Cycnos | Volume 25 n°2 - 2008 Britishness - Whence and Whither? 

Martin Johnes  : 

We Hate England! We Hate England? National Identity and Anti-Englishness in Welsh Soccer Fan Culture


This paper explores expressions of anti-Englishness in the fan culture of Swansea City Football Club. It argues they are deliberate expressions of a sense of Welshness and difference to England in the face of the wider complexities of Wales’s status as a distinct nation. In line with soccer fan culture, they take a seemingly aggressive but ultimately playful form, but one that is not politicised and does not reflect literally local social relations. Yet such chants are also contested and the debates surrounding them further reveal the complexity of Welsh identity.


keywords : England , national identity, racism, soccer, Wales


Texte intégral

1‘Wales is an artefact which the Welsh produce’, wrote historian Gwyn A. Williams; ‘the Welsh make and remake Wales day by day and year by year’ (1982, p. 200). Exactly what that artefact is and has been, is a contentious question obscured by political debates about Wales’s future, the absence of a nation state and internal geographic, linguistic and ethnic divisions. Wales as a unified entity is thus an ‘imagined community’ (Anderson, 1983) and Welshness has a plethora of different meanings for the people who possess and make it.

2One constant that runs through this plurality of Welsh identity is the sense of being different to England. Linda Colley (1992, p. 6) has written, ‘men and women decide who they are by reference to who and what they are not. Once confronted with an obviously alien ‘Them’, an otherwise diverse community can become a reassuring or merely desperate ‘Us’’. Yet, for English-speaking Wales, which is nearly 80 per cent of the population, England is not obviously alien. Linguistically, culturally and economically, there is little to distinguish urban Wales from the industrial and provincial regions of England. Instead, the sense of difference between urban Wales and England draws upon a sense of a common inheritance and, at times, alleged racial Celtic qualities. Yet these are vague and, arguably, mythical notions that have little relevance in daily life. Sport, in contrast, has both a popular relevance and offers clear evidence of Wales’s difference to England. Wales has its own national teams and associations, which have formed an integral part of the limited Welsh civil society that existed over the course of the twentieth century (Johnes, 2005). Furthermore, sporting contests have all the trimmings of banal nationalism (Billig, 1995). Their national colours, emblems, songs and contests all make sport an emotional and exciting vehicle through which collective ideas of nationhood can be expressed and flagged (Bairner, 2001). As Eric Hobsbawm (1990, p. 143) put it, ‘the imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of eleven named people’. Furthermore, the media coverage of Welsh teams indulges in national clichés and stereotypes, constructing and transmitting popular discourses and ideas of nationhood to audiences beyond the stadium (Brookes, 2002; Boyle and Haynes, 2000). Thus sport glosses over the different meanings that the people of Wales attach to their nationality and provides a realm where there is a clear border between being Welsh and being English. It is one of the routine practices that Day (2002) sees as producing Welshness.

3Contrary to many academic and popular perceptions, Welsh sporting culture is not dominated by rugby union; soccer has a long history of widespread support within the Principality that is at least equal to the rugby’s following at every level below international matches. Yet Wales’s small size means that its best soccer players are employed by large English clubs and three of its four fulltime professional clubs compete in the English league structure in order to ensure opposition of sufficient quality to attract audiences large enough to sustain a professional club. This has enabled Welsh soccer to become an arena where Welsh identity can be regularly displayed against the English ‘other’ (Johnes, 2002; 2005). Defining a club against an ‘other’ is a common feature of soccer across the globe (Armstrong and Giulianotti 2001) and ‘We hate England, we hate England’ is a chant that can be heard at most professional soccer club games in Wales but supporters of these clubs also define themselves against local Welsh rivals too. Thus chants at Welsh professional clubs fall into three categories: those declaring a support for the home team, those declaring an opposition to the local rivals, and those declaring an opposition to England.  

