What does identity have to do with football?

Nov 22, 2020

EDU Resources

Exploring identity through football and history

The concept of personal identity is very broad, embodying various aspects of one’s life and unique characteristics that “define you as a person”, distinguishing you from the others. Football affiliations can play a big role in it, both on the level of personal identity and a commonly held fan memory. Through this activity, Denver Charles helps us learn about the link between identity and sport, the role history plays in fan and club identity while also discussing the positives and negatives of linking personal identity to football.

In this article:


Irish FA / Press Eye

Irish FA / Press Eye.

Identifying with football or through football?

This learning activity allows students to explore the question of identity and its historical links by investigating examples from different countries and football teams. By looking closely at the case of Northern Ireland, students will learn about the problems of framing identity through football, as well as the solutions brought forward by the Football Association and the fan base to solve the ‘identity crisis’.

Developer Denver Charles about the activity:

When I started considering a lesson for this project, I wanted to pick something other teachers could add to and adapt to their own setting.  I started with the biggest and most open ended question, “What has identity got to do with football?”  The lesson allows students to look at their own personal identity and then consider how defining moments in history can have a huge impact on how football clubs generate a fan narrative and a fan identity.  There are several examples of this provided, such as Rayo Vallecano, Barcelona and Glentoran.    The bigger task involves the students investigating the problematic nature of flags, emblems and identity in the Northern Ireland fan story, so that the students should be able to identify the positives and negatives of using football to frame identity.  Does identity really have anything to do with the team we support?  Should identity have anything to do with the team we support?  What has identity got to do with football?  Isn’t football just a game?  Most of all, I think that this is a fun theme and students can research and investigate their local teams using the same framework.

Identity throughout history

Developed for students aged 14-15, the activity allows students to engage in a fruitful discussion with their peers. By sharing their personal identifiers and talking about the teams that they support, students will be able to answer the broader questions related to historical links of identity. The lesson plan is very versatile, as it can be used in both Citizenship and History classes that deal with identity. Teachers can also adapt it to their own setting by choosing examples from the national context or allowing students to explore the aspects of their favourite football clubs.

Practicing inclusion and understanding

This lesson plan provides examples of historical links to identity from all over Europe, demonstrating the positive and negative aspects of the topic. By exploring the different ways in which historical events are showcased in football fan behaviour, students can learn about the diversity of identities both in a local and broader context.

Get the resource

Access and use the educational resource “What does identity have to do with football?” on Historiana. Find out more about the developer of this activity, Denver Charles, in an interview we did in July 2020.

Article Tags:   fans  |   identity  |   social history  |   teaching

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