And Mckeown, M. (2012) a critical exploration of using football in health and welfare programs: Gender, masculinities and social relations. Journal of Sport and Social Issues. 36(4): 387-409 A

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Football initiatives as a paradoxical space

Footballs paradoxical role relates to its historical position in wider society; its semi- autonomy as a social practice; its local configurations and the psycho-social dynamics of gendered spaces. Football, like gender, has distinctive local constructions’ (Connell, 2002, p.89). This means it has various functions and meanings in different contexts. Whilst the dominant sport in a given culture is inherently exclusionary in relation to gender, it can be inclusionary in relation to other social relations. One of the appealing elements of being a football supporter is that what matters is one’s allegiance to our team’ above most other social markers of social difference (and this can include gender). Having said this, it is important to note that this feeling of inclusion’ is usually predicated upon the exclusion of others and the attribution of negative characteristics to another team or nation, the us’ against them’ (Searle, 1990). In this sense, football is inherently exclusionary and awareness of this dynamic urges caution in relation to its inclusionary potential in any wider sense.
Yet whilst football does not operate as an autonomous sphere within society, it does have its own dynamic, one that does not simply reproduce dominant social relations (Bourdieu,

1986). For example, whilst football tends to reflect and construct dominant gender relations, it does not necessarily reflect dominant class relationsxii. Historically, English football culture has been embedded within the modern urban working classes. This is equally true of men and womens football as most clubs started off as factory teams. Bourdieu has suggested that dominant sports may actually challenge the values of the dominant social class:

[t]he most typically popular sports [such as football etc] combine all the features which repel the dominant class: not only the social composition of their public,...but also the values and virtues demanded, strength, endurance violence, sacrifice, docility and submission to collective discipline – so contrary to bourgeois ‘role distance and the exaltation of competition’ (Bourdieu, 1986, p.214)
Some have argued that, on the whole - and despite public perception to the contrary - football does not operate solely along the lines of capitalism and big business: ‘football is neither big business nor good business; it arguably isnt even business at all’ (Kuper and Szymanski,

2009, p.108). In so far as football (or at least the support of football) operates according to its own ‘field specific rules (Bourdieu, 1986) it may embody progressive, counter-hegemonic

valuesxiii. Therefore, whilst embodying some of what might be considered to be the worst aspects ofmasculine culture (such as aggressiveness, competitiveness and sexism) football also represents some of the positive aspects of - predominantly working class - culture (such as loyalty, team spirit, community and solidarity). It is this - a primarily emotional, rather than financial - attachment to the game that is harnessed in football welfare initiatives.
In light of the social and economic problems caused by the banking crisis, and the imputed pathology of many highly successful’ professionals (Babiak and Hare, 2000) it is worth noting that initiatives have not used the stock market, banking - or indeed golf - as a vehicle to engage menxiv. Such spaces might actually be more important arenas for the reproduction of hegemonic masculinities and tend to be even more male dominated and exclusionary than football. Within Global capitalism, hegemonic masculinity is not associated with traditional working class masculinities but with those attributes and values associated with those who control its dominant institutionsxv. Indeed whilst sexism exists at all levels of football, it might be argued that it is particularly concentrated in the higher echelons of the game (Lopez,


Despite, or perhaps because of this, many of these ‘counter-hegemonic aspects have been more readily apparent in womens football, especially given its continued lack of financial support and status. Historically, the popularity of working class womens football in the

1920s -1950s was largely due to its links with philanthropy (Lopez, 1997). Womens involvement in football is not necessarily part of the gentrification of football, nor are they necessarily part of the new consumer fans’ as has often been argued (Pope, 2011). Indeed Pope’s research suggests that women fans may be as rooted in community, solidarity and

place as working class male ‘authentic fans’ are deemed to bexvi.

With this in mind it may be that football represents something essentially human’ and certainly not something intrinsically male’. Although rarely mentioning women in his

global history of the game, Goldblatt argues that ‘footballs cultural ascent and popularity are rooted at the very deepest level in humanitys need and desire to play (2007, p.909). In this sense, football might express an aspect of humanity that is antithetical to, or even a relief from, wider marketised social relations. This can be witnessed in seemingly outdated’ collective sentiments such as belief, belonging and loyalty sentiments which, as we have noted, is not confined to male fans (Pope, 2011). Although these collective sentiments can be

easily appropriated by the market as witnessed by the rise of so called ‘consumer fans’ - resistance is evident, for example, in the phenomenon of fans supporting smaller, more

‘authentic and un-corporatised versions of their teamsxvii.