4This article explores the manifestations of anti-Englishness and their relationship with conceptions of local and national identities at Swansea City, a relatively small Welsh professional soccer club that plays in the English Football League. Swansea is Wales’s second largest urban area. At the 2001 census its local authority area had a population of 223,500, of whom 97.8 per cent were white. The city’s soccer club however draws its fan base from a wider area that includes the nearby industrial towns of Neath, Port Talbot and Llanelli and stretches into rural west Wales. Until 2005 the club played at the Vetch Field, a small traditional soccer ground opened in 1912, dominated by terraces rather than seating, and which enjoyed a reputation for a hostile atmosphere

5A large variety of anti-English chants could be heard at the Vetch. Some were simply antagonistic (such as ‘England’s full of shit’), while others directly aligned a passion for Swansea/Wales with a dislike of England (‘We are the England haters – Swansea!’ or ‘We’ll never be mastered by no English bastard, Wales, Wales, Wales’). Taken at face value, such chants would suggest that, for some supporters, the sense of difference to England is both profound and extreme. This is all the more significant given that there is no history of any active tension between the Welsh and the large number of English immigrants in the south Wales coalfield before the Second World War (Williams, 1998, p. 70). Probably thanks in part to such movements of people, sporting contests against England in this period were imbued with a friendly rather than hostile rivalry (Johnes, 2002). The growth of anti-Englishness in Welsh sport seems to date from the 1960s, when wider Welsh nationalism itself took on a more overt, confident and even confrontational character (Morgan, 1981). This decade also saw the emergence of a more aggressive and younger fan culture in soccer (Russell, 1997; Johnes, 2005). Football chants have to be analysed within the context of this culture but they still intersect with and draw upon wider understandings of community and social relations. As such, an analysis of football culture offers an important opportunity to penetrate popular notions of nationality, particularly amongst the young working-class men who are responsible for much of the chanting at football matches but are often dislocated from both political discourses of nationhood and academic studies of nationalism.

6One of the problems of much research into soccer culture is that there is often no recognition that crowds are collections of individuals rather than singular entities. The fact that chants are not universally taken up is thus often overlooked. This is unsurprising given that quantifying how many people take part in a chant or song is impossible. Back et al (2001, p. 108), however, recognise that soccer grounds contain a series of ‘moral landscapes’. Thus, they argue, racist chants might be legitimate in some areas of a ground but contested elsewhere. This is not just a matter of different stands within grounds being different moral landscapes; there are gradients within stands too, as was clear at Swansea. The Vetch Field’s main terrace was the North Bank, a stand which held over 5,000 of the ground’s 12,000 capacity. Although singing and chanting within the Vetch was not entirely limited to the North Bank, it was concentrated there. In terms of what songs are sung, the North Bank could be loosely divided into three sections:

Subject of songs/chants on the North Bank

East end

Middle section

West end


anti-English (occasional)
anti-Cardiff (occasional)


7Of course, these sections were not neatly defined and blurred into one another, particularly at the better-attended matches where space was limited. Nonetheless, any regular of the North Bank (or indeed anywhere within the Vetch) would have recognised these divisions and consciously chosen where they stood on the terrace in accordance with how comfortable they felt with the songs and chants that would surround them. The west end of the North Bank was significant in that it was the part of the ground nearest the away stand and thus the best location to taunt visiting fans.  

8Even within these different ‘moral landscapes’ there was not a universal agreement on what was acceptable. This was clear within the North Bank’s middle section. Here, pro-Swansea chants (such as ‘I’m Swansea ‘til I die’) were widely sung, but cruder songs attacking England or Cardiff received less vocal support. There was no clear hierarchy of which ‘anti’ songs were acceptable. For some fans attacking Cardiff was irrelevant and betrayed a common Welsh identity, a Welsh identity that may or may not involve ‘hating’ England. Yet, for others, Cardiff was fair game for soccer taunts but attacking England was tantamount to racism.  

