What Drives a Sports Fan? Researching the Rise of ‘Ultras’ in European Soccer

A man in a blue jacket and white shirt stands in front of a poster with information.
Andrew Strasberg. ‘His work has the potential to become integrated into a broader body of literature,’ said mentor Jennifer N. Victor.

For Andrew Strasberg, the game of soccer has always been a focal point of his life. When the Schar School senior was tasked with completing a research project for a graduate level research class, his topic of choice was a rather easy decision.

Strasberg, a bachelor of science in public administration major, combined his love of soccer with his interest in politics in a unique way. His project, “Hooligans or Honchos? Developing a Political Theory of European Ultra-ism, explores the sociopolitical phenomenon of ultras, a type of sports fan renowned for ultra-fanatical support. Strasberg explores the existing research on ultras and proposes new methods of analysis to develop “a causal explanation of ultra-ism and its associated violence in Europe,” he said.

Strasberg’s project came into fruition with the help of Schar School Associate Professors Eric McGlinchey and Jennifer N. Victor. Strasberg created his proposal in fall 2021 while taking GOVT 500, a graduate scientific method and research design class taught by McGlinchey, who offered valuable mentorship. (George Mason University allows undergraduates to take 500- and 600-level courses with an instructor’s permission. “I was just interested in the class,” Strasberg said.)

While working for Victor in the Schar School’s Undergraduate Research Assistant Program (URAP), she encouraged him to submit his proposal to the Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA) for consideration and served as his mentor throughout the latter half of the year.

Victor says that Strasberg’s timely work is important, now and in the future.

“The study of political violence and the ways in which humans get attracted to groups that become violent is a very important topic,” she said. “His work has the potential to become integrated into a broader body of literature that helps us understand the conditions under which people turn to violence to achieve political goals.”

After his project was accepted, Strasberg joined Victor and other Schar School faculty in Chicago at the MPSA conference in April 2022. He presented his research during an undergraduate poster session and met other like-minded students also exhibiting important work.

Victor says it is rare for undergraduates to present at political science conferences such as the MPSA meeting. Strasberg said the experience allowed him to meet informed academics who offered invaluable feedback on his work.

He advises prospective or current Schar School students interested in research opportunities to pursue them. 

“Do it!” he said. “Look for projects that allow you to push the boundaries of what you know and can do already. A lot of people don’t realize how willing and able professors are to help, and will go out of their way to see you succeed.”

Strasberg is now including his successful proposal in his personal statement for PhD applications. He said his class with McGlinchey and the entire URAP program provided “professionalizing resources” and gave him confidence in future endeavors.