The Chosen Few: Aesthetics and Ideology in Football Fan Graffiti and Street Art

By Mitja Velikonja

176 pages.
September 2021. Softcover. Fully illustrated in color.
$24.95 | 9781954600027 (pb)
$14.99 | 9781954600089 (eb)

Book and font design by Tauras Stalnionis


In this intriguing visual title and thoughtful meditation on street culture and sports, a pioneering ‘graffitologist’ unravels the symbology used by soccer fanatics, examining the aesthetics of political extremism and how factions complement democracies.

On the fringe of sports culture are the ultras, the European football fans whose pyrotechnics, chants, wildly creative stunts, and hooliganism are infamous. Using selections from his archive containing several thousand photographs of ultras’ street art and graffiti, including everything from elaborate murals to stickers to “scratchitto” incisions and spray-paint duels, award-winning author and researcher Mitja Velikonja introduces readers to the visual iconography of a fascinating underworld. The ultra subculture is built by “no-bodys,” the anonymous (primarily) men whose attachments to their teams sometimes cross the lines into disturbing nationalist, racist sentiments and even “Blood and Soil” extremism. Velikonja discovers other surprising sets of ideological and cultural messages in street art and tifo club graffiti, then embarks on a case study of Slovenian fans, touching on the roles of football fans in the Balkan Wars. Critically reflecting the ultras’ complex and controversial visual representations, he cues our understanding of factional mindsets within histories of political instability and argues for dissensus being a critical element to democracies.

PRAISE

One of the most creative, inventive and amusing ‘readers’ of contemporary Central European and Balkan ideological constellations. Velikonja invented a new science: “graffitology.”
– Dubravka Ugrešić, author of The Culture of Lies and The Ministry of Pain

Velikonja suggests the flexibility of graffiti, showing both their potential to be neutered through domestication and aestheticization, as well as their capacity for serious political subversion.
– Maria Todorova, professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, author of Imagining the Balkans

When I saw a horde of Euro football fans urinating in the fountain of a Mediterranean town, I was sure that was all they had to say about themselves and the world. Yet, after reading Mitja Velikonja’s book about football fans’ graffiti, we learn that these fan-tribes have something more to express about our present societies. As Velikonja’s archive with hundreds of images shows, these are subcultures from margins of society with a need for public attention, performance and self-expression, whose graffiti and street art has a sketchy yet curiously diverse ideology behind their bizarre spectacles.
– Vjekoslav Perica, author of Balkan Idols: Religion and Nationalism in Yugoslav States

The Chosen Few will certainly be attractive to both scholars and a wider international public. Mitja Velikonja’s sophisticated analysis of “Ultra” graffiti and street art draws on a wide range of critical theories from cultural and media studies, visual anthropology, and other disciplines. Using his vast archive of photographs from the past 20 years, he takes readers on a thought-provoking tour of signs, symbols, and images that are often ephemeral but occasionally last for decades.
Dr. Vjeran Pavlaković, Associate Professor at the Department of Cultural Studies at the University of Rijeka, Croatia and Member, Association for the Study of Nationalities

Mapping the visual – and vicious – struggles between football supporter groups over dominance and territory in urban landscapes of Europe, Velikonja creates a wonderful overview of this ambiguous, inventive and provocative art form, created by and for the people, and concerned with so much more than football: gender and class, local, regional and national loyalties, money, politics and emotions.
– Tea Sindbæk Andersen, author of Usable History? Representations of Yugoslavia’s difficult past from 1945 to 2002 and cultural historian, University of Copenhagen

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mitja Velikonja is the author and coauthor of eight books. He is a Professor for Cultural Studies and head of Center for Cultural and Religious Studies at University of Ljubljana, Slovenia and has recently been a full-time visiting professor in Krakow, St. Petersburg, Rijeka, at Columbia University in New York and Yale University as well as Fulbright visiting researcher in Philadelphia, The Netherlands Institute of Advanced Studies, and NYU.