9With the growth of the internet in the late 1990s, the question of which songs and chants constituted legitimate expressions of support for the club began to be debated in public. This paper thus draws upon what might be termed a web-based ethnography, centred on, a well-established independent website run and written by fans of the club, in the period 1997 to 2004. Its guestbook offers Swansea fans (and anyone else who feels inclined to contribute) an opportunity to debate any issue related to the club. By October 2004, the website had received over two million hits. In the period of study, the guestbook was moderated but messages were only checked for relevance and there was no bar on what opinions could be espoused, although ‘inappropriate’ words were sometimes blanked out and there was an appeal for moderate language. Web-based ethnography allows the researcher to observe discussion without distorting contributions in the way that can happen in interviews or participant observation. Unless otherwise stated, all quotes from supporters in this paper are taken from entries on the given date in the guestbook. The spelling and grammar have not been altered, although some obvious typing errors in the entries have been corrected for clarity.

Anti-Englishness and fan culture

10The definition of Welshness as something oppositional to England was sometimes very keenly felt by fans and rooted in personal experience, as one supporter living in England pointed out:

I have worked in London for 10 years now and have had to endure sheep-sh***ing, leek-crunching, coal-chomping, sister-worrying, in-breeding, close-harmony singing, rugby-playing, chip-eating, lavabread munching, “does Wales have a football team then?”, “Not even good at rugby anymore are you?” etc. etc. jokes and generalisations on a constant basis. … For those of you who have not had the pleasure of living in this bastion of ill-founded sporting smugness and arrogance let me be your education and your guide. You can never read, watch or listen to anything before, during or after an England footy game even if it is against a Maltese fifth division B team without constant references to 1966, Bobby Moore, blah blah f***ing blah! … [I]t is with great satisfaction then that to misquote that famous poem, every away game "There is a corner of an English football ground that for 90 minutes is forever Wales" and I take great pleasure in singing "England's full of s**t", "Argentina", "You can stick your chariot up your a**e", "We hate England, and we.." and anything else that springs to mind cos if their pathetic mute fans had anything like our passion then they'd be singing it back to us!! (10 February 2000)

11Yet such heartfelt anti-Englishness was perhaps unusual. Others were more grounded in their experiences of the English:

I have now lived in England for the last 10 years – that’s over a third of my life. I don't have anything generally against the Saes [Welsh for ‘English’] but … ever since my student days, I have regularly had “Ah yes, stupid Welsh bloke, sheepsh*gger, you all eat coal don’t you! Do you have electricity yet back in (cue badly done accent) Thu Vaaalleeys?”. Doesn’t bother me in the slightest, I’ve grown very used to it! (8 February 2000)

12Of course, such abuse is not the experience of every exile.1 Nor should it be suggested that the majority of anti-English chants came from Welsh people living in England. They continue to be heard at every Swansea game, home and away, and form a key component of how the vocal Swansea fans define themselves.

13Yet, no matter how ingrained such chants are in Swansea’s fan culture, they were not without their critics and sometimes interpreted as racist. The following quote is typical of the online attacks on anti-English abuse at Swansea:

Yesterday afternoon, a few minutes before the start of the Kidderminster game Kevin Johns [club half-time compare] made an admirable and obviously heartfelt plea to kick racism out of football. Ten minutes into the game after a bad tackle on Britten [Swansea midfielder] a large section of spectators on the west end of the north bank started their usual abhorrent chant of ‘you dirty English bastard’ aimed at the offending player. I would like to take the club to task over this. Was anyone ejected or even warned over this racist chant or is the club's mealy-mouthed attitude to this problem to continue. I believe the club have let the fans down on this issue. Week after week we hear strong words against racism but absolutely no action. (19 October 2003)

14For some the issue was simple: ‘racism is racism’ (21 October 2003); for others it could even have political consequences:

Someone commented on here the other day that the anti-England abuse is way too much fun to want to stop. I'm sure that most KKK members feel that way about lynchings. Abusing someone on the grounds of race, nationality, gender, religion or sexual preference is the cornerstone of an ideology that my parents generation fought a six year war to eradicate. I know that there are regulars on here that feel that several of us over-react to the whole issue. Sorry, but I can see the path that starts with relatively lightweight abuse of OUR neighbouring country and ends with extermination camps. (3 November 2003)

15Other fans’ comparison of the anti-English chanting with more conventionally racist manifestations was that it was ‘certainly not so serious, but just as inane and embarrassing’ (3 February 1999).

