Mood-Management in the English Premier
Tim Hill, Department of Management & Marketing, Faculty of Business &
Economics, University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 3010.
Atmospheres are powerful forces that tie consumption contexts together (Biehl-
Missal and Saren, 2012). We immediately feel a ‘cozy café’ (Linnet, 2013), a
nightclub where everyone is ‘in sync’ (Goulding et al. 2009), and sports events that
‘buzz’ with an energy, carrying us along in the heat of the moment (Edensor, 2014).
Atmospheres affect our bodies and alter our behaviour, yet, despite this, atmospheres
are often overlooked by our current theories, methods and styles of representing
research (Askegaard & Linnet, 2011; Hill et al., 2014). Addressing this gap is
important as atmospheres problematize conventional understandings of human
intentionality, action and responsibility (Blackman, 2012). In this chapter therefore, I
draw on a set of theoretical sensitivities provided by non-representational theory
(Anderson & Harrison, 2010; Thrift, 2008) to describe how atmospheres have been
experienced and managed within English football cultures.
In doing so I argue that the management of atmosphere has been central to
the radical transformation of English football. In the 1980s, the sport was in
‘recession’ (Taylor, 1984), with dwindling match attendances, episodes of supporter
violence, and events marked by human tragedy. Now, the English Premier League has
emerged as one of the most well-watched, safe, and profitable forms of television
entertainment, having recently sold global broadcasting rights for £5.5bn (Press
Association, 2014). Appropriately, it is no surprise to learn that English football
remains a fertile site for researchers who seek to understand how withering industries
turnaround, and how supporter behaviours can change. Accounting for these
transformations, prior research stress how this has been done through attempts to
broaden the socio-demographic makeup of football supporters (King, 2002); the
introduction of legislation to regulate supporter conduct (Greenfield & Osborn, 2001);
the emergence of risk-management systems (Giulianotti, 2009); and the redesign of
football stadia following the Taylor Report (Bale, 2000).
However, I contend that these descriptions have overlooked how atmospheres
were marked as a problem by the state, football clubs and other governing agencies
within the 1970s and 1980s. This chapter therefore describes the processes through
which atmosphere – a non-representational, tangible and potent force – came to be
known within English football cultures as a ‘real’ force that contributed to the
undesirable conduct of football supporters, even within those supporters that had no
history or intention to cause disorder. In other words, atmosphere became an entity
that threatened social order. Consequently, for football to transform into a profitable
industry, atmospheres had to be managed. I explain how atmospheres were managed
through two processes: the production of new forms of space and the uptake of mood-
management techniques by police. However, the success of this mood-management
programme has had unintended effects. With the English Premier League developing
into a global television spectacle, where passionate crowds are to be expected, a new
crisis has emerged: the problem of an atmosphere-free football.
To start, I show how investigations of atmosphere become prescient within a
non-representational style of conducting research (Hill et al. 2014). However, to get to
this point, some groundwork needs to be done and the following question has to be
answered: what is representation and what are its deficiencies? I argue that non-
representational theory can go some way to solving these problems by introducing
three sensitivities that not only inform the analytical component of this chapter, but
will also show how non-representational theory can make a contribution to consumer
THE ISSUE OF REPRESENTATION
It is easier to understand what non-representational theory is by first describing what
it is not, so let us address the elephant in the room: what is representation? By
discussing the shortcomings of representational modes of research, it will help clarify
what non-representational theory is a response to. Representation refers to a style of
research that builds pictures of the world through certain kinds of data (Latham,
2003). Specifically, this human-centric theorization asks consumers to consciously
reflect and interpret the world they are involved in. Self-reflexive forms of verbal data
elicited from consumers is then often analysed to reveal the “imbricated layers of
cultural meaning that structure consumers action in a given social context”
(Thompson & Troester, 2002: 550).
However, representation comes at a cost. As prisms through which
descriptions of the world are written, these research foci are considered to limit
engagement with other actors, forces and constituents that are active within the world
yet feature outside what is spoken of and represented in language (Canniford, 2012),
and the domains of cultural and symbolic meaning (Thrift, 2008). First, things tend to
be overlooked in our research accounts. Despite the role of objects in stabilizing or
altering consumer practices, these things are curiously absent in our research accounts
(Bettany, 2007). Problematically, humans have a tendency to overstate their own
agency in the world (Latour, 2005; Thrift, 2008). For instance, within consumer
research, objects are seen “as something that ‘groups use’ to construct ‘practices,
identity and meanings – to make collective sense of their environments and to orient
their members’ experiences and lives (Arnould & Thompson, 2005: 869)” (Bettany,
2007: 42). This form of humanism is problematized by research that demonstrates
how human action is mediated by the things and objects that surround us – a point
that chapters in this book can attest – and should not be neglected in our descriptions
of the world.
