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Stirling academic explores Scottishness in the Tartan Army

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Many Scotland football supporters have surprisingly positive attitudes towards British identity, but are generally negative towards religion and Irishness, according to new research into Scottishness within Scotland’s Tartan Army of football fans.

The research has been carried out by Dr Joseph Bradley, a senior lecturer in the School of Sport at the University of Stirling, Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence, who interviewed various groups of the Tartan Army to explore Scottish identity and attitudes.

Focusing on three characteristics: religion, Britishness and Irishness in football and society, his findings have been published in the internationally-rated Sport and Society journal in a special issue, Sport: race, ethnicity and identity: building global understanding.

Dr Bradley said: “A number of submissions to the debate about proposed new football laws reveal some people fear these might be construed as an attack on their identities, creating a strait-jacket comprising One Scotland, One Culture, instead of One Scotland, Many Cultures.

“In that light this research is especially critical because it partly reflects and informs us about a ‘One Scotland of Many Cultures’, demonstrating some of the political, social, cultural, religious and ideological diversity that exists, raising questions over how as a society we handle this reality.

“It shows that like other national and cultural identities, Scottishness has been, and is continually being, constructed partly in relation and opposition to several other historically important identities in Scotland.

“Crucially, the dominant conception of Scottishness in the Scottish football environment and beyond reveals and obscures historical discords, social strains and relations based on notions of power.”

A brief summary of Dr Bradley’s findings are:

The research findings re-affirm some of the author’s previous work this time in qualitative terms resulting from a series of focus groups. The project, conducted amongst approximately 100 fans across the country, reveals not only that the Tartan Army is a largely secular community of fans, but that they are generally averse towards religion per se and any mention of faith or religious identities in the international football environment. In general the Tartan Army believes that the absence of religion in their midst is a factor which unifies them: an absence which many would like to see within society more generally.

Somewhat surprisingly, there are more positive attitudes and feelings towards British identity to be found amongst the Tartan Army than might be commonly assumed. For almost all in the Tartan Army, Scottish identity is prioritised but for many, Britishness also offers an important aspect of who they are. The interviews also reflect a stronger British identity amongst fans of some clubs in Scotland as opposed to others: a reality manifest in the vocal, symbolic and visual cultures of various football clubs in Scotland.

Irish ethnicity in Scotland is antagonistically considered by the Tartan Army. This is a largely homogeneous attitude and identity and can be found not only at an international level, but also amongst the supporters of many club sides and in the Scottish football environment generally.

Background information

Reference: Joseph M. Bradley (2011): In-groups, out-groups and contested identities in Scottish international football, Sport in Society.

Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence
The University of Stirling is Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence and is home to an unrivalled selection of world-class sports facilities, with national centres in a number of sports and one of the longest running International Sports Scholarship Programmes in the UK. We bring together a critical mass of knowledge, sports agencies, governing bodies and leading academic researchers on our scenic campus, all characterised by excellence.

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