16These ‘fun’ (20 October 2003) anti-English chants were further legitimised by the fact that ‘English fans come to the Vetch and give as good as they get’ (8 February 2000). One fan argued: ‘we will pack in winding up the opposition when their fans quit the sheepshaggers routine and the racist insults to us’ (4 February 2000). The most common defences of the chanting located it within the attraction and fun of the game: ‘Just keep the noise up, irrespective of what the chant is. It’s the noise that spurs the team on not the wording of that noise’ (8 February 2000). Thus the defences of the anti-English chanting were a defence of a football culture which celebrates rivalries and employs them to intimidate the opposition. One fan argued, ‘in general as long as the north bank is loud and the opposition are intimidated by it I couldn’t care less if we sang the oompah lumpah song’ (28 August 2003). Another pointed out, ‘Banter is banter and should be viewed as such, anyone who gets really offended by this should just accept it as territorial provado [sic], or take earmuffs to the game’ (4 February 2000).

17This oppositional fan culture is rooted in a specific form of ‘tough’ masculine solidarity and identity. One fan argued, ‘Footy is about rivalry, noise, togetherness and the last bastion of most real domains. If it frightens you or you disagree, sing your wimpish songs elsewhere’ (4 February 2000). Even those who did not find the chants particularly tasteful still felt they were inevitably engrained in the game’s culture: ‘there is little point of expecting a football crowd to be politically correct. They never were and never will be. So if you can’t cope with standing shoulder to shoulder with some ignorant racist bastard, don’t go to the Vetch or any other ground in the league’ (9 February 2000).

18Such traditional terrace culture is widely believed to be in retreat in the upper echelons of the game. Thus the right to chant derogatory comments can be perceived as a last bastion of what soccer should be in the face of the commercial onslaught of the Premiership:

Why do some people want to turn football into a game watched by corporate freeloaders, where the only noise you hear is a polite round of applause whenever a goal is scored - no matter who scored it. I've been to premiership grounds and there is a total lack of atmosphere as true supporters are priced out of the game. I much prefer grounds with an atmosphere. Quite frankly I enjoy chanting derogatory comments about Cardiff, I feel I have the right to question the decisions made by officials and yes, give abuse to players. If I think calling Damon Searle a scummer helps my team win then I'll do so. If anything else it is a great stress reliever. (21 September 1999)

19Some fans attacking the anti-English chanting were told that if ‘you … don’t like it join the Premier league mate’ (4 February 2000).

20The logic and effect of the anti-English chants is sometimes interpreted as problematic because of the nationality of the Swansea players. Although the club has always had a strong core of local players, the team and its management is frequently English. For example, of the 37 players making first-team appearances in the 2002-03 season only thirteen were Welsh. This thus raises the possibility that the chants might have a negative impact on the English Swansea players.

I know these chants are supposed to be aimed at the opposing fans but what exactly do the people who take part in these think that the English players who make up the majority of OUR team think? How does it make them feel? They are not deaf and insensitive. Why should they stay with the club and have to listen to that sort of abuse week in week out? Would you want to play in front of fans who are just as offensive to you and your country as they are to players in the opposition team? They don’t suddenly become Welsh when they sign for Swansea City and they don’t leave their own pride at the Severn Bridge toll booths. (3 February 2000)

21Within the context of soccer culture, there is nothing illogical about fans attacking the opposition’s English players whilst celebrating their own. This is not so much about the conditional acceptance of players but the oppositional nature of soccer culture. Indeed, in the eyes of most fans the players do become Welsh once they join Swansea. This awarding of honorary Welshness has a long history in the game and is rooted in the club’s identity being more important than any individual player (Johnes, 2002).