Second, a representational style of research struggles to come to terms with
human action that is not ‘straightforwardly amenable to conscious reflexivity and
representation’ (Anderson & Harrison 2010: 11). For instance, even if consumers’
actions unfurl without much forethought or intention - actions perhaps triggered by
unreflexive habits, dispositions or urges – research participants are asked to reflect on
their own experiences and behaviours, invited to articulate the reasons that underpin
their action, often drawing on symbolic representations of what objects mean for
them, and how these objects represent their identities (Belk 1988). The risk is that
research can fall into the trap of writing symbolic meaning into practical action where
there is little, overlooking the more tacit and embodied forms of knowledge that
shape action in situ without conscious reflection (Thrift, 2008). Simply, not all action
is a result of awareness or conscious intention; action can takes place before we come
to reflect and represent the world to ourselves and to others. In sum, a
representational style of research encounters problems when trying to provide an
explanation for action that is not amenable to contemplation and reflection, and the
risk is that research may fall back into the habit of reproducing institutionalized
manners of understanding consumer action (Bajde, 2013).
Finally, representation cannot gain much purchase on those
“’unrepresentable’ and unfamiliar” (Firat and Dholakia, 2006: 132) events and forces,
which, when encountered, are strange and foreign. To illustrate, let us draw on the
example of experiencing vertigo for the first time. You encounter an event that your
body does not recognise. The environment is shifting; mugs, pens and books are
unable to sit still. Your breath quickens as you feel off balance, unable to gain a
steady grip. In this event you have encountered a sensation that has no recognisable
quality, you are unable to qualify your experience, or make sense of it. You have
encountered something, but you do not know exactly what that something is. It is an
affect – it has affected you, made an imprint on your body. Yet without any prior
points of reference, this sensation is unable to be, as of yet, classified and represented.
After forty seconds, this sensation stops and the world and its object return to their
rightful place, but for those forty seconds you encountered something foreign to you,
non-representational and affective. It is only after a visit to your Doctor that you
categorise that penetrating sensation as vertigo. However, representational styles of
research are limited when grappling with ‘unrepresentable’ phenomena, for these are
objects that precede cognition and interpretation, are difficult to articulate in
language, yet undoubtedly resonate inside of us and propel action (Dewsbury, 2003).
Quite simply, these forces do things without asking for consent. With these three
deficiencies in mind, the next section demonstrates that non-representational theory
offers some pathways forward from these questions, to enact a style of research that
takes these marginal actors, objects and forces which may otherwise be elided in
representational styles of research, into account.
Associated with the work of British geographer Nigel Thrift (1996, 2005,
2008), non-representational theory (NRT hereon) aims to address the deficiencies of
representation by engaging with the myriad of other non-human things, material
objects and immaterial forces that linger in the background life, yet which remain
under-represented in our accounts. NRT therefore shares common ground with actor-
network theory (Bajde, 2013; Bettany & Daly, 2008; Bettany & Kerrane, 2011) given
that the latter endeavours to demonstrate how the often unnoticed ‘material’ entwines
and interacts with the ‘social’.
Where actor-network theory has often addressed the non-human objects that
affords, generates and sustains human action, displacing the human as the focal object
of analysis, NRT has taken a different tack in the enactment of a non-representational
style of research. Fittingly, NRT focuses on providing accounts of “how life takes
shape and gains expression in shared experiences, everyday routines, fleeting
encounters, embodied movements, precognitive triggers, practical skills, affective
intensities, enduring urges, unexceptional interactions and sensuous dispositions”
(Lorimer, 2005: 84). For NRT, this means dealing with what remains unsaid, those
silent and elusive forces that despite being important, are onerous to grapple with and
gain much purchase on. A productive phrase to capture this orientation is NRT’s
principle of represencing: “attending to that part of the world full of little tangible
presence in that they are not immediately shared and therefore have to re-presenced to
be communicated” (Dewsbury, 2003: 1907). This is an axiom that has been
successful in bringing new ‘actors, forces and entities’ (Anderson & Harrison, 2010:
2) into descriptions of what takes place. To show how this orientation can be put into
practice, I now describe three ‘tenets’ that persist within NRT.
1 - Onflow. NRT is concerned with the ongoing constitution of everyday
life and culture that brings together an arrangement of human and objects, multiple
sensory registers (including smell, proprioception, and kinaesthetic sense), and non-
discursive elements (Lorimer, 2005). It is therefore in line with theoretical
propositions that endeavour to bring to light the constellation of these elements in
which humans remain just a single part of an overall whole (Campbell, O'Driscoll, &
Saren, 2010). The tenet of onflow, a ‘highly detailed rendition of experience from
within’ (Pred, 2005: 1) aims first to describe phenomenological lived experiences –
passions, boredom, moods, desires and ephemeral and evanescent sensations
(Dewsbury, 2003) - before extending outwards to bring the broad arrangement of
other things that constitute consumption into our descriptions, an arrangement that
that is fluid and capable of being changed. In other words, fields of consumption are
not ‘hermetically sealed worlds in which flows can’t take place from one world to
another but as moving processual worlds, worlds whose natures are never static but
are always moving’ (Thrift, Harrison & Anderson, 2010: 187). The notion of onflow
therefore recognises the never-completed and processual movement of bodies, spaces
and objects in the constitution of consumer experiences.
