Home » Blog » Inclusive tribalism

Inclusive tribalism

by | May 27, 2021 | Communities

inclusive tribalism

In 2017 Roy Larner took on three terrorists on London Bridge. He got stabbed eight times but remarkably survived. Here Roy explains his motivations to the BBC.

But a particular angle in the tale of bravery and courage was his battle cry as he went toe to toe with the terrorists:

F**k you, I’m Millwall!

Millwall FC have long been a by word for footballing intimidation, violence, hostility, and partisan tribalism. Millwall isn’t the only club whose fanbase have traditionally prided themselves on their tough image. But there was always something a bit more, well, unsavoury about Millwall. Nicknamed The Lions, their former Bermondsey home in south London was known as The Den and its narrow streets, alleyways and lanes were infamous among away fans who had to run the gauntlet to and from their supporters coach to the nearest Tube station.

Even when the club moved to a new stadium – a development these days which tends to see football clubs leave behind the nostalgic, idiosyncratic names of their old homes for sterile, corporately-sponsored names – Millwall merely moved to a New Den.

All clubs have a particularly fierce rivalry: Cardiff City and Swansea City, Manchester United and Leeds, Celtic and Rangers, Wrexham and Chester, Boca Juniors and River Plate in Buenos Aires, Al-Ahly and Zamalek in Cairo. But to Millwall pretty much everyone is their rival, celebrated in their famous chant:

No-one likes us. We don’t care

As much as it is intended to intimidate others it serves to galvanise you and your own. Your clan, your tribe. Those others who have got your back should things get a bit tasty.

Tribalism is a central part of sport, but in particular football culture: the club colours, the scarves, the chants, the songs, the victories of yore (both on the pitch and outside the ground). The tribalism is built on a reservoir of bonding social capital: the connections with people like you. And, yes, there are plenty of examples when it this tribalism, gets ugly; when those ties and bonds are overly defensive; when pride spills over into aggressive.

But on that day in London’s Borough Market for Ray Larner drew on his strong sense of identity as Millwall to summon up the bravery – maybe not for the first time when the likes of Chelsea or our Andy’s West Ham were in town – to go in swinging with his knife-wielding opponents.

Ray was stabbed multiple times and was lucky to survive thanks to quick witted police who did not wait for an ambulance and instead took him to St Thomas’s for life saving surgery. Unsurprisingly he received praise from around the world.

Even some Hammers fans, some of Millwall’s biggest rivals, could temporarily park their tribalism in honour of a rival fan whose bravery they respected. But more than bravery and courage, Ray was defending and upholding the values and virtues of his home city and drawing on his football-infused identity, which no doubt Hammers fans appreciate, recognise and see something of themselves in.

Though club rivalries are part and parcel of football culture, there comes a time when they can be put to one side in the face of bigger or more serious threats, whether that is terrorists on the streets of London, commemorating the Hillsborough disaster, or fighting the corporate interests behind the recent abortive European Super League which saw fans of traditional rivals such as Spurs and Arsenal share a platform in protest at the plans to abandon the English league and football community.

Andy calls this inclusive tribalism, which:

celebrates your own sense of shared identity, while balancing a respect for others to celebrate their alternative shared identity. Shout for your team, wear your club’s colours – while letting others do the same

It is something that was celebrated by Expo’r Wal Goch, a social enterprise set up by one of our directors Russell Todd and a fellow Wales football fan Tim Hartley. The inaugural online Expo took place between 1-4 June celebrating football culture, including its identities and tribalism, but exploring how the passion, drive, and sense of attachment can be aggregated – i.e., used to build bridging social capital – across these rivalries can encourage the game to achieve more as a force for social good.

Dr Penny Miles discussing at Expo’r Wal Goch 2021 her research into women’s experiences following Wales

Among other themes, the festival explored aspects of heritage, gender, fan-writing, poetry and media in the Welsh game and wants to amplify and grow the progressive and inclusive spirit that exists in Wales’s ‘Red Wall’ of fans. Both Russell and Tim remember not so long when this was far less the case. Club rivalries spoiled what should have been a fun collective experience, while interest in the national team dwindled in the 2000s and 2010s.

credit: Alternative Wales magazine

You can follow Expo’r Wal Goch on Twitter and LinkedIn and join the mailing list here.

Written by Russell Todd

Russell is a Welsh-speaking community development practitioner of 20 years’ experience, researcher, digital inclusion trainer, project manager and co-operator with over 8 years experience of workforce development and support for those employed on the recently-ended Communities First (CF) tackling poverty programme.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *