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Why do football fans feel so passionate about their team even if it is languishing at the bottom of the league and why is such loyalty so deeply entrenched? New research by the University of Oxford could provide the answer.

Downs as well as the ups of a football clubs fortunes build fans loyalty terry bouch
Liverpool, United Kingdom - MAY 11th 2014: Liverpool Football Club supporters outside Anfield for the final title race match of the season against Newcastle

Image: terry bouch / Shutterstock.com

Anthropologists have discovered that intense experiences of crucial wins and losses shared with fellow fans bind them more tightly to one another and their club. Painful losses or big wins can be so intensely felt that they are perceived as 'self-shaping' experiences, meaning they become embedded in the psyche of a football fan so that their own personal identity fuses with that of their club. Over time, such shared experiences are likely to further increase their loyalty to their team, says the paper, published in the scientific journal, PLOS ONE.

The research suggests that really negative experiences, such as humiliating relegations, are just as important as shared feelings of euphoria for producing this self-shaping mechanism. Around 150 supporters who followed a range of different performing teams from across the UK’s football leagues were involved in the online survey. Participants rated their feelings towards their football team and how strongly they identified with it. To measure fusion with club, respondents were invited to endorse the following statements on a 7-point scale: 'I am one with my club', 'I have a deep emotional bond with my club'; 'I’d do more for my club than any other fan would', and 'My club makes me strong'.

Read more on the University website (opens new window)