Elena Balcaite

‘Lives of Sports Fans: Meaning in the Face of Inconsequence’ (PhD, 2019).

Spectator sport may seem inconsequential to everyday life, yet ordinary people expend intense emotional energy and devote vast amounts of time and money following (and cheering for) their favourites. Emotional whirlwinds and the inevitable suffering that the fluctuating fortunes of sports teams and athletes bring to the lives of fans are familiar to all and yet remain inexplicable to many. Pleasure seekers, socialised agents, members of tribes and subcultures – are some of the labels ascribed to sports fans in a variety of studies tied up with their own disciplinary norms and fixed theoretical devices. In light of seeming theoretical saturation and contextual breadth, I argue that the scholarly interest in sports fandom has either sidestepped or obscured the first order questions of how and why.

To redress this, I explore how and why some people become fans and care about sports despite its apparent irrelevance to their life paths. I posit that these questions can only be meaningfully addressed if contextually situated. To that end, this thesis delves into six life narratives of fans of Australian Rules (footy), cricket and association football (soccer). The narratives produced through a collaborative discourse disturb the hierarchy of the knower and the known and subvert the value-free legacies of dedicated sports fandom scholarship. Therefore, beyond the shared materiality of Melbourne’s geography and Australian sporting culture, the stories of fans and their everyday practices are contextualised in relation to ideological constraints and human possibilities.

As the dialogue-based narratives situate the lives of fans at the intersection of individual biography and society, they not only produce a complex picture of diverse ways to engage in spectator sport in a city celebrated for its facilities and a country renowned for its collective passion for sport; but they also illuminate personally meaningful encounters in the face of inconsequential sporting contests. In their collective force, the narratives point to the tensions between the everyday practices of sports fans and their material envelopment; they offer new lenses through which to understand sports fandom and position the phenomenon as a mirror that accentuates the present interplay of social, cultural and political conditions.