Lower League Football in Crisis: Issues of Organisation and Legitimacy in England and Germany

Publication: Book/ReportDissertations


The study at hand deals with lower league football clubs in selected regions of England and Germany in order to identify the specific pressures and challenges which clubs at lower league levels in the respective national contexts have to deal with and to analyse adaptive strategies clubs employ to cope with those realities. Starting point is the assumption that the demands made to football clubs and their social and cultural profile have change and that processes of politicization take place on the lower league level which affect the way clubs fulfil their new roles.
In a first step, the study introduces the specifics of the national league systems and identifies four club structures relevant for the league levels investigated, two for each national context. In each national system, a market oriented as well as a community oriented structural model exists. In a second step, the social and cultural functions which clubs fulfil in their respective contexts are described and two peer communities for the activities of lower league clubs identified: the club community and the urban community. In both communities, clubs fulfil a communitising as well as a societising function.
In the next stage, three states of crisis are diagnosed which affect clubs in both countries. Firstly, the economic crisis which is marked by the financial pressure clubs are put under due to the low league performances. Furthermore, clubs experience a cultural crisis which is expressed in the formation of protest clubs and movements which address the commercial excess of football. On a different level, clubs lose their qualities as anchor points for identity as club structures increasingly resemble ‘space’ instead of ‘place’. The third state of crisis concerns the societal statues and the fulfilment of societal expectations clubs are increasingly asked to meet and is thus called the social crisis. In this regard, political co-optation and regulation plays a crucial role. From the combination of the three states of crisis, a legitimisation dilemma is identified.
The final analytical part of the study investigates how clubs of different league levels react to this dilemma. Therefore, the study compares eight case studies, four in England and four in Germany. Two of each are from the pool of ‘traditional’ and established third to fifth level clubs while two are of more recent date and from the category of protest-clubs with an intrinsic political agenda directed against the developments within the football business of the past 30 years.
The results of the study show that processes of institutional alignment take place insofar as the typical, traditional models are opposed and challenged by alternative structural models. However, the direction of this process is diametrically opposed: Whereas in Germany an increased marketing orientation is triggered by processes from above, in England a shift towards more community-based models takes place, triggered by processes from below and governmental regulation. On the individual club level, multiple adaptive strategies take place which largely depend on the respective structure, agenda and available resources. With regards to the established clubs, the German models present themselves as more dynamic and versatile in their adaptive strategies than their English counterparts.

Original languageGerman
Place of PublicationCham
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages301
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-53746-3
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Publication series

NameFootball Research in an Enlarged Europe
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan