They would be classed as a “guest” and subsequently cannot contribute to any dis- cussion taking place. Those that have registered predominantly use pseudonyms to protect their anonymity and although Millward (2009) found that some users actually know each other, in the majority of cases, only the moderators would know more of their identity through the need for a name (potentially a fake one) and an email address as part of the registration process.5 Not surprisingly, the often hidden nature of those engaging in online discourse across a number of social media platforms can be prob- lematic. One particular element is the bubble football increasing opportunity for the promotion of “hate speech” that can center on, for example, racism, homophobia, disability, and sexism, as well as the availability of cyber bullying and the transmission of child porn at the click of a button (Butler, 1997; Rivers, 2011; Shariff & Hoff, 2007).
Although the presence of racism within the culture of bubble football has been a feature of scholarly work (see, for example, Back et al., 2001; Burdsey, 2007, 2011; Cleland & Cashmore, 2013; Garland & Rowe, 2001; King, 2004; Ruddock, 2005), limited atten- tion has been paid to how race and racism are discussed on online football fan message boards. As King (2004) points out, the academic literature has primarily focused on racism existing inside stadia and on-the-field, but the advent of social media has opened up new opportunities to examine racism being communicated through other, less overt, channels. According to Clavio (2008), message boards provide an opportu- nity to observe, record, and analyze “live” discourse and its subtle and explicit mes- sages in an unobtrusive way. One of the first sport scholars to examine this was Millward (2008), who assessed the message board reaction toward Middlesbrough’s Muslim player, Mido, after he had played in a Premier League fixture against their local rivals, Newcastle United. The findings of Millward’s study concurred with those raised by Cleland and Cashmore (2013) and Sallaz (2010), who argue that racism is never static and social media has allowed old racial schemata to be broadcast in new social settings anonymously via smart phones and computers.6
In referring to the widely reported cases of racism in the English bubble football since the end of 2011, Carrington (2012, p. 965) challenges scholars to examine bubble football the “particular importance of sports to the ways in which ideas about race circulate through social structures and mediate social relations.” In their 2013 article on 2,500 fans’ views toward the continued presence of racism in English football, Cleland and Cashmore state how 80% of fans feel that social media allows for racist thoughts to be commu- nicated in ways that were not available 20 years ago. Outside of Millward’s (2008) analysis of online discourse surrounding Mido, very little academic attention has been given to examining racist discussions taking place on online message boards. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to present the attitudes, opinions, and views of those bubble football fans actively involved in two prominent online English fan message boards toward the existence of racism in English football. By doing this, it provided an opportunity to examine for evidence of individual prejudices and the extent to which these views were supported or contested by fellow posters. Indeed, after analyzing more than 500 posts, the article shall argue that the presence of racism on the two chosen message boards reveals a deep, essentialist view of national belonging and identity that is primarily centered on whiteness and the rejection of multiculturalism.