The Crowd: A Study of the World Cup Mind.

The concept of ‘crowd psychology ‘ or ‘herd mentality’ – investigating the ways in which the psychology of individuals is different from those in a crowd – has fascinated sociologists, philosophers, psychologists, scientists, writers and so on for centuries, particularly in the most recent two (basically the reasoning for the whole subject coming to light was because most populations reacted massively to the mass urbanisation, faster speed of living, crowded space and pollution caused by the Industrial Revolution in cities in the 19th century). 

Probably the most famous man to comment on the subject was Charles-Marie Gustavo Le Bon, a French Polymath in the 19th and 20th centuries, and his book, ‘The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind.’ In his seminal text he argued that crowds made an individual’s psychology experience a negative change. People in crowds become prone to: ‘impulsiveness, irritability, incapacity to reason, the absence of judgement of the critical spirit, the exaggeration of sentiments, and others…’ This is because you feel less responsibility, and therefore inhibition, regarding your actions, and hence, people can bounce off and rile each other up in these circumstances. 

Not exactly the most cheerful analysis is it? – I mean he was writing in a century which saw concentrations of people amassing to previously unknown scales and these people were being chronically addicted to opium and there was a growing epidemic of hysteria. Anyway, the crux of his point remains, it can be concluded that crowds can have a strong impact on the human mind. This brings me onto the focus of this article, the impact of the crowds which have conquered every pub, bar and living room in the UK, because of the World Cup. Sidebar: Do not fear I am not anti-World Cup, quite the opposite, however sometimes you do have to play the devil’s advocate.

Firstly, indeed it can be argued that the groups created through the World Cup have had a positive impact on our societies and to the individuals who occupy them. Indeed, if the phrase ‘jingoistic spirit’ has ever described a situation more perfectly it was when many places filled by people watching their nation play. English people were especially feeling the love this year because of our unpredicted success, for example, the pub I was in felt like it was going to actually take off when England made it into the Semi-Finals. 

Other nations showed extreme nationalist joy as well, for example even though Panama lost 6-1 to our team, their crowds exploded with joy when they scored their goal, it was their first in the World Cup. With this widespread national pride, a sense of togetherness and belonging has manifested for many. On a basic level the games were a good way to spark up conversations, which is a struggle for some, myself included on occasions. Moreover, the team’s smashing success made many of us feel like anything was possible. Overall the World Cup, and the joy and thrill of watching it, has seemed to improve people’s moods across the nation.

The conclusion that crowds have these positive impacts on people is not only seen during football matches. From other sporting matches evoking spirit, for example, the Olympics held in London 2012 or when Andy Murray won Wimbledon. To other social events, for instance, despite it pouring with rain, and being knee high in mud, at Bestival last year, everyone in the crowds still kept in high spirits and continued to enjoy themselves. Or even the audience at a McBusted concert I went to, shamelessly, in 2014. 

Nevertheless, Gustave le Bon’s theory regarding crowds is also seen in football crowds. Rowdiness, an emotionally charged atmosphere, excessive alcohol, toxic masculinity and a loss of inhibitions, create a deadly cocktail in some people’s behaviour. Last week, as an article He’s Coming Home: Domestic Abuse and the World Cup by Isabelle Hathaway explained:

‘When the World Cup began 3 weeks ago, an image started circulating on twitter that stood apart from the rest. It was not of a player or coach; it was a graphic displaying domestic violence statistics, an attempt by British organization ‘The Pathway Project’ to bring awareness to the side effects of England playing in the tournament. It warned of the massive 38% spike in reported incidences of domestic abuse when England lost a game, and of the 26% rise even when they win or draw.’

For a break down of this powerful and thought provoking investigation into the relationship between sports and domestic abuse, read the full article here:

As well domestic abuse, fights break out between people, verbal abuse is hurled, objects and property can be broken and an unsafe environment in the premises can be created as a result of the mood of crowds. Moreover, another downer, which  sent a shock wave through the fans, and could have make these above mentioned impacts harsher, was us being defeated last week, and therefore ending our journey this time around. (I THINK WE SHOULD BE PROUD AND CELEBRATE HOW FAR WE HAVE COME, AND HOW FAR WE STILL HAVE TO GO).

However, once again these consequences are not indigenous to football. We’ve seen it in the past when people at concerts have taken it too far, and ended up causing other people to get hurt and trampled, or when protests get usurped and turned into riots.

Crowds can be good or bad, but the thing is we can try and make them a safer space, so that they can continue to create links between people, rather than divide them. Sounds corny, but just be considerate of others. You’re enjoying yourself, why does that mean you have to be a d*ckhead? Not only will fighting/screaming/general being annoying, ruin the atmosphere and make it unstable and unwelcome. When these things occur, rules get harsher. 

During the World Cup, due to fears of fighting, pubs had capacity limits imposed, higher age restrictions, more security and a strong feeling of regulation. This should not occur, make people feel welcome. Do not follow the herd, or get carried away and make it negative, remain an individual and treat others as such.

1 thought on “The Crowd: A Study of the World Cup Mind.

  1. Interesting read! Crowd mentality is a really thought-provoking angle from which to approach the world cup. It might also be interesting to look at how different demographics react to different crowd scenarios, I’m not familiar with any research on that.

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