How can researchers go about registering the onflow of things that contribute
to markets and consumer experiences? To bring this arrangement into our accounts
requires methods that allow a variety of actants to express what and how they mediate
in consumption. On top of tracing objects and the networks of relations objects move
through (Bettany & Daly, 2008; Bettany & Kerrane, 2011), other observational lenses
such as introspective methods (Shankar, 2000), videographies (De Valck, Rokka, &
Hietanen, 2009; Kozinets & Belk, 2005), audiencing (Hill et al., 2014) and poetic
techniques of knowledge production and representation (Canniford, 2012; Sherry &
Schouten, 2002) can be valuable devices to highlight how bodies, spaces and objects
move and interact together.
2 - The precognitive. This drive to assemble many different sets of data to
foreground different perspectives on the same phenomenon links to NRT’s
agnosticism towards human intentionality, cognition, attitudes and belief in the
production of action and movement. NRT indicates how part of what our bodies do
and experience are habitual and non-contemplative (Thrift, 1996, 2008). The
implication is that consumption is not always a product of intentional identity work,
but an effect of automatic or ‘pre-constituted’ forms of knowledge – types of action
categorized as habit, reflex, urges, and dispositions. As such, our bodies are primed
for action within consumption contexts prior to conscious awareness, so that we find
ourselves doing things without much thought (Laurier, 2011).
Fortunately, NRT provides us with techniques to investigate precognitive
processes in the onflow of everyday life. Foregrounding forms of automatic
knowledge concerning ‘what bodies […] can do before they get to know what they
are doing’ (Laurier, 2011: 11) requires a change in research style, both in terms of
how we theorize, capture, and ‘represence’ this form of embodied know-how. Thrift
(2000) argues that breaching experiments (Garfinkel, 1967) can help disclose how the
precognitive has been outsourced to the mundane things – the ‘technical unconscious’
(Thrift, 2005) - that surround us. The exploration of the small moments where once
stabilised and familiar practices of everyday life break down reveal to us the
‘unnoticed backgrounds of everyday activities’ (Garfinkel, 1967: 37). These ruptures
expose to us the unspoken and unnoticed backgrounds that accompany and hold
together everyday activities; the material environments of everyday life that script
how we move, how we interact, and how we consume. Attending to these ruptures
reveal to us the contingency of certain consumption assemblages and how they are
held together by non-human things (Canniford & Shankar, 2013).
3 - Affect and atmosphere. Through investigations of the extended,
more-than-human world that guides precognitive life, NRT underlines the centrality
of the non-discursive, difficult to articulate, registers of the body that NRT calls affect
and atmosphere (Anderson & Harrison, 2010; Thrift, 2008). Against theories of
emotion that emphasize reflexive experiences of say, happiness and sadness, NRT
defines affect as registers of embodied experience that may be difficult to interpret,
translatable to language, yet are nonetheless felt (Blackman, 2012), ‘[i]ntensities that
are only imperfectly housed in the proper names we give to emotions’ (Anderson,
2009: 77). For instance, earlier the intensity associated with the onset of vertigo was
used to demonstrate the deficiencies of representation. That is, to show how we can
be affected by something alien to our bodies in a manner that alters, disrupts and
causes changes within you. Atmospheres have been categorised as an example of
such an affective force, in that a force external to the body can disrupt and alter
conduct. These changes occur without conscious reflection on the part of the subject.
For instance, we suddenly feel a tense meeting-room, a ‘cozy’ café (Linnet, 2013), or
these feelings may be more ambiguous.
It is therefore understood that bodies have a porous capacity, where the
affects of others and the affective tone of the environment can result in precognitive
forms of action. It is for this reason that the notion of atmosphere remains seductive
for retailers that want to design space to induce desirable and predictable forms of
collective consumer subjectivity (Biehl-Missal & Saran, 2012; Linnet, 2013). Indeed,
atmospheres appear to be infectious and intoxicating; anxiety can quickly spread
amongst a football crowd towards as supporters pick up on the nervousness of fellow
fans (Hill et al., 2014). Getting ‘caught up’ in the feeling of a situation can orient
action in potentially undesirable manners. If we hold onto the assumption that humans
are the only source of agency in the world, the effects of this peculiarity can produce
what appears to be, on the surface, unpredictable forms of conduct. This undermines
the notion of a stable identity and can leave us asking ‘was that really me?’
