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Academic appeals for volunteers to help football research

Dr Borja Garcia

A Loughborough University lecturer has appealed for volunteers to help in his research to find out what supporters think about football’s rulers and whether they feel ignored and sidelined by the game’s managing structures.

Dr Borja García, from the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, wants about 35 supporters from clubs all over the country to keep audio/visual diaries this year.

He already has about 16 volunteers but many are from Premier League clubs, and he needs more the Championship and lower leagues, including Leicester City, to create a more balanced sample.

About 20 will be asked to keep the diaries of their football experiences for two months, starting in March, and when he has analysed the findings and learnt lessons from them he will ask another 15 to do the same from September onwards.

The supporters will be provided with a smartphone app, designed by a Leicester-based company called CrowdLab, which will allow them to take pictures, record their thoughts on football and how it is governed, and answer a series of questions. Anyone without a smartphone will be provided with suitable alternative equipment to complete the tasks.

Dr Garcia and his research associate, Dr Jo Welford, will then interview the 35 volunteers, and he also intends to run an online poll, which will appear on the websites of national and local media, supporters’ organisations and other football organisations.

Dr Garcia’s research is part of an international project exploring attitudes and opinions of football fans to the governing bodies, from a club board to the FA, UEFA and FIFA.

Called FREE (Football Research in an Enlarged Europe), the project is funded by the European Commission’s Framework Programme for Research. It is a three year, £2.7m collaborative venture involving nine universities from eight countries. Loughborough will receive £280,000.

The idea for the study comes from the widespread sense in the media and the football community that fans are being left behind by a modern game which has seen the emergence of mega-rich owners, high ticket prices and even teams being relocated.

Originally from Spain, Dr Garcia supports Real Madrid but has been a Nottingham Forest season ticket holder for the last two years.

He said: “Sport, and football in particular, is an important part of our European identity. By understanding how supporters engage with existing governance structures, and what they think of them, we hope to develop a picture of the changing face of football in Europe.

“We want to research what football, one of the widest forms of popular culture, means to people. We are not talking about the rich owners, or the FA. We are talking about the people, supporters who are also players and referees.

“We want to empower our volunteers. They are going to tell the story. We will give them the tools to reflect on their football experiences.

“They will tell us what is important in football to them, what sort of traditions they want to keep, whether they are happy with the modern evolution of football, and whether they feel they are being listened to and can make a difference.

“We start from the point of view that we believe the involvement of the supporters is positive for football clubs.”

Dr Garcia believes football has improved over the years, is more comfortable and safer for fans, and a better spectacle. But he thinks English and Spanish football could learn lessons from Norway or Germany where there is more of a ‘human touch’.

He hopes the research findings will be taken on board by the governing bodies and make a difference to the ordinary fans.

He said: “We believe fan involvement is paramount for the future of European football. Supporters should be an asset for their clubs and they deserve to be listened to. We will do our best to make a difference with this research. There are enough examples already to show that listening to fans is worthwhile.

“The FREE project is no ivory tower research, and we hope that our findings inform current efforts by governments and governing bodies to improve football governance. We will not only do academic publications, but also policy papers to present our findings to the FA and other governing bodies.

“It is extremely important that football does not alienate its best asset, the supporters.”

Anyone interested in getting involved should click here.