The storm that has blown up over the clash between Manchester United's French soccer star Eric Cantona and a supporter may be a reflection of nationalistic tensions among football followers, according to researchers at Southampton University.
Millions of television viewers saw Cantona involved in a scuffle with a fan who taunted him when he was sent off in a match against Crystal Palace.
Such violent scenes could be linked to more deep-rooted problems of nationalism and racism within the game.
John Solomos, professor of sociology and social policy at Southampton, says the Cantona incident may prove to be an example of such trends, which he is examining in a two-year project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
Working with Les Back, sociology researcher and lecturer at Goldsmiths College, London, he will be looking at the causes of racism within football in contrasting regional and cultural settings.
The project will focus on the extent to which racism affects four clubs - Millwall, Crystal Palace, Everton and Leeds United - and how the problem relates to the attitudes and experience of the local communities.
The findings will be forwarded to the Commission for Racial Equality, which has launched a campaign to stamp out racism in football, and the Professional Football Association.
"There is not much research which tells us about the cultural values in a locality which might be the root causes of the problem. That is why the focus of our project will be on talking to the supporters," Professor Solomos said.