An ethnography of English football fans

Cans, cops and carnivals

By Geoff Pearson

An ethnography of English football fans


  • Paperback
  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-8721-9
  • Pages: 224
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £80.00
  • Published Date: July 2012
  • BIC Category: Society & social sciences / Physical anthropology, Sociology, Social & cultural anthropology, Anthropology, SPORTS & RECREATION / Soccer, HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / Cultural, Lifestyle, sport & leisure / Football (Soccer, Association football)
  • Series: New Ethnographies


This book is an ethnographic account of English football fans, based upon sixteen years' of participant observation. The author identifies a distinct sub-culture of supporter - the 'carnival fan' - who dominated the travelling support of the three teams observed - Manchester United, Blackpool and the England National Team. This accessible account follows these groups home and abroad, describing their interpretations, motivations and behaviour and challenging a number of the myths about 'hooliganism' and crowd control.

The text will be of value to anyone studying, researching or interested in ethnographic modes of enquiry or the behaviour of football fans. In particular it will be of value to anyone involved in the academic disciplines of policing, criminal justice, sociology, criminology, sports studies and research methods. It also makes recommendations for the management of football crowds that will be of use to practitioners involved in policing, crowd control and event management.


"...Pearson has provided us with a much needed fresh perspective on football fan research. It should become a leading text in the field. There are three excellent participation observation studies presented here, all conducted by the author, from a period of fifteen years of fieldwork."

"The book is outstanding."

"It is a subtle, engaging account of the interaction of fans who sometimes become involved in what the media call 'football hooliganism'..."

"... we should be eternally grateful that Geoff Pearson did the hard yards and embedded himself within these fan groups for so long and produced such an accessible, thoughtful and innovative book."

Geoff Pearson's recently published 'Cans, Cops and Carnivals' is an academic study that deserves to become the definitive work on modern English football fan culture. In-depth 'participant observation' over a sixteen year period, the book challenges so-called common-sense notions of hooliganism and the crowd control responses in an effective and thought-provoking way.

Pearson has invested sixteen years of research at various sites and from different positions in order to come up with a fascinating, readable yet also thoroughly academic - in the best sense of the word! - account of English football fans.

There is more to be said about this book which is certain to become a classic within a short time. It is a hope as well that many will follow the footsteps of the author and really do immerse themselves and produce such thick and illuminating ethnographic accounts. For the time being, sport sociologists, ethnographers, social scientists with an interest in either football or the issue of fandom, but also football fans, local authorities and even policy makers are recommended to go and get this excellent book.

An ethnography of English football fans is an extremely thorough ethnography of football fans, describing their motivations and behaviour. It will be of great importance to anyone interested in the behaviour of football fans and in management of football crowds.


Geoff Pearson is Lecturer in Law at the University of Liverpool's Management School


1. Introduction
2. Ethnography: theory, method and practice
3. The football carnival
4. Identity and expression
5. Fans or hooligans?
6. Authority and social control
7. Alcohol and the effectiveness of alcohol controls
8. Attitudes to gender, sexuality, race and disability
9. The impact of technology
10. Conclusions

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