However, for atmospheres to be manipulated, atmospheres first have to
become a ‘real’ entity, an affect that exerts a force (Anderson, 2009; see Hacking,
1983). Appropriately, I now show how atmosphere was ‘represenced’ within
governmental inquiries, becoming a phenomenon that pushed undesirable conduct
within football fans in the 1980s. Significantly, this is the moment where it was
discovered that undesirable football fan conduct was not solely an effect of
individuals with bad intentions, but that ‘normal’ individuals could get ‘caught up’ in
an atmosphere conducive to disorderly and undesirable conduct.
THE PROBLEM OF ATMOSPHERE IN FOOTBALL
During the 1980s English football was in crisis: falling match attendances,
fan misbehaviour, and the emergence of well-organised ‘hooligan’ groups across the
country culminated in a moral panic surrounding the game. Summing up the position
of football in England in 1985, the British newspaper The Sunday Times described
football as a ‘slum game played in slum stadiums by slum people’ (Goldblatt 2007:
542). These problems came to a head with a number of football related tragedies in
the late-1980s; the Valley Parade stadium fire, the Heysel disaster, the Birmingham
City and Leeds United ‘riot’, all occurring in 1985, and the Hillsborough stadium
disaster in 1989. Subsequent governmental inquiries sought to unearth what
happened, elicit the reasons why these events unfolded as they did, and provide
recommendations to stop similar events occurring again. The Popplewell Report
(1985) and Taylor Report (1991) were significant, as each inquiry contained vast
strategies for reform that sought to reorganize English football (King, 2002).
These reports will be examined to show how ‘atmosphere’ was represented as
a real force that brought about undesirable supporter behaviour, and therefore needed
to be tackled for the future prosperity of English football. My data is structured as
followed. First, I focus on the governmental inquiries and associated academic
research into football between 1985 and 1991. These knowledge-practices generated
the reality of atmosphere, identifying it as a force that brought about disorderly
conduct, the conduct that was leading football into ‘recession’. Second, I draw on
phenomenological interviews that show the impact of atmosphere on supporters’
subjectivity and conduct. Emerging from an extended-case study into English football
culture, I argue that atmospheres were managed through the production of new forms
of space, and the reconfiguration of police as mood-managers.
The Undesirability of Atmosphere. In the Popplewell and Taylor
reports, football is categorized as a special collective cultural event, external to the
everyday (see Goulding et al. 2009). Football is unique as it “offers an acknowledged
meeting place, a carnival atmosphere and exciting contrast to the drabness of the
workaday week” (Sports Research Council, 1978; quoted in Popplewell, 1986). Due
to this, football matches carry the ‘potential for extreme behaviour’. Extreme
behaviour was not just the result of individuals who had the intention, will or
behavioural disposition to engage in disorderly behaviour, but was a by-product of the
emotional, ‘bawdry’, and carnival-esque atmosphere that travels within football
stadia; an atmosphere that pushes otherwise ‘normal’ and acceptable’ individuals to
act in undesirable, disorderly and unintentional manners (Taylor, 1990: 9). On this
matter, Popplewell writes:
“The feeling of anonymity in the crowds gives rise to a loss of inhibition and
self-discipline. The association with those of a similar disposition, the
enthusiasm and the partisan support for the team, which itself causes an
atmosphere, all create a situation which can readily give rise to violence.”
(Popplewell, 1986: 60)
This anonymity provides individuals with an opportunity to act in ways that they
would normally not, feeding into a potentially dangerous atmosphere, an atmosphere
that can induce disorder. Moods, Popplewell (1986: 34) writes, influence fans
behaviours, arguing that a volatile and febrile mood produces a precarious balancing
act between peacefulness and disorder, whereby one ‘spark’ could trigger scenes of
disorder. This intrigues Popplewell, and he continues to investigate the role of
atmosphere by chronicling his attempts to track down ‘troublemakers’ who have
engaged in crowd disorder. To his surprise, he finds that some of these individuals
have privileged backgrounds, a product of Christian families and had well-paid and
respectful employment. He describes these well-mannered individuals as finding
themselves inadvertently ‘caught up’ in the atmosphere of the crowd, producing
unintentional and unprecedented forms of conduct. This is an important part of the
inquiry as it problematizes the understanding that the problems associated with
football were no longer the result of ‘hooligans’, a well-known ‘type’ of person that
carried the intention to cause violence. On the contrary, Popplewell stresses that even
‘normal’ individuals were likely to be swayed by the intense atmospheres that
circulate at football matches.
