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England vs Italy: Comparing the language of football fans

On Tuesday evening, Italy narrowly beat Spain in a penalty shootout securing their place in the European Championship final.

On Wednesday evening, England’s 2-1 defeat of Denmark made history, solidifying England’s place in their first ever European Championship final.

To understand how football fans are reacting to these two great nations making the Euro’s Final, we turned to comparison. We gathered all Twitter conversations from the past week that specifically mentioned football that stemmed from England and Italy. After translating the Italian tweets into English, we uploaded this huge volume of text data – over a million words in total – into the Relative Insight platform and compared tweets from both locations.

Relative Insight is text analytics software that pinpoints the linguistic differences and similarities between two qualitative data sets, layering on top of social listening data and transforming one-dimensional social insights. Through comparison, we can discover more about various demographic groups and develop a 360-degree understanding of different audiences and fanbases.

Disclaimer: I’m English and a full believer that it’s coming home. However, to ensure my analysis remains unbiased, two of my Italian colleagues were on hand to help.

ENGLAND FOOTBALL FANS

Emotion and nostalgia

When it comes to football, the English are an emotional bunch. Our analysis pinpointed six different emotions that were evident in the conversations of England fans: Content, Happiness, Worry, Fear/Shock, Discontent and Sadness. In comparison to Italy fans, England fans were 4x more likely to use emotive language such as stressful, love and enjoying when discussing football.

We also found that England fans were nostalgic about reaching the European finals. As Sunday fast approaches, supporters are looking back to their last major football tournament win since 1966. For some fans this will be the first time they’ve ever saw England in a final!

insight card - football fans have mixed emotions about the final

A working class sport

Football has long been considered ‘the people’s game’, as many England players have come from humble, working class backgrounds. The fact that football is perceived as a working class sport by England fans was a key difference in the two audiences. This phrase was 5.6x more likely to appear in the tweets of England fans, and hints at a relationship between sports and social class in the UK which extends beyond football.

insight card - football is a working class game

Football’s coming home

Since its release in 1996, Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home) by David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and the Lightning Seeds has become the most adored football song of the English game. As for England’s rally cry –“It’s coming home” – there’s no escaping it. You’ll hear those four syllables echo through the streets of England and flood your Twitter feed as fans translate the anthem into the social sphere.

insight card - football's coming home

ITALY FOOTBALL FANS

Uniting the nation

National sports bring countries together, and the same can be said about the Italian football team. In our analysis, we found that Italy fans were 7.7x more likely to declare that football has united the nation. Some Italy fans claimed to have never followed football before, yet the rallying of support for the national team has brought new spectators to the game.

One fan tweeted: “One of the very few things that unites Italians is football. It’s the maximum expression of the national team.

insight card - football unites a nation

Respect, honour and victory

Another key insight that was discovered was the difference in tone between England and Italy fans. Whereas England fans discussed their individual emotions, Italian fans were 34.4x more likely to discuss larger concepts such as respect, honour and victory. Football is seen as religion in Italy, and this idea that fans show respect and honour to the game was prevalent.

This is also interesting because words such as respect and honour are often used in a military sense, which creates a parallel with fighting on the football pitch and fighting on the battlefield to preserve a country’s reputation.  

insight card - respect of football fans

Technique

In comparison to England fans, we discovered that Italians are 17.9x more likely to discuss the intricacies of the game and the technique of footballers. This is significant as it suggests that Italy fans are more likely to dissect the game, paying attention to the details and taking to Twitter to give their post-match analysis.

insight card - technique

By comparing these two fanbases side by side, we can see the clear differences in reactions to both Italy and England reaching the European Championship final. England fans are emotional, nostalgic and rallying together with the hopes of football coming home. Whereas our Italian counterparts show respect and honour for the game, an understanding of technique, and have been united by football.

Let the battle commence.   

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