Time to give football hipsters a kicking

Beneath the hipster’s arcane knowledge of world football, there lurks a sneering contempt for the replica-shirted masses.

Duleep Allirajah

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Are you a football hipster? Or an anti-hipster? Or perhaps a post-hipster? Do you even know what a football hipster is? Or are you so über-cool that, as soon as arriviste hipsters crashed the party, you declared hipsterism to be passé. The first rule of Hipster Club is that there is no such thing as Hipster Club. Admittedly, I’m late to the hipster party but, at the risk of derision/approval* (*delete as appropriate), I’m here to stick the boot in.

The rise and fall of the football hipster is a phenomenon largely confined to the blogosphere. Hipsterism has never troubled mainstream football punditry. Alan Green and Robbie Savage have never debated its merits on 606. Hipsterism is never discussed on Sky Sports or Match of the Day. Colin Murray and Alan Shearer have never teased Pat Nevin, poster boy of hipsterism, over his nerdy fixation with football tactics. The hipsterism debate took place only at the margins of football. The term was invented, debated and ultimately desecrated online.

So, who or what is a football hipster? Like that other mythical creature, the ‘plastic fan‘, few people will admit to being hipsters. The football hipster is certainly a new breed of supporter but, unlike the Fast Show’s Roger Nouveau character, he is not an ignoramus. Rather, he is an aficionado with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the game. Essentially, a football hipster is an obsessive supporter who eschews mainstream fandom. Like his countercultural cousin, the indie kid, the hipster digs alt.football. He hates all things popular, just as the indie kid despised chart music. You might have come across such a football hipster on Twitter. He’s the one live-tweeting updates from Egyptian second-division matches while everyone else is watching Question Time.

It’s not exactly clear who coined the phrase ‘football hipster’. Over the last year, a series of online articles and blogs started to discuss this new breed of fan. One website published a helpful guide, 25 Steps To Becoming A Football Hipster, which lists the classic symptoms. Hipsters adore Guardian podcaster James Richardson, recite chapter and verse from Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid, study the football tactics blog Zonal Marking and despise the philistinism of English football. The article is a gentle parody but one clearly written by someone ‘in the know’, probably a ‘post-hipster’ or even a hipster in denial.

Which teams do hipsters support? Suffice to say it’s not Chelsea or Manchester United. Supporting a big team is definitely uncool.A seminal article, ‘The unwelcome rise of the football hipster’, highlighted the fashionable predilection for supporting less celebrated clubs. ‘Napoli, Atletico Bilbao and Borussia Dortmund are apparently the current hipster teams of choice, but expect those hipsters to jump ship if Napoli progress even further in the Champions League next year…If they win the thing, they will have “sold out” – like Kings of Leon, their ascent to Europe’s biggest theatres will mean that this assumed affinity will be too commonly shared to survive in the fad-driven hipster micro-climate.’

Hipsters possess an esoteric knowledge of football’s backwaters. They evidently watch obscene amounts of televised football. They watch so much that one suspects they can’t possibly have time for girlfriends or proper jobs. However, while there is saturation TV coverage of the game these days, the hipster is appalled by mainstream sports broadcasting. As one anthropological study of hipsterism on the Football365 website put it: ‘BBC1 and ITV1’s offerings are such a slurry of milky middle-of-the-road rusk puke that no-one worth their hipster credentials would sully their eyes with them except to exercise their withering vitriol and confirm their own superiority. The hipster will, however, watch ITV4 for the Bundesliga highlights and for the Europa Cup game that no-one else cares about. Anderlecht v Trabzonspor you say? Now that’s a game.’

No sooner had hipsterism been ‘outed’, than the backlash began. Those who defined hipsterism were usually the ones sticking the knife in. ‘[T]hese hipsters are the type who ruined your favourite band for you by sneering at you for coming in at the second album stage but get out themselves before the third’s arena tours’, wrote Mark Booth scathingly in ‘The unwelcome rise of the football hipster’. The ‘football hipster’ was, in its very incarnation, a term of abuse.

In his definitive 1957 essay The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipsters, Norman Mailer described the appropriation of black jazz culture by disaffected white bohemians ‘who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man’s code to fit their facts’. The football hipster is similarly disenchanted with the commercialisation and overblown hype of the English Premier League. He craves the authenticity of favela football. He is someone who, paradoxically, loves the ‘people’s game’ but loathes the people. He is attracted by their passion but repelled by their tactical philistinism and boorish behaviour.

The more I read the critiques of hipsterism, the more it strikes me that the hipster-bashers have much more in common with the hipsters than they’d care to admit. There are, it would appear, fifty shades of hipsterism. They all voice the same disaffected lament that modern football has sold its soul to commercialism. They are all uncomfortable rubbing shoulders with beer-swilling proles who continue to sing ‘No Surrender to the IRA’ at England games. What the critics of hipsterism take issue with is the hipster’s flightiness and perverse obscurantism. The hipster-bashers are still in thrall to Barça’s tiki taka, whereas the hipsters now champion a more obscure tactical philosophy.

Ultimately, whether or not the football hipster is dead is an academic point. The archetypal hipster was always something of a caricature. However, the hipsterish contempt for the coarse manners of the replica-shirted masses and the brash commercialism of mainstream football is very much alive. And it deserves a good kicking.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter @DuleepOffside.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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