Similar statements can be found in the Taylor Report. Through
institutionalised knowledge-practices that produce ‘truths’ about the reality of the
phenomena in the world, these inquiries represenced atmosphere, making it an object
that has its own reality and its own effects. The emergence of atmosphere as an object
inscribed into reality then allowed interventions to take place that aimed to alleviate
the effects of atmosphere? With Popplewell and Taylor observing that this knowledge
of atmosphere problematizes the notion that previously known troublemakers can be
identified before an event to reduce the risk of disorder emerging and be excluded
(this did not stop Popplewell (1986: 46) attempting to introduce a membership
scheme that would exclude undesirables), therefore calling into question the notion
that previous behaviour is a good predictor of future conduct. However, before
moving onto discuss the ways in which atmosphere was subsequently managed, let us
turn to demonstrate how atmosphere is experienced to show how atmospheres disrupt
and alter supporter conduct.
Experiencing atmosphere. Individuals who attended football during this period
remark on the manner in which an atmosphere influenced the way they think, feel and
behave (Hill et al., 2014). Although interviews are unable to fully represent an
encounter with atmosphere and the type of sensations that are felt, they remain a
useful tool to gather information on where and how atmospheres are sensed, and the
effects of these sensations have on supporters. For instance, supporters were keen to
retell their first experience of attending football matches, paying particular attention
to the sheer unfamiliarity of it all, and especially, the force of atmosphere. Gary
recalls the first match he attended with his father, Liverpool FC vs. Arsenal in the
1963-1964 season, and his experiences of entering the crowd:
“Well, unless you have experienced that force - that sheer, overpowering
force – it is difficult to explain just what it is and what it does to you. It stays
with you, you know. Bear in mind, you have some sort of expectation of what
it is like, through older lads and so on, but I remember going with my Dad,
making our way into the ground, as you’ve played it out in your head. And
then it hits you; something literally hits you. I don’t know the best way to
describe it really – you know when you are dead unfamiliar with something
and you don’t expect it? I wasn’t expecting it. The noise, I remember being
stopped in my tracks. It was just dead, dead, powerful.” (Gary, 62, 2014)
An encounter with this as yet unknown ‘thing’, which is then labelled as
‘atmosphere’, disrupts and alters Gary’s body. He has no pre-existing system to make
sense of the sensation he is feeling. The force of atmosphere, at this point in time, is
non-representational. However, by continuing to go to the match, supporters make
sense of this sensation, learning to anticipate certain atmospheres, which prime
certain forms of behaviour. For instance, Gareth reflects on his experiences of
attending football in the 1980s. He describes how he learnt to sense an uneasy
atmosphere, which then pre-cognitively ‘primed’ his body, anticipating particular
modes of future conduct:
“You just feel something, and know that something is strange, you know.
You just sense it, feel it. It made you alert, made you anticipate something
taking place, you could sense the uneasiness about the place – [breathes in
deeply] – you know, it gives you adrenaline, keeping your wits about you. It
puts you on edge” (Gareth, 63, 2014)
In describing an encounter with an atmosphere of unease, adrenaline hits,
apprehending certain types of action taking place in the future. Similarly, Nev reflects
on how his own conduct is led by the distinct mood that is felt within the crowd:
“There were some matches where you just knew, just knew, there’d be an
edge to it. You know when go to the match, and it’s got its own … its own
tribal, tribal expectations and rules. You got used to there being a bit of an
edge to it, especially if it in somewhere a bit rough, a prospect of violence, so
you’d sort of – in the back of your mind - expect it. And if others were, a bit
on edge, expecting it, or a bit aggressive, you find yourself acting or feeling
the same too. And it’s not like the aggressive side of it was good, or
something I liked, but it you start to all feel the same after a while, and even
if you weren’t like that, it’s that playing off each other which makes football
crowds so infectious.” (Nev, 61, 2014)
We have seen here that atmospheres have three effects. First, atmosphere is
encountered as an unknown, intensive force that disrupts. Second, atmospheres, when
sensed, produce automatic bodily responses – precognitive forms of action - putting
supporters on edge, anticipating future modes of action. Third, the circulation of
atmospheres within crowds shape individual conduct, generating unpredictable forms
of conduct. Emulating Popplewell’s (1986) account of his conversations with
otherwise ‘decent’ individuals who found themselves caught up in the heat of the
moment, acting as if they were a different person, these extracts highlight the
affective force and effects of atmospheres upon individuals. Now, if atmospheres
were able to be monitored through technologies and indicators that organisations
could then use to manage ‘atmosphere’ in real time, then atmospheres could be
managed. However, they aren’t. Atmospheres are not subject to technical monitoring,
eliding measurement and monitoring ‘from afar’. The incapability of atmospheres to
be rendered visible is deeply problematic for those organisations that are tasked with
the role of overseeing football matches.