22As with so many chants, the actual target of anti-English chanting was not anyone on the pitch but the opposing fans. This is demonstrated by the way that some Swansea fans utilised the chants aimed consistently at them to bait the opposition. Thus Swansea fans sang ‘One nil to the sheepshaggers’ and ‘We shag ‘em, you eat ‘em’. Indeed, when Chester City, a club on the England-Wales border, played Swansea (or indeed other English teams) their fans were taunted by the opposing supporters with chants of ‘Sheepshagger’ and ‘You’re Welsh and you know are’. Thus the very insults aimed at Swansea fans can also be employed by them to either declare a pride in their own identity or to insult others. This was further evident at the 2002 Football Association of Wales Premier Cup final between Cardiff City and Swansea City, a match where anger was vented at comments made by the Cardiff chairman that his club represented the whole of Wales. During the match a section of the 1,500 Swansea fans present chanted, ‘England, England’. A Cardiff fan’s report of the match noted the ‘English flags, Union Jacks, The Red Hand of Ulster and a BNP flag/logo on display’ (NigelBlues 2002). This suggests that, for these fans, their antipathy towards Cardiff was stronger than, and thus transcended, their sense of Welsh national identity.

23However, the chants were not universally welcomed by other Swansea fans. When they were repeated the following season at a match against the north-Welsh club Wrexham, there were arguments in the crowd. A Wrexham fan commented, ‘the chanting was bang out of order … In fact the only funny part of the whole incident was seeing the Swans fans arguing among themselves with sensible fans shouting down those chanting England and joining Wrexham with a Wales chant (15 September 2002). One fan asked why don’t ‘the idiots who fly england flags just **** off instead? It makes us look stupid singing anti-England songs when some t*sser is flying an england flag’ (28 August 2003).

24The adoption of England chants and Welsh insults by Swansea fans also points to the fact that anti-England chants were generally not intended literally: ‘If I really thought England was that “full of sh*t !”, I wouldn’t be living here, would I? Doesn’t stop me from singing the song - for the sole reason that it winds up the opposing team and fans!!’ (8 February 2000). Just as fans who sing ‘If you are a Cardiff fan surrender or you die’ would surely not actually kill a Cardiff fan, there is little to suggest that ‘We hate England’ is an articulation of a genuine feeling. It is rather intended as a playful, even humorous, expression of the rivalries that underpin soccer fan culture. Such chants do loosely draw upon wider social relations but they are also rooted in a male working-class subculture in which verbal banter and ‘wind-ups’ are central (Willis, 1977; Back et al, 2001, p. 111). Yet, how such chants are intended is neither an indication of how chants are received nor necessarily a defence against accusations of racism.

Anti-Englishness and racism

25More conventionally racist chants are often defended by claims that they are part of a terrace culture that picks upon any unusual feature in opposing players and fans and then uses that to wind them up and affect their game (Back et al, 2001). An early anti-racism campaign dropped ‘Respect all Fans’ from its slogan because it failed to distinguish between racism and the ritualistic abuse of fans that is embedded in soccer culture (Garland & Rowe, 2001, p. 84). Nonetheless, there is a fine line between what constitutes racism and defending one’s right to sing and wind up the opposition, as one English Swansea fan acknowledged:

anti-English chants are perfectly valid in my book. Most of them are quite amusing and they get banter going between the supporters which is good. Where we have to be very careful is in saying ‘just keep up the noise – doesn’t matter what you chant etc’ That’s a dangerous green light to the large number of racists and the easily-led that Swansea have as regular supporters. Technically I guess, some of the anti-English stuff could be regarded as racist, but I don’t really think so. However, ANYBODY chanting racist filth from a Swansea City standpoint deserves everything they get (which unfortunately these days means virtually nothing and probably a pat on the back from their colleagues) and must not (even inadvertently) be excused. (9 February 2000)

