Football fans are funny folk; they really love their team. It just couldn’t make sense to someone who doesn’t feel a strong connection towards either the sport or a specific team. That a club made up of around 25 footballers, all of which are completely unconnected with the real world, can engender such a strong emotional attachment is amazing.
Club fans and international fans are of course different, support for the national team is almost unavoidable as people are brought up as patriots and while the degrees of passion will certainly vary within a country almost all of a country’s nationals will get behind their team. Club fans on the other hand can be drawn to their team through geographic, family or footballing philosophy ties (the latter being opposed to the footballing machines of Chelsea and Manchester City).
Unfortunately, I believe that football fans’ passions are over-rated. We often hear players or managers coming out after the game saying “the fans were magnificent” or “we couldn’t have done it without the fans.” (Wayne Rooney seems to have skipped that class, I won’t lower the tone by suggesting an alternative location for last season’s “undoubted best striker in the world”, as he opted for “Nice to see your own fans booing you. If that’s what loyal support is… for fuck’s sake.”) The point however, is that of course footballers can do things without fans, in fact it seems to me that it’s the fans that need the players to give them a lift.
I don’t attend many live professional games as I live in Scotland, and paying to watch the SPL goes against expected utility theory. However, there are two teams that I do go and watch live: Scotland and Arsenal.
These two teams have given me the chance to witness two very different atmospheres, styles of football and type of football fan. I view my trips to Hampden as a risk, I know I am not going to see Scotland play the beautiful game, I know that I am not going to see an exciting youngster making his first steps in a promising career, what I hope for from a Scotland game is that the atmosphere is passionate and inspiring. That the “Tartan Army” come together in song and back the country we all love.
Without fail after a Scotland match we hear the players and manager thank the fans for their support. After the recent Spain game, in which Scotland mounted a heroic comeback only to be cruelly denied at the death, Levein said “I’d like to give my heartfelt thanks to the supporters for their performance, the backing and the belief in the players.”
I was at the game. Which supporters in particular was he thanking I wonder? Was it the fairly large number of fans who clapped the second Spanish goal as if the game was up and they would happily sit and watch Spain score goal after goal against their team? Or maybe it was the fiercely passionate man in front of me who spent the 90 minutes shouting “fuck off, you’re all shite!” (which set of players this was directed at he didn’t specify). He must have been complementing the 52,000 fans that couldn’t have drowned out a dropping pin let alone inspire such an “inspired” comeback.
This is the complete opposite experience to that on offer at the Emirates. I would compare a trip to the Emirates to a trip to the theatre, but with comfier seats. If there is a single person in there who is hoping for a passionate atmosphere then I feel sorry for them. No, its 60,000 (minus the away support) people who are there fully expecting to watch the beautiful game, see Cesc split the defence, Arshavin score a wonder goal and see just how bloomin’ fast Theo Walcott really is. But there is no atmosphere, a couple of songs about the players a (self?)-mocking rendition of “We’ve only got one Song” and the occasional ripple of applause as the team strings 10 one touch passes together only to fluff their lines at the final moment. It takes a certain type of person to support Arsenal, as earlier blogs have alluded to, but I am led to believe that the atmospheres at the other big clubs are the same, unless they have some “yanks” to form a mob against and blame their underperforming team’s problems on.
And so I conclude, perhaps the players can do it without the fans after all. Stoke’s 12th man has them sitting in a precarious 16th, whilst Arsenal’s silent majority have their team sitting pretty in 2nd. Scotland’s “Tartan Army” could be accused along with the much-maligned Arsenal fans that “you only sing when you’re winning” (though perhaps a remixed “not losing” version might be more applicable). So here’s to the best fans in the world, whose most useful facet may actually be filling the biggest pockets?