The Elusiveness of Atmosphere The problems of ‘capturing’ atmosphere for
the purposes of qualification and management are well documented. A central advisor
to the Popplewell Report, Professor of Psychology David Canter, writing in a book
published in 1989 (a book that included a foreword from Lord Justice Popplewell),
discusses the value of the ethnographic research to investigate crowds. Ethnography,
Canter contends, allows you “to feel the ‘atmosphere’. […] Of being in a crowd,
being able to feel the other local factors that cannot be readily gleaned from
secondhand accounts; to see all the action and the crowd response to it” (Canter,
Comber, & Uzzell, 1985, p. 127). Atmosphere, therefore, is unable to be neatly
represented by techniques of measurement and numeration that seek to translate the
sensation of atmosphere into a discrete number that can inform management. Canter
recognizes this, arguing that atmospheres can only be ascertained if one is directly
experiencing it, stressing that conventional systems of governance, such as CCTV,
are unable to track atmosphere.
This was problematic. As King (1997, 2002) writes, the issue of crowd
disorder and undesirable fan behaviour was seen as limiting the future economic
prosperity of the sport. This obstacle was identified in the Taylor Report and the
Football Association’s ‘Blueprint for Future Football’ (1991). To overcome the
dangers and economically undesirable behaviours associated with football crowds,
Taylor wrote that “[w]hat is required is vision and imagination to achieve a new ethos
for football” (1990: 12). For King (2002: 98), Taylor’s ambition is to ‘create an
atmosphere in the ground which would be less conducive to violence’. This ethos was
actualized through a series of processes that aimed to alleviate the undesirable
potentialities associated with an atmospheric crowd. In the next section I detail the
processes through which atmosphere has been managed following these interventions,
supported by the emergence of the English Premier League in 1992.
THE ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE & AN ‘ATMOSPHERE-
Supporters and coaches often bemoan the lack of atmosphere within and
outside English Premier League grounds nowadays (Millward, 2011). In fact, clubs
and television broadcasters recognise that the English Premier League currently has
an ‘atmosphere-crisis’ in its midst (Edensor, 2014). This crisis is a mark of the
successful attempts to manage atmosphere through an assemblage of space and crowd
management techniques that have aimed to prevent the emergence of atmosphere in
the English Premier League era.
Producing New Forms of Space
The starkest transformation came in the spatial redevelopment of football
stadia and their surrounding environments. This came after the Taylor Report (1991)
recommended replacing all-standing terraces for all-seater stadiums with improved
facilities. Outside the grounds, the spaces outside stadia were transformed to make
going to football matches ‘feel different’. Football stadia have traditionally been
located in the densely populated areas of cities and towns, spatial locations that carry
a distinct spatial-material organization and feeling (Bale, 2000). Consider Anfield, the
home stadium of Liverpool FC. Like many stadia it is located amongst terrace
housing, narrow roads and back-alleys (see image 1), interspersed with local shops,
ethnic cuisine and backstreet public houses. Supporters have strong connections to
these spaces, often building up habitual trajectories of movement that they make
fortnightly without much contemplation (Edensor & Millington, 2010). Yet
supporters who are unfamiliar with these places can feel uncomfortable, fearful and
anxious. Steve Frosdick, an independent safety expert, describes the experience of
heading to Millwall’s home ground, ‘The Den’:
“Millwall have got this really, extraordinarily dingy alleyway going under
sets of railway lines to a really, really, really, grotty council estate. What they
used to do is bring the away fans from Surrey Quays tube station, through this
estate, and then under this dark, dingy, long alleyway with water dripping
down the walls, and you expect Jack the Ripper to jump out at any moment.
They would proudly tell me that some of the women would be crying by the
time they got to the stadium, they were so frightened. So, it all contributed to
the aura of Millwall being an intimidating place to go so that the journey for
away fans was horrible. I mean it was, for an evening kick-off, it was
frightening. This all contributes to feeling unsafe. But I think there was a
certain delicious enjoyment in the fact that you feel unsafe.”
Following the Taylor Report, the areas that Frosdick speaks of have largely
been transformed through urban regeneration projects (Giulianotti, 2011). These
projects seek to replace the somatic experiences of these places - fear, anxiety,
unease, and the jitters – by producing open spaces, replete with glass, and commercial
opportunities that direct supporter experiences and conduct (King, 2010). To draw on
an area currently undergoing redevelopment, the backstreets leading to Anfield in
image 1 will be replaced by the wide open-space of ‘Anfield Square’ and the
‘Avenue’ (see image 2). Away fans familiar with Anfield commented on how these
tight ‘rat-runs’, with their anticipated risks, smells and sensations, co-produced the
atmosphere of attending matches. Tottenham Hotspurs supporter Martin declares:
“I’ve said Anfield remains one of the most traditional grounds. It’s in a historical
area; it’s got the terraced houses, the pubs, the thick smell of gravy and greasy
Chinese food, and the backstreets that the police don’t want you to go down. This is
all combined with the memories of the scrapes you got into. You expect to have a
buzz - an energy that gets you a bit, you know - excited and pumped up. It feels like
you’re actually still going to the match, going to something exciting, unpredictable,
not just to some predictable event where everything is laid out for you – oh, we want
you to eat something here, now move here, wait outside here, don’t you dare bring in
a water bottle.” (Martin, 42, 2014)
For this reason, urban regeneration projects have been categorised as ‘non-places’
(Augé, 1995; Raco, 2003), homogenous and featureless spaces that facilitate
prescribed, predictable and desirable forms of action that minimise risk and variance
in conduct (Linnet, 2013). As Bauman (2000) argues, these spaces guide behaviour
and regularize feeling through the materialization of commercially-oriented, risk-
assessed, and heavily surveyed spaces. These spaces also reduce the possibility of
variance in conduct through considered aesthetic management (Biehl-Missal & Saren,
2012). Familiar to other non-places, like airports and shopping centres, non-places are
bereft of historically sedimented and idiosyncratic forms of sociality, sensations, and
memories (Edensor & Millington, 2010; Pütz, 2012), the type of cumulative
processes that Martin points to as reproducing atmosphere.