26This somewhat confused attempt to draw a clear line between anti-English chanting and racism was common. As one fan maintained, anti-English chanting ‘is not the same as the sort of jungle-chanting, banana-throwing racism that is really worth expressing your abhorrence at (all too disgustingly prevalent at the Vetch in recent times)!!’ (8 February 2000). Similarly, one fan who took English friends to game, said:

none of them mind the anti-english stuff at all. they take it on the chin and I have even spotted them joining in on the odd occasion! … its ridiculous to take it as seriously as real racism, which is pernicious and an evil - and in its nature a far different issue than mocking our oppressors, which is just a bit of fun. please don’t devalue a genuine issue by lumping it together with less serious matters. blimey, we won’t be allowed to dislike our cardiff foe next! (21 October 2003)

27A similar contrast made between anti-Englishness and racism ended with ‘before anyone starts accusing me of double standards does the football fans of a small nation winding up those of its much larger, overbearing neighbour warrant the intervention of the UN??? I think not!!!’ (10 February 2000).

28Although rooted in soccer culture, the identities and prejudices expressed, however playfully, in soccer chants still need to be understood in relation to wider social relations. As we have seen, some exiles justified the chants by their experience of living in England. For others, the chants could not be constituted as racism because of their understanding of England as the dominant nation within the UK, and, historically, beyond:

Racism??? Don’t make me laugh!! The English are hardly an oppressed ethnic minority are they!! on the contrary they’ve spent the last 500 years raping, pillaging and suppressing their way around the globe and once they’d finished their wham bam thank you maam routine it was off home leaving the unfortunate country usually bankrupt...Wales is a perfect example. Why do you think so many of us have to work hundreds of miles away eh?? (10 February 2000).

29According to this logic, anti-Englishness was the oppressed striking back at the oppressor. However, whereas traditional racism could foster real forms of discrimination outside the soccer ground, the anti-English chants were usually intended as a soccer-only gesture: ‘I am not in any way advocating the idea of fostering Anglophobic over-indulgence … but do GET A GRIP! Are we all going to sing anti-English chants, then go on the rampage burning every cross of St George we can find following the final whistle? No!’ (8 February 2000).

30In a study of racism in Scottish soccer, Dimeo and Finn (2001, p. 45) suggest that ‘Scottish prejudice against the English does not merit being called racism without sustained evidence of a process of racialization’.2 Similarly, Fevre et al (1999) maintain that hostility towards English immigration to Welsh-speaking rural Wales is not racialised but rather underpinned by a nationalism based upon language. However, such perspectives fail to consider what it is that is actually meant by racialisation. Are Welsh-English differences based upon conceptions of race or should they be regarded as culturally rooted? The Welsh and the English may have once constituted distinct racial groups but the mass population movements between the two countries (and elsewhere) over the course of the twentieth century have surely diluted the idea to such an extent that it is both worthless and excluding to determine the nations as based upon Celtic and Anglo-Saxon races. It is more inclusive, politically sensible and historically accurate to view the two nations as cultural constructs rather than racial entities. Wales is an imagined community, not a ‘Celtic’ nation.

31Yet race can still be culturally defined. It is widely, though not universally, accepted that races are ideological and cultural constructs that have no biological or scientific validity (eg see Miles, 1989; 1993). In this light, if people claim or construct the Welsh as a race, regardless of political and historical sensibility, then anti-Englishness can still be regarded as racist.3 Furthermore, the language employed to discuss the English in Wales is often so exclusive and prone to blanket generalizations that ‘if transposed onto different ethnic categories (such as ‘Asians’ or ‘blacks’) [it] would immediately be taken as statements of racism’ (Day, 2002, p. 248). Such arguments are, however, essentially academic unless there is evidence of discrimination based upon imagined or constructed ideas of race. The police do include English-Welsh animosities in racially-motivated crime statistics (Williams, 2003, p. 222), and there have certainly been controversies that the English minority in parts of rural Wales suffers both institutional and casual racism, particularly in terms of housing. This is often justified by arguments that, while English people may be in a minority, English culture is not and it is threatening the way of life and language of rural Wales (see Day 2002 for an overview of such debates). In the Swansea region, where Welsh is the language of a minority, such tensions are less apparent. However, in 2000, the Swansea Bay Racial Equality Council said it was receiving more complaints of racism from English people than Pakistanis, Bangladeshis or Afro-Caribbeans. It maintained racism could take place against white ethnic groups and that it was on the upturn since Wales gained political devolution. The council drew attention to a Swansea bar that had offered free drinks every time a foreign team scored against England during Euro 2000. The owners had claimed that the promotion was intended to be light-hearted but it was withdrawn after complaints from English customers (The Independent, 4 August 2000).

