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A culture of class divisions within stadiums

Masayuki Ishii
Associate Professor of the Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

The kicker sets the ball and an announcement calls for silence throughout the stadium. The stands grow quiet. The kicker takes a slow running start and kicks the ball, which traces a graceful arc and clears the goal bar. The stands explode with applause. Just like a golf putt or a save in tennis at Wimbledon, a rugby penalty kick is performed in silence.

The town of Leicester is located in central England, slightly more than one hour from London by train. I lived in Leicester for one year. Although the population of the town is less than 300 thousand, Leicester possesses both a professional soccer team and rugby team. The soccer club is named Leicester City and is currently competing in the championship of the Premier League's lower division. Recently, the team has been a hot topic in Japan because of Yuki Abe from the Urawa Reds being traded to Leicester City. The name of rugby club is Leicester Tigers. The club is so strong that it is also known as the "Manchester United of the rugby world". The team possesses star athletes from various countries and won the Premiership Rugby last season. Both of the clubs own their own stadium just a short distance from each other.

Soccer field after the end of a match. A large number of security personnel surround the pitch.

I am a big soccer fan, so I purchased Leicester City season tickets and went to the home games. However, sometimes I also went to watch rugby. I am used to the mood of a soccer stadium, so the atmosphere of the rugby stadium gave me a bit of culture shock. Let's compare the two stadiums.

The stands at the soccer stadium are empty until immediately before the start of the match. Even 10 minutes before the start, the number of empty seats still stands out. Then, about 5 minutes from the start of the match, crowds of people enter from the numerous gates surrounding the stadium and the stands are filled in the blink of an eye. I had thought that this was customary behavior in England when viewing a sporting event. However, in the case of rugby, almost all spectators are in their seats 10 minutes before the match begins. Even more surprising is that fans of the home team and the away team are mixed together when cheering. There are many families and couples in attendance, and some people can be seen chatting while they watch the game. The atmosphere is one of people who have come to have a good time.

In the case of soccer, fans of the away team sit grouped together in one section of the stands. Sometimes, the away fans are taunted by the home fans, and the away fans respond by shouting back in unison. Several rows of empty seats are kept on each side of the away fans, and security personnel take position in this gap to keep public order. Although it is said that female fans have increased in recent years, the stands at soccer stadiums are still overwhelmingly male. Just when it seems that these male fans are all staring at the pitch with a sour look on their faces, they deliberately begin to chant in a chorus of deep voices. Their voices echo throughout the stadium and seem to rumble the very ground. There are a variety of different soccer chants. Some chants are songs praising the home team, while others are chants disparaging the away team. If the referee makes a call which is detrimental to the home team, the stands are immediately filled with an angry roar and a chorus begins of chants that mock the referee. Even in the case of a penalty kick like the one introduced at the beginning of this article, a soccer stadium is filled with thunderous booing when a player on the opposing team is kicking.

Poster displayed at a soccer stadium. Alcohol is prohibited in the stands.

The difference in these two sports arises from the difference in the class of supporters. For a long period, soccer was mainly a pleasure of the working class. Conversely, rugby is from the culture of the middle class, together with tennis and golf. Since the founding of the Premier League, it is said that rising ticket prices have caused soccer to become more of a middle class sport. Currently, there is not a particularly dangerous atmosphere in most soccer stadiums. On the other hand, perhaps because of the sport going professional, people can now be seeing insulting referees and chanting (although, such chants consist of only the name of the home team) at ruby stadiums. The difference in behavior of spectators has become an announcement of class culture which is no longer certain to match the social relationships existing outside of the stadium, or a kind of ceremony which exists only in the stadium.

However, at the very least, there is a major difference in the way in which spectators are viewed at the two stadiums from the perspective of maintaining public order. Since an accident in 1989 when soccer spectators were crushed to death, laws have been enacted which specify that all spectators must have seating (reserved seating). However, in the case of rugby, there is still a front row terrace where spectators can stand and watch the game. Although alcohol is prohibited in the stands in the case of soccer, rugby spectators can drink while they watch the game. After the conclusion of a soccer game, large numbers of security personnel emerge and surround the pitch in order to prevent entrance by spectators. There are large numbers of policemen positioned outside of the stadium, and there are often cases in which policemen patrol by horseback. However, there are few security personnel and police in the case of rugby. Fundamentally, public order at ruby stadiums is entrusted to the middle class principle of self restraint. Conversely, soccer stadiums are positioned as places which contain potential danger and which must be thoroughly supervised.

Masayuki Ishii
Associate Professor of Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

Graduated from the Waseda University School of Education with a major in physical education. Completed a course in European cultural and regional environmental theory at the Kyoto University Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies. Assumed his current position after serving as Instructor at Hiroshima Prefectural University. Area of expertise is sports history. His major writings include "English Social History as Seen through Rugby", published in Quarterly Ethnic Studies Magazine (edited by the National Museum of Ethnology), and "Orientalism of the Field" published in Sports Magazine (Minerva Publishing).