Combatting sectarianism from the ground up: The Northern Irish Green and White Army and the football carnival

John Bell, Ian Somerville, Owen Hargie

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This paper draws upon participant observation data conducted before and after all 10 qualifying matches for the 2016 UEFA European Football Championship to explore the dynamics underpinning the Northern Irish Green and White Army (GAWA) football carnival. Supplemented by interviews with Northern Ireland fans themselves and informed by the dramaturgical perspectives of Erving Goffman, the paper contends that the anti-sectarian ‘norms’ of GAWA football fandom are dominant in public spaces before matches when the GAWA ‘performance team’ are visible to one another and their audience within a geographically circumscribed space. In a post-match evening context however, various ‘cliques’ of supporters enact their own social rules within a ‘back-stage’ environment of more relaxed peer-to-peer surveillance. These at times transgress the established norms of GAWA fan behaviour. The paper acknowledges that inappropriate supporter behaviour, even within small groups, can damage the wider image of football teams and their supporters in ‘impression management’ terms. But rather than imposing top-down ‘solutions’ which are often devised with limited input from supporters, we suggest that football governing bodies, associations and clubs should look to work in partnership with supporters to identify creative ways in which supporters can be resourced to proactively become ‘norm entrepreneurs’ and challenge inappropriate behaviour from within.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1282-1304
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Review for the Sociology of Sport
Issue number8
Early online date27 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The research drawn upon in this paper is based upon the lead author’s doctoral work. Living expenses for this work were funded by a PhD studentship from the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023.


  • Northern Ireland
  • football fans
  • football carnival
  • Erving Goffman
  • sectarianism
  • norm entrepreneurship


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