32Whatever the realities of anti-English discrimination in Wales, soccer fans argue, as we have seen, that anti-English chanting is neither intended literally nor against an oppressed minority. Nor would it seem that for the vast majority of Swansea fans that any sense of anti-Englishness was politicized. There is certainly little evidence of any widespread support in the Swansea area for Welsh independence or a truly federal United Kingdom. In only one constituency in the former county of West Glamorgan, the heartland of the Swansea City catchment area, did the nationalist Plaid Cymru (The Party of Wales) achieve more than 11 per cent of the vote at either the 1997 or 2001 general elections, and in that constituency the vote was still only 18.4 per cent (Neath in 2001). At the 1999 and 2003 elections for the National Assembly for Wales, where a higher vote for local parties would be expected in line with the theory of second-order elections, Plaid Cymru still failed to take a seat in West Glamorgan and its highest vote was 35.8 per cent (Neath in 1999). In Swansea itself, Plaid Cymru’s highest share of the vote was 27.4 per cent in Swansea East in 1999. There is no evidence that soccer fans are more likely to vote Plaid Cymru than the rest of the population, and, of course, anti-Englishness is not necessarily the same as support for Welsh independence but it is surely not unreasonable to suggest that any widespread sense of political resentment of England would manifest itself in votes for Plaid Cymru. Thus the lack of any significant politicised sympathy in the area for Welsh nationalism further suggests that anti-Englishness is either specific to soccer or buried beneath the pragmatic advantages of remaining within the UK political and economic system.

33Rather than being viewed as a manifestation of a racist anti-Englishness or a political Welsh nationalism, it is better to view chants about hating England as expressions of a less specific Welsh identity. Constructing national identities in opposition to an ‘other’ is perhaps particularly important for Welsh groups that do not speak Welsh and who are often consequently labelled as somehow not properly Welsh (eg Bowie 1993). When confronted with questions about their identity, there is often a sense of defensiveness about their nationality amongst non-Welsh-speaking Welsh people in industrial areas like Swansea (eg Roberts, 1999).4 Supporting a Welsh club that plays in an English competition further raises such questions of identity, particularly when soccer politics threatens that status and the proliferation and saturation oftelevision coverage of the Premiership means English clubs have large followings in Wales (Johnes, 2005). Thus the anti-English chants are deliberate expressions of a sense of Welshness and difference to England in the face of the wider complexities of Wales’s status as a distinct nation. In line with soccer fan culture, they take a seemingly aggressive but ultimately playful form.


34Garland and Rowe (2001, p. 109) maintain that ‘the fundamental natures of racialized attitudes are no different in stadia than anywhere else in society’. Both the banal and overt racist comments aimed at black players and Asian communities do not generally draw upon racial hatreds or far-right ideologies but more subtle and far more common prejudices (Back et al, 2001). They are neither shared by entire sets of fans nor consistently employed by those who do hold such beliefs at whatever level. Yet, however much such attitudes draw upon wider social attitudes, they also have to be understood within the context of soccer fan culture, a culture that is centred on oppositions. Thus, despite drawing upon wider prejudices, racist jibes are not necessarily construed as racist by their perpetrators but rather as humorous weapons to attack the opposition’s fans or players. Any difference is used as something to bait the opposition, be it colour, nationality or even weight or hair colour. This is not to argue that those doing the chanting do not hold views that should be characterized as racist but merely that the intended target is typically the rival white fans and the black or Asian victim is simply being utilized for this matter.

