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Durham University

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Female Sports Fandom in the North East: A Historical Study of Female Fandom and the Critical Intersections Between Sports Spectatorship and Participation

A research project of the Department of Sociology.

Summary and Aims

Barely any studies have examined female sports spectatorship historically and thus there is an urgent need to address this lack of research before such memories and experiences are entirely lost. There is also a dearth of research exploring the overlaps between sports spectatorship and participation and so there is a need for research to examine women’s formative sporting experiences and how these shape their future involvement in sport and to examine female fans involvement in sport across their lifetimes. Little work has examined the cross sport perceptions of fans of men’s football and rugby union in order to consider the extent to which sporting preferences and cross sport perceptions are linked to historical social class differences. This research project will make an important contribution towards addressing these areas.

The research is a comparative study of men’s and women’s sports in the North East of England. It draws on four case study sports (men’s football, women’s football, men’s rugby union and women’s netball). Arguably, the North East has historically been more male-dominated than other areas of England, with a strong emphasis upon masculinity in sport, thus providing a fascinating landscape to explore women’s experiences as sports fans and how women have gained access to the traditionally male domain of sport across the generations. The research aims to examine women’s experiences as sports fans during the second half of the twentieth century to the present day. It will also focus on the critical intersections between sports participation and fandom and will examine how women’s early sporting experiences influence their future involvement in sport. It will also focus on the cross sport perceptions of supporters and the role of historical social class differences in sporting preferences in the North East of England.


The research draws on a qualitative approach to address the research aims. The project will use life-history interviews with female fans of the four selected sports (men’s football, women’s football, men’s rugby union and women’s netball). The sample will enable us to examine women’s experiences within each of the sports and across the different sports and the sample will include women from three broad age groups. The research draws on a feminist framework, seeking to incorporate women’s experiences as sports fans into existing research on history, leisure and sport. The project draws on an interdisciplinary approach combining history, sociology, sport and physical education. The interdisciplinary research will also be of interest to researchers in disciplines such as: gender studies, popular culture and regional studies. 

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