Since finishing my thesis and successfully defending it i think back to the time of writing the thesis and living with it. The following is a series of articles about my experiences since 2008.
When I arrived in Leicester to attend a Masters course at University of Leicester in autumn 2005, I did not intend to continue further, nevermind to go for a Phd. The aim was to finish and find a job, in Germany or England. It turned out very different: I stayed in Leicester and indeed commenced a Phd. Here is how it all began.
One point that could prevent any Phd project taking off is that of finding a suitable university or supervisor for ideas to be developed into research project. I was extremely lucky. Having finished my MA at the University of Leicester I then have contacted a number of universities in the UK, among them John Moore’s University in Liverpool, the University of Edinburgh and DeMontfort University; the latter got back to me almost instantly and agreed to listen to what i had to offer. I could now argue that this was the decisive moment. It was not. This came a lot earlier during the writing up process of my MA thesis. It was an observation that I made about myself in the summer of 2006: I simply enjoyed researching, thinking and writing about certain issues and arguments so much that the wish to continue researching slowly crept in and took a hold. Now, almost 10 years later i can say that this was a very bright moment. No regrets.
The second step is a little more difficult: the topic. Finding a topic is not easy. There are guidelines a Phd thesis has to follow. The most important principle any thesis has to adhere to is to provide original research, i.e. the thesis has to open a new field of research in its respective subject area. This requires a supervisor who knows what is going on at other universities and an idea of the state of the research in the area as well as within the immediate neighbouring fields of research.
Additionally, a supervisor should be a person who has the necessary experience in doing so. As this contains a lot of administrative paper work and getting clearance from many committees and sub-committees, this could be tricky and a supervisor needs to know when to accelerate to get things done and when to slow down in order to allow reflection and a thorough thought process.
My own idea was to compare the history and development of football magazines and fanzines in England and Germany. This was thought as a sequel to my MA thesis which looked at football fanzines in England from a sociological perspective and argued that these publications offered a way to publish opinions of football fans that would otherwise have gone without an audience. This was particularly the case during the mid- and late 1980s in England where football fans were regarded with disrespect. This mindset culminated in the coverage of some papers of the Hillsborough stadium disaster. It is now an established fact that football fans were not to blame for the disaster but disastrous policing and decrepit football grounds. It is a pity that it took almost 30 years for this truth to be stated officially.
Not only have football fanzines appeared from the late 1980s onwards, the writing about football has changed significantly; most is associated with Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch. The new football writing was said to have been initiated with this book. The quality of the book notwithstanding, it is also the romantic vision of a football fan looking back on his ‘career’.
In the end, this was not to become my Phd thesis; though the topic of a history of football writing by fans, fanzines, blogs remains a topic that needs more academic attention and surely there will be more research on my behalf in this field.
It soon became clear that this was not to be the topic, instead a research into newspaper coverage was suggested or rather was distilled in several discussions with my future supervisor, Prof. Dil Porter at DeMontfort University. These discussions featured how the coverage has altered over several years and decades and how portrayals of Germans and English have changed in this time.
This may sound as thought we've had a chat in a pub; no. This process took more than a year, required a lot of reading and writing, re-writing drafts of an initial research proposal. At this point this could have gone one way or another with the final say laying with the university. Luckily, my proposal was accepted and i was offered a place as a research student. Oddly, I was able to chose to starting date myself and even more oddly, i chose February 1, 2008 as my start date. Why on earth I have chosen this date in particular, is beyond me now but surely i must have had a reason to do so. Whatever date, I was a a student again, though this time I was a research student without the need to attend classes or give presentations. Instead I was able to organize my time around my schedule of work. Yes, work as I was a part time student who had to earn money to pay for fees, rent food. This point was to become crucial over the course of the following years.
One could argue that I was back in the gang but since I never really gave up research after submitting my MA thesis, I simply felt that I was in the right place again doing the right thing: research. Over the following months and years I was to find out what that meant. For the time being I was glad to immerse myself in books, discover new ideas and talk about them with other scholars. It felt right and it felt good.