35Although not as serious in its impact or magnitude, much the same can be argued of the expressions of anti-Englishness within Welsh club soccer. Anti-English chants, which enjoy far more currency than conventionally racist chants, are employed as a means of playfully attacking the opposing fans and team. Like the anti-Welsh taunts sung at Swansea fans, they are not intended as literal expressions of identity and sentiment. They are banal rather than political expressions of identity and even the most aggressive anti-English assertions of fans have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Beyond soccer, there are limited anti-English manifestations in the Swansea region but they are neither political nor ideological; there is nothing to suggest that ‘we are the England haters’ is anything like a meaningful reflection of local social relations. Wales-England differences are real and felt but they rarely translate into lived discrimination. It is for this reason that many fans are happy to sing what, on the surface, appear to be crude expressions of ethnic hatred, confident that they are not being racist. Instead, anti-English songs are seen as an expression of Swansea City FC’s local and national identity and part of the fun and banter of being a soccer fan. In this light, there is nothing contradictory about the same Swansea fans who proclaim their Welshness and anti-Englishness also declaring a (playful) hatred of Wales’s capital city.

36As Cohen (1985, p. 16) argues ‘the sharing of a symbol is not necessarily the same as the sharing of meaning’. The soccer club is a symbol of wider identity and community for its fans but there is not a consensus over what that community means. People exert agency over their identities; they are not simply imposed from outside. Within soccer fan culture it is misleading to talk of universal attitudes or behaviours. What is acceptable to one fan is not to another. The whole concept of what actually constitutes legitimate expressions of support is contested amongst Swansea supporters. Thus some fans could complain about ‘bigoted intolerant filth, whilst others reacted against ‘“right-on” posturing’ (22 April 2000 and 8 February 2000). Like all identities, Welshness and the identity of being a Swansea fan are neither singular nor static. They are constantly being debated and reshaped, often with reference to the English ‘other’. The relationship with this English ‘other’ is complicated by wider ideas and debates surrounding conventional racism. Here there is more agreement about what constitutes unacceptable behaviour and articulation. But the parallels between the nature of the articulation of anti-Englishness and conventional racism are uncomfortably there for many to see. This brings to the fore, not only online but also in discussions on the terraces and in pubs, debates about the meaning of identity of Swansea City FC, and by implication the city, wider region and nation. While such ideas of identity are widely embedded in other social practices, their contestation is not always so readily apparent, meaning the study of soccer has a relevance far beyond the game itself.

Notes de bas de page numériques

1  One fan replied, ‘all I can say is you’re moving in the wrong circles mate. I've lived in England for the best part of 30 years and have not once suffered those sort of insults personally’ (10 February 2000).

2  In 2002 police charged a Stranraer fan with racially abusing English supporters during a match against Berwick Rangers (Daily Record, 27 November 2002).

3  At the 2001 census Welsh was not included amongst the list of ethnic backgrounds, but following some encouragement in the media, 418,000 (14 per cent of the population) wrote in ‘Welsh’ on their forms.

4  22.5 per cent of the Swansea local authority area told the 2001 census they had one or more skills in the Welsh language.



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Pour citer cet article

Martin Johnes, « We Hate England! We Hate England? National Identity and Anti-Englishness in Welsh Soccer Fan Culture », paru dans Cycnos, Volume 25 n°2 - 2008, mis en ligne le 11 mars 2010, URL :


Martin Johnes

Martin Johnes is Lecturer in History at Swansea University (History Department, Swansea University, Swansea, SA2 8PP, Wales, United Kingdom / Email: He has published widely on sport and national identity, including A History of Sport in Wales (University of Wales Press, 2005), and the prize-winning, Soccer & Society: South Wales, 1900-39 (University of Wales Press, 2002).
Swansea University