Being a fan of a football club is the lifeblood of our (and many of our students’) love for the game. We connect with certain values, players, and eventful histories in a way that feels unique to us, and that makes us feel connected to other supporters of “our club”. But this has also a downside: it inevitably leads to the creation of a distorted image of “them”, the supporters of our rival club or simply of the club that we are playing against, as our rivals or enemies. In one word, we connect them to “the other”, and direct our energies against them.
This can, and often does, lead to instances of racism and discrimination in the stadium, where “the others” become target of harmful football chants. In our recent ready-to-use learning activity on “Changing the Chants”, we invite our students to explore what does it mean to be “the other” by reflecting on what does it mean to be a fan, how this shapes one’s own identity, and analysing the stories of Romelo Lukaku and Ahmad Mendes Moreira, two of many examples of players who recently spoke out against racist and harmful football chants.
In this article:
FC Bayern Munich Fans on Fire with Bengalos (Photo: Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash).
Examining abstract concepts with concrete examples
This activity is designed to help students in their last years of secondary school (16-18) engage with concepts, such as discrimination, racism, and otherness, that they have encountered in the classroom in a concrete way, ultimately bringing them closer to their interests and their experiences. By means of self-reflection and group work, and looking at the experiences of renowned players, they will be able to discuss cultural diversity, otherness, and empathy. Ultimately, they will be able to think of how to turn harmful incidents and mechanisms of othering into an opportunity to promote inclusion.
Teachers can use this activity with students in classrooms that are lacking diversity, to help them reflect on their own biases and on how mechanisms of othering are often unconscious: “in-groups” and “out-groups” are created and re-negotiated everytime we find ourselves connecting with others around a specific theme, passion or, in this case, football team.
Adaptive use in class
As is the case with many of the activities developed within this project, this activity is also quite versatile and can be adapted to the local context in which it is used: all the handouts are openly accessible and can be changed if needed, and the questions asked can, for the most part, be used with new examples. Lennard, the author of the activity, has decided to use the examples of Lukaku and Moreira for two main reasons, which we believe are the prerequisites for any new examples chosen to better connect with students and their experiences:
- Their experience resonated with him: he knew of the players and had heard about the cases mentioned in the activity. It might happen that students have difficulties to connect with Lukaku or Moreira, especially considering that the fame and fortune of players is often short-lived. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of players who had to endure racist or discriminatory chants, and it might be easier for students to connect to them. An experienced teacher might ask students to research examples themselves, and bring them to the table.
- The English language articles on their experiences use a simple language that can be easily approached also by non-native speakers. Of course, it would be possible and, why not, advisable for teachers to find articles in the local language as well, to make sure that all students have the vocabulary and ability to connect to the topic.
What do students ultimately learn?
In short, we invite all teachers who want their students to:
- become more aware of the concepts of otherness and othering mechanisms
- reflect on their own biases
- analyse the historical context behind current events or behaviors
- learn how to write convincing documents and present their content in a clear and concise manner.
A supporter shouting words of encouragement during a free kick (Photo: Victoria Primak on Unsplash).
Romelu Lukaku after scoring in 12 June 2021 (Photo: Антон Зайцев, Wikimedia Commons).
Get the resource
You can find the Learning Activity “Changing the Chants’ ‘ on Historiana. If you are fascinated by activities that ask students to reflect on how to promote a change of behavior and develop empathy by creating codes of conduct and shared rules, check you also the activity “Football and Hooliganism” developed by teacher Ute Ackermann Boeros (you can find more information about it here).
If you would like to know more about football chants and the approaches that football clubs can use to educate fans on antisemitic behaviour in the football stands, check out the project Changing the Chants, which sees involved, among others, our Football Makes History partner Anne Frank House.
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