emotions. This is most readily apparent in the person of the referee. Because he is fallible, yet is supposed to base his decisions on facts, his role is problematic and may be conducive to violence; however, it is also cathartic in the sense of Greek drama. The sports arena, and the football match in particular, is one of the last remaining public bastions of emotionality. Perhaps this is precisely what accounts for football’s popularity. Taking emotions out of football would mean robbing that sport of its soul, and society of an important safety valve.
Zinnecker has argued that football’s commercialization alienates fans from their clubs, their capacity for violent behavior no longer contained; conversely, the persistent acceptance of violence in football culture is what attracts young men to football in the first place.
No other team sport provides its spectators with a larger physical space for action, allowing them to display deviant behavior to such great public effect. Yet football’s evolution into a mass sport increasingly defined by commercialization, professionalization, and eventization, has not only led to the creation of a multitude of groups of spectators and fans, but also transformed their behavior as well as the mood and atmosphere in the stadium and thus the ways in which emotions are experienced and expressed there.
Gunter Pilz was born in 1944. He studied sociology, psychology, and economics at the universities of Freiburg, Munich, and Zurich. In 1981 he obtained his PhD from the University of Hannover, where he worked as a researcher at the Institute of Sports Science from 1978 to 2010. Since 2012 he has directed a project on Social Work as Applied to Fan Cultures and Sports at that institute. He has also been an Honorary Professor at the Hannover University of Applied Sciences since 2000. He has worked as an expert for the German Ministry of the Interior and the German Football Federation (DFB), among other institutions. Since 2006 he has been DFB counselor on fans and violence prevention. In 2012 he received the Golden Clasp of the North-Rhine-Westphalia Football Federation, and the Ethics Prize of the German Olympic Federation. Selected Publications: Sport, Fairplay und Gewalt: Beiträge zu Jugendarbeit und Prävention im Sport (2013); Jugend, Gewalt und Rechtsextremismus: Möglichkeiten und Notwendigkeiten politischen, polizeilichen und (sozial-) pädagogischen und individuellen Handelns (1994); and Wandlungen des Zuschauerverhaltens im Profifußball (2006).