Shared 'suffering' by fans of the worst Premier League teams creates 'strong social glue', study finds
Shared “suffering” among fans of the worst Premier League teams creates “strong social glue” that brings them together more than high-flying clubs, a new study suggests.
The research, carried out by the University of Kent and University of Oxford, found that supporters of the most “long-suffering” clubs were more likely to be bonded to one another and consider each other like family.
These fans were also significantly more likely to give their lives for their fellow fan, compared to those who support the most-successful clubs.
Researchers used statistics from 2003-2013 to identify the five most consistently successful and five least successful clubs in the Premier League.
The least successful were; Crystal Palace, Hull City, West Bromwich Albion, Norwich City, and Sunderland, and Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City were the most successful.
An online questionnaire was carried out by 752 fans in which they were asked which club they supported, their age, how long they had supported the team and who they first shared their “passion” for their club with.
Participants were also asked to rate their “psychological kinship” to their fellow fans and to contemplate the scenario of “sacrificing their own life to save the lives of five fellow club members imperilled on tracks with a trolley hurtling toward them”.
The results, published in the journal Managing Sport & Leisure, found: “Fans of the most long-suffering clubs were the most bonded and considered their peers to be more like kin than did fans of consistently successful clubs.”
Researchers found Manchester City fans, which had only had recent success compared to the other successful clubs at the time of the survey, appeared to bond to one another more like fans of the less successful clubs.
Hull City fans reported 92 per cent of their friendships were tied to their passion for football, whereas the club with the fewest social ties was Chelsea (62 per cent).
Fans of unsuccessful clubs were also more likely to endorse self-sacrifice compared to fans of successful teams. Crystal Palace fans were most likely to give their lives for a fellow supporter (34.5 per cent) and Arsenal’s were least likely (9.4 per cent).
Manchester City fans again behaved like the least successful fans with 30.4 per cent reporting they would sacrifice themselves.
Researchers said social bonding is “significantly higher” in fans of consistently failing clubs because they have experienced more dissatisfaction as supporters of a club which has been relegated or lost multiple matches.
Memories of past defeats was a key part of the fans’ self-identification and “fused” them to the club, they said.
Professor Harvey Whitehouse, the senior author on the paper and Director of Oxford’s Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion, said: “This is the latest in a string of studies we have conducted showing that shared suffering can produce incredibly strong social glue – a finding that is not only relevant to sports fans but to all of us as we emerge from a year of lockdowns and personal losses.
“A key question is whether the bonds forged through collective ordeals can be put to practical use by enabling us to pull together more effectively in the future.”