Helen-Mary Cawood

Helen-Mary Cawood

Helen-Mary Cawoodis a lecturer and PhD student at the Department of Philosophy, University of the Free State, South Africa. Her interest in Critical Philosophy of Sport is supplemented by her having played various sports at different levels of competition throughout her life, and in her studies her two main interests (Philosophy and football) are able to overlap.


The concept of ‘modern football’ has been broadly defined as the sanitation of football chanting to adhere to politically correct standards, the eradication of the socio-historical identity of clubs and a perceived disregard for fans and their traditions, often manifesting as a commercialisation of club and fan identity. Slogans such as ‘Supporters Not Customers’, ‘For the Love, not the Money’, and ‘No to modern soccer’ have become synonymous with fan protests, especially with regard to the globalisation and subsequent commoditisation of a space which was traditionally seen as home. Using genealogical and critical discourse analysis, I draw upon contemporary theories of cultural memory and its extension into uncritical nostalgia as posited by theorists such as Jan Assman, Jeff Malpas and Svetlana Boym. It is argued that there is an alienation of fans of football clubs caught between traditional-historical identity and a desire for success, resulting in an unreflective space of nostalgia which manifests both as a longing for a different time and a revolt against modern narratives of historicity and progress. This attempt to recapture lost tradition, however, carries the potential risk of enabling a re-emergence of modern ideologies centred around ethnic, religious, national or cultural identities, through a yearning for constructed identity-based bonding. This could and does result in the re-emergence of forms of nationalism, racism, and homophobia amongst certain fan bases. Understanding this sentiment, through the analysis of symbolic discourses within which fan narratives operate, makes salient the sense of yearning for being-at-home, and reveals how new (often hegemonic) traditions take advantage of the sense of collective loss of cohesive identity amongst supporters and their clubs, often for instrumental gain. Deeper reflection upon nostalgia could encourage a critical exploration of tradition by both fans and clubs in addressing the deep disconnect between these parties within ‘modern football’.

Subscribe to stay informed

Our Partners & Sponsors