An outcome of this is that the problematic (but for some, enjoyable)
experience of atmosphere - the anticipation of fear, the nervousness accompanied
with taking a particular route to the ground, the uneasiness and ‘butterflies-in-your-
belly’ sensations that characterise going to a previously unvisited ground – are
designed out of these spaces through the production of new forms of spatial
aesthetics. The result is that atmospheres are not anticipated, not generated, and
therefore fail to emerge. Whereas this section focused on the spatial components of
atmosphere management, in the next section I describe how the police are central to
the prevention of atmosphere.
Mood Management Techniques & ‘Policing the Possible’
Following the Hillsborough disaster, the manner in which football fans and
crowds were policed required change. The authoritarian, coercive, and disciplinary
techniques of social control that fans were subject to, in combination with the
prevailing police mind-set that labelled all fans as ‘troublemakers’ (Holt, 2012),
constituted a method of policing that was in part responsible for the death of ninety-
six football fans (King, 2002). Gradually, these disciplinary and reactive techniques
of social control have given way to police strategies that emphasise the prevention
and anticipatory management of disorder, of which the overseeing of atmosphere is
part and parcel of contemporary police practices. The result is that police officers now
categorise themselves as, in part, ‘mood managers’.
This change in role has emerged through ethnographic social psychological
investigations of crowds (Reicher, Stott, Cronin, & Adang, 2004; Reicher et al.,
2007). These studies argue that crowd ‘disorder’ materializes due to intergroup
dynamics between the police and the groups they monitor, these intergroup dynamics
are emically labelled as ‘atmosphere’ (Stott, Livingstone, & Hoggett, 2008; Stott &
Reicher, 1998). This discovery has transformed global public order and football
police practices (Borch, 2013), as it puts the prevention of these forces at the heart of
police practices. For this reason, this model of policing has been classified as a
‘policing of the possible’ (Stott, Hoggett, & Pearson, 2012); a policing where the
future is made knowable in advance.
Police now prevent undesirable atmospheres materialising through ‘firm-but-
friendly’ and ‘low profile’ techniques. This technique prescribes that police should be
familiar, embedded and friendly in their interactions with football supporters,
therefore giving police a much needed legitimacy in the eyes of the crowd (Hoggett &
Stott, 2010). To help explain how early techniques of prevention, legitimacy and
prevention are linked, Steve Frosdick, provides this point of comparison:
“I have an example of this with my wife and son here. When my son was smaller, he
was a pain in the arse and Alice would say 'stop doing that', and I'd not say anything
and he'd carry on and I'd ignore it. And Alice would get a bit more vociferous with
him, and eventually he'd do it again and she'd say 'Andrew, come on!' and I'd turn
around and say 'For Fuck’s Sake Andrew, shut up!' And Alice would say there's no
need to shout. Because I wasn't friendly-but-firm, I didn't nip the conduct in the bud
early with a friendly word. I was all or nothing. I ignored it before it was too late and
then it was over the top. And this is what Cliff Stott and Geoff Pearson say about
policing: policing needs to be mixing in with the fans, lots of 'Alright fella? How you
doing today?', if a couple of lads are kicking off you'd go 'Alright lads…’ That's all it
ever really needs, an 'alright lads’.”
These preventative measures keep a problematic atmosphere, a threshold that must
not be crossed, from developing (Hoggett & Stott, 2010; Stott et al., 2012). However,
there is a difference between what should take place in principle and what actually
happens in practice. Hence, when police conduct is disproportionate, a dangerous
atmosphere can materialise. Amanda Jacks, Football Supporters’ Federation
caseworker, who helps supporters that are subject to criminal and judiciary
proceedings and has close connections to the police, recalls how police officers are
aware of how atmospheres can be raised through little things such as police dogs
“If dogs have to be there, [the police] want them laying down, or sitting, we don't
want them barking their heads off. You know, quite a few times the dog van has
turned up and they've said 'No, we don't need you! Go away! All you're doing is
raising the atmosphere.”
