The Geography of Fandom: The Three Levels of a Football Clubs Support

 

In an attempt to locate the boundary between the supporters of Southampton and Portsmouth (all evidence does point to Park Gate/Locks Heath) I carried out a small-scale survey which involved a total of 161 self-identified supporters of either club (87 Southampton supporters and 74 Portsmouth supporters). Using an online questionnaire I asked people which club they supported and the first half of their postcode. Despite some contraversy about Gosport and Emsworth this showed some interesting things about both sets of supporters and their geographic distribution

Supporter geography stacked bar

For both teams, a significant number of supporters resided within the city boundaries. In the case of Southampton this was 23.0% and Pompey 33.8%

A great deal of supporters also appeared to live in a relatively concentrated area. Taking the top four postcodes for each club reveals the extent of this. In Southampton this was SO18, SO16, SO19 and SO31 (all but one of which are within the city boundary) which were collectively home to 23.0% of Saints supporters. For Pompey the concentration was even higher with 27% of supporters calling PO2, PO4, PO3, or PO6 (all within the city boundary) home.

Looking at the areas surrounding each city 24.1% of Southampton supporters live in the SO postcode area and Isle of Wight while 25.7% of Portsmouth supporters came from the PO area outside the city. It needs to be considered however, that this area is geographically much larger and contains more postcode areas. In fact if we look at the density of supporters per postcode area within the city boundary and outside it there is a dramatic drop. If we treat the Isle of Wight separately there were in the survey are 4.2 responding Portsmouth supporters per postcode area within Portsmouth, however for the wider PO area outside the city (excluding the IOW) this drops to 1.0. Similarly for Southampton the figures are 3.3 and 0.9 respectively

amrnded postcode average

Looking further afield 52.9% of Southampton supporters reside completely outside the combined SO postcode area and the Isle of Wight. The figure for Portsmouth supporters beyond the realms of the PO boundary is a much lower 40.5%. In this category are both supporters from areas such as Guildford, Reading and the New Forest, but many also come from much further afield, as far as Singapore.

What all this tells us is that support for Portsmouth is much more localised – 59.5% of the support-base resides in Portsmouth, or the surrounding area, whilst this is 47.1% for Southampton. This is probably to be expected from a team in League Two as compared to a team in the higher profile Premier League and no doubt looking at teams such as Arsenal, Chelsea, or Manchester United we would see a much greater proportion of supporters from outside their geographic areas, while for Eastleigh and Havant & Waterlooville support is even more likely to be concentrated in a small geographic area.

This all led me to create my general theory of clubs support:

Essentially a club has three layers of support, support within the city (or in the case of other teams the town, or village), support from the surrounding area and support from outside the area.

Within the city

Within the city boundaries can be found areas of concentrated support. In many of these areas there will be visual reminders of the club such as, memorabilia in pubs and cafes, or murals in club colours. In the immediate area is the City, which in almost all cases gives the club its name. The club is close and features in peoples conceptions of identity. There are also however, some areas  within the city of very low support density – such as areas with a high number of students.

The surrounding area

Although a club can expect a similar proportion of its supporters to be from the area’s immediately around the city as from within the city boundary the level of support is considerably less concentrated.  There is less importance to identity, though there may be an importance in terms of those who previously lived in the city, or who work there. People in these areas may also be more likely to choose to support local non-league clubs, or to support a big club such as Arsenal, Liverpool, or Manchester United.

Outside the area

These are those who support the club, but who live outside the city and the surrounding area: The bigger the club, the higher the proportion of supporters from outside their area. Supporters may have old ties to the city having lived there, studied there, or worked there, or have a relative who fits into one of those categories. Similarly they may also hold an attachment to the club based on some kind of affection for an aspect of the side, or the way they play.

graphic support
A diagram to show the three spheres of a clubs support-base

 

I once read Wendy Fonarow’s (1995) ‘The Spatial Organization of the Indie Music Gig’ which looked at the make-up on an indie gig in terms of the mosh-pit, the middle and the back. In this all three groups felt a closeness for different reasons – those at the front, in the mosh-pit interacted with the music physically, those in the middle claimed to have the best acoustics and those at the back because they were the friends, families, roadies and sound-techs. In a sense people in all three areas can feel closeness to the club. Those in the city feel it is a core part of their identity; those outside the city feel that they are making a conscious choice to stay in contact with the city, choosing to support the local club despite having arguably greater freedom to wander. Those far away choose to support the club, either to feel a connection to the city, or else have demonstrated their support by choosing the club out of a whole plethora of other clubs they could have supported.

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