Yet within the modern (mens) game there has been an increasing - and much noted - distance between the higher echelons of football (in terms of salary and status of players, managers and executives) and football supporters, many of whom cannot afford tickets to watch matches at the top clubs’ (Taylor, 2008, Malcolm, 2000). These supporters are thus seen as doubly disenfranchised: from the material and status benefits of neo-liberal society and from their traditional heartland’ of football. It is predominantly these groups of men who are targeted by initiatives which use football to ‘engage men’ rather than middle class

professional wanderers’ who tend to strike up weakly held allegiances with different teams as they move around the country to progress their career (Tapp and Clowes, 2002).
In this context, it is important to be aware of the specific, often marginalised, social location of men who may engage with football initiatives. In other words, men who are targeted by, or who access, these football initiatives, might be considered fellow sufferers of the conditions which we analyse and critique (Arendt, 1998). In this sense we need to avoid an

over-socialised’ view of gender and masculinity (Jefferson, 2002) and bear in mind the particular consequences of using football - both on hegemonic masculine cultures and on the diverse lived experience of men (and women) with their own unique biographical (gendered) histories and shared existential struggles. For example, Flood acknowledges that domestic violence projects which utilise football might:
[S]imultaneously shift sporting culture as it shifts the attitudes of men in rupturing the association between masculinity and violence...enough to make a difference to mens attitudes and behaviours...If mens perceptions of collective masculine norms can be shifted, then individual men may shift as well’ (Flood,

2002b, p.28).

Whilst football is still predominantly a conservative force in contemporary gender relations on a general level, it is also a contested terrain in which gender is constructed in complex and often contradictory ways on a local level (Messner, 2007; Robertson, 2003). This can be harnessed in football initiatives. For example, Robertson (2003) describes how some men

were able to strategically deploy, comply with or resist masculine expectations through sport- based public health interventions. In this way, they were arenas in which masculinities can become unstable(ibid, p.711). He concludes that the emphasis on participation, supportiveness and relationships in football initiatives may actually provide a useful model for health promotion work.

Whilst football may be a primary site for the reproduction of heterosexual masculinity, there is also an often noted powerful homoerotic undercurrent (Pronger, 1990). In addition, whilst

talk sport’ shows are part of the corporatisation of sport and ultimately reinforce masculine hegemony, they can also call it into question, for example, by providing an opportunity for men to discuss and even raise their awareness of gender and sexual issues that they might not otherwise have (Nylund, 2004, p.144). This relates to the possibility of closeness and bonding that is possible through team-based sports like football.
Rather than seeing football initiatives to engage men as necessarily and inevitably re- producing oppressive gender relations, it is possible for them to act as a forum which consciously challenges masculine hegemony. This is possible because such initiatives can consciously develop counter cultural spaces, which do not merely reflect and reproduce dominant sports cultures, but actually build in reflection and contestation. In this way, it may be possible to turn the contradictions, complexities and ambiguities within football (and gender) into important topics for discussion and intervention. This is where the notion of

paradoxical space’ is important (Rose, 1993; Spandler, 2009). We contend that football welfare initiatives have potential to act as paradoxical spaces’ whereby these wider social dynamics are made explicit and reflected upon. In order to be transformative, participants within paradoxical spaces’ need to be consciously aware of, and actively address, questions of gender, difference and diversity.
This possibility has been recognised in recent critical studies of sport: because sport is a key site for the reproduction of gendered relations it is also a key potential site for its contestation’ (Messner, 2007, p.109). To come full circle, then, this is one of the reasons why confronting these issues within sport where they tend to be played out - might actually be beneficial (McKay et al 2000). If there are internal contradictions’ in hegemonic masculinity (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005, p.852) and ‘cracks and fissures’ in the matrix of gender domination in sport (Messner, 2007, p.5), it may be possible for football initiatives

to expose these contradictions and reflect on them - in helpful, rather than harmful, ways. In particular, given the emphasis that critics have placed on the role of sports talk’ in reproducing gender inequality, it is important that such initiatives employ different ways of talking about, and practicing, gender as well as sport.

If sport both represents and re-produces social relations, it is possible that football initiatives could represent and produce different gender relations. If men and boys are active agents in constructing dominant norms of masculinity, then presumably they can be actively deconstructed. If football is a way of doing gender then can football interventions help to

undo gender (Butler, 2004; Risman, 2009). If undoing gender is about people not conforming to gendered scripts based on binary sexed distinctions, then womens participation in football (and indeed their potential involvement in football interventions themselves) might help to achieve this to move towards a postgender society (Risman,

2009, p.84).

It is interesting to note that, despite being aimed at men, a minority of women are often referred (or self-refer) to football initiatives (e.g. Smith and Pringle, 2010). It is conceivable that this situation could actually be developed and harnessed to mirror the changes happening in football and potentially prefigure future possibilities (e.g. greater equality and participation of women in football at all levels of the game). The fact that women are also accessing these initiatives - and appear to benefit from them (Spandler et al., 2012) - begins to undermine the assumed and essentialised links between men, masculinity and sport. In turn, this might potentially undermine football as an exclusionary site. Indeed some have tentatively suggested that girls and women may actually benefit more from sports-based interventions precisely because of its inherent challenge to gendered expectations (Gatz et al., 2002). The idea that women may also benefit from these initiatives potentially lifts football out of its gendered enclave and enables it to more fully embrace its potential as a medium for improving the health and welfare of individuals and society.

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