Early interactions between police and football supporters can set the tone for the rest
of the day. Supporters express how disproportionate police action can create an
atmosphere between supporters and police in manners that propel them to feel, think
and conduct themselves that they would not usually. A family with children were
subject to aggressive policing and this early set of interactions laid the groundwork
for fractious relations with the police:
“We had the little one with us and they [the police] were demanding we get a move
on, don’t head into the town centre etc. etc., but all in this aggressive tone, really in
your face like. They were doing it to everyone. You ask them why and they don’t
give a proper response, just tell you to ‘fuck off’, ‘move on’, and ‘do you want to be
arrested’? It just gets everyone riled up, proper angry. And you know, if people
around you are angry, you feel angry too, even if it’s not like you to get involved or
be like that. And you’re just waiting for that one little spark, one little thing – a
gesture, comment, just any sort of response – to create something bigger’. (Matt, 32,
Within this model of policing, it is recognised that the force of atmosphere can push
unacceptable and disorderly conduct in otherwise ‘normal’ individuals. Consequently,
police deploy techniques to prevent this state of affairs surfacing, principally the use
of ‘firm-but-friendly’, ‘liaison-based’ and ‘low-profile’ strategies that stress the role
of police interactions in the co-production of atmosphere and recommend the
retraining of police to be more friendly, approachable and fair in their actions. This
overhaul of police practices, alongside with the spatial transformation of stadia are
central components to an assemblage of practices that - thanks to the known role of
atmosphere in producing disorder and violence - have sought to manage and control
atmosphere within the English Premier League era.
But in spite of English football’s transformation, organisations that profit
from the television spectacle generated by boisterous and passionate supporters have
recently joined supporters in declaring that the management of atmosphere has gone
too far; crowds are quiet and fans are passive (Edensor, 2014; Giulianotti, 2011). The
future of English football will likely contain a careful game of experimentation to see
whether an atmospheric ‘ideal’ that meets the mutually exclusive demands of multiple
institutions can emerge.
Consumer research has recently demonstrated a curiosity for a type of
research that could be labelled as non-representational. The investigations of
mundane objects, such as chicken coops (Bettany & Kerrane, 2011) and kitchen
tables (Epp & Price, 2010), mark a move away from a representational mode of
research that focuses on consumers’ interpretations of their world, and instead,
towards an understanding that consumption is always mediated by a network of
heterogeneous elements. These investigations render understandings that humans and
their actions are always supported by other, often overlooked, things. Additionally,
consumer research has demonstrated that human action is not exactly what we think it
is. For instance, action can be pre-cognitive, operating at a level of non-
consciousness. Joy & Sherry (2003) show how the embodied experience of artwork –
visceral shocks and surprises – is not a result of a consumer subject who interprets the
artwork, but is the effect of a relational encounter between artwork and viewer than
then causes thought and reflection.
Indeed, this demonstrates that consumer research is willing to get to grips
with those unfamiliar, problematic and ‘unrepresentable’ moments of life that elide
conventional research practices. The notion of atmosphere is just but one concept.
Atmosphere has previously been conceived as an immaterial force that can be
‘designed’ into retail spaces to induce suggestible and malleable consumers (Biehl-
Missal & Saren, 2012; Linnet 2013). Of course, this poses difficult questions: to what
extent can consumers be unconsciously poked and prodded to consume in desirable
ways through devices that work on the pre-cognitive realm. This chapter, similarly,
extended investigations into this this concept within a different context, by showing
how atmosphere first became a phenomenon, inscribed into reality and put into
circulation through governmental inquiries. Atmosphere then became associated with
social disorder, and therefore required prevention for the future prosperity of the
sport. However, this chapter showed how atmospheres - in the context of football –
are managed not only through spatial (re)design, but are also created through human
interactions (which are, of course, mediated by things such as truncheons, barking
dogs, and so on).
Let us reflect on the notion of context. Bubbling under the surface of this
chapter is the understanding that atmosphere, as an object, is enacted differently
through different practices by different institutions. Put simply, there is not just one
atmosphere, but many, enacted differently by designers of retails stores, nightclub
promoters, football supporters, and by us, as consumer researchers. It is not just
consumer researchers who are interested in represencing those moments of life that
precede consciousness and are difficult to apprehend. Generally, this chapter sought
to clear ground and provide a set of tools for those consumer researchers who seek to
capture those moments of life that are difficult to apprehend but cannot be neglected.
Given a non-representational style of research encourages engagement with
alternative modes of questions, concepts and method, working through some of the
sensitizing terms of non-representational theory may yield valuable descriptions of
the unnoticed and unspoken dimensions of life that have often been elided in our
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Image 2: The Anfield Regeneration Project. Taken from http://www.anfieldproject.co.uk/
Image 1: A pathway towards the Kop.