The rise of football hipsterism

It’s commonly thought that 1999 was hipster year zero – American Apparel was created, Vice magazine moved from Toronto to New York, and the London fanzine ‘The Shoreditch Twat’ came into circulation.

Given this,  it could probably be said that 2008 was year zero for ‘football hipsterism’. In 2008, Twitter usage for journalists, bloggers and fans took off, Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona started to rule the world and the website Zonal Marking was created. While actual hipsters are defined by staying one step ahead in terms of tastes and opinions, while everything they do and think in life seems to be surrounded by quotation marks, the same fundamental principles to the football hipster.

The football hipster will tell you how he has rated Sergio Aguero ever since his days at Independiente. The football hipster will not care to talk of the brilliance of Lionel Messi – he is busy blogging about how inverted winger Isaac Cuenca is Barcelona’s real prodigy. The football hipster will scoff at you reading BBC Live Text, instead following the Guardian’s ‘minute-by-minute’, busy sending in an email explaining how Kierkegaard’s anti-federalism is much like Juan Mata’s style of play.

The football hipster will be busy finding the new opinion to hold, the new tactical trend to blog about. Vincent Kompany used to be like The xx – then everyone bought the album, and the opinion that the Belgian is the best centre-back in Europe isn’t worth expressing anymore, given how many people have realised it. “Mario Gomez? Please, Mario Götze”.

Twitter is where football hipsters express themselves  – as a concept it would not truly exist without this social media platform. Every day, football journalists (Guardian ones, naturally) constantly tweet the food for the hipster football fans and bloggers to chew on. There is a constant supply of subversive opinions and cynical put-downs to be made at the expense of other teams, players and fans. Twitter during matches is when the hipsters go into overdrive.

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“Laurent Koscielny had another good game? What a surprise….I’ve been saying how good he is for months’.  

“I see Barcelona are employing the W-M formation – this reminds me of Vitorrio Pozzo’s Italy side when they won the 1934 World Cup….”

A football fan called Michael Cox was working in a bar, and spending all his free time watching football, developing his understanding of tactics. On his website, ‘ZonalMarking.net’,  started in 2008 he has since written regular tactical analyses and in-depth reviews of tactical trends for any audience that wish to listen. Four years after the website began, he is now writing for the Guardian, ESPN, Betfair as well as working for BBC radio.

Like Cox, the hallmark of a football hipster is that they run a blog named after a particular football concept, which states that it ‘takes a sideways look at the beautiful game’. Equaliser Blog, TwoFootedTackle, Ghost Goal, Down In The Box  – these websites all exist. Brian Phillips, an English graduate from Harvard, runs the blog Run of Play, where he is busy writing about how James Joyce’s Ulysses applies to Jordan Henderson.

These people exist in real life too – the ‘Socrates meeting’ is a meet-up of all the football writers, bloggers and podcasters  in London every couple of months to share a beer and watch a game together. At one of these events last year, I walked into a conversation between Cox and an Italian blogger who lives in Archway. They were discussing their favourite non-Italian Serie B full-backs of the last ten years. I had to leave the conversation because I had spilled an Innocent Smoothie over all my Opta stats sheets.

Like real hipsterism, football hipsterism is essentially an attempt to subvert the mainstream, while simultaneously rarely being serious about anything. After all, if you take yourself or some pursuit too seriously, you are yourself vulnerable and open to ridicule. Thus a football hipster is rarely a passionate supporter of any club. Tribalism is to be laughed at, and the most evocative form of tribalism – Liverpool fans – are to be laughed at the most. 

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Unlike real hipsterism though, football hipsterism is here to stay. Michael Cox is probably one of the best writers and tactical brains out there – and he has 68,000 followers on Twitter. Gary Lineker has 700,000. If you want to become a real hipster you can buy a Casio watch and move to EC1. The reason why the ‘hipster’ is such a nebulous concept is because the mainstream has hijacked much of what hipsterism was, at least on the surface. If you buy all your clothes from Topman now, you would have been called a hipster six years ago.

On the other hand, fewer people actually want to become football hipsters. The majority of people will be happy to continue in their natural environment as a football fan – unthinking, stubborn conservatism to their BBC, tribalist, hoof-it-long-to-Crouchy culture.