DO YOU love football, or do you love Arsenal? Would you watch another club in order to appreciate the finer points of the game? And do you respect, admire and acknowledge great players, outstanding pieces of play and even tip your hat at a better team beating your own?
I was at the 2011 FA Cup final and I was abused for not being a fan of either of the finalists. In short, I was told to “f-off” out of Wembley. In 1985, I applauded a Mark Hughes goal at Chelsea and was hit around the head by a Stamford Bridge regular. At Queens Park Rangers, I was berated by a home fan because I didn’t wildly celebrate a goal by the Superhoops.
There’s nought so myopic as the loyal football fan, rabid fanatic who hates the local rivals, stick two fingers up to the away end and always refers to his or her team as “we” and “us”. Such supporters are loyal, no question, and they feel they have the right to criticise and question their club. Invariably, they feel they can run the club better than those in the positions of power, believe they can select a better team, and insist that watching 50-plus games a season makes them better judges than the casual fan.
I personally believe such devotion is something for your younger years, when adrenalin pumps freely, when testosterone courses the veins and when alcohol and passion sometimes get the better of you. You delight in schadenfreude, taunt and tease the opposition, refuse to see any good from another team. When does rational behaviour kick in?
Binding yourself to a single club could well be as out-dated as many of the institutions that have been wiped away over the past few decades. You don’t need to get married anymore, indeed in some countries, marriage is not a priority. You can have children out of wedlock and you don’t have to change your surname if you get married. Single sex marriage is now widely accepted, the taboos are gradually disappearing. The social corsets of Victorian England are, at last, being driven out of our lives. Supporting a football club was supposed to be a lifelong thing, your loyalty was, apparently, more durable than a marriage.
People idolise players when they are young, when the ages are aligned and you can still look up to that skilful centre forward or fist-clenching skipper. When you reach your 30s, the players are younger than you and by your 50s, they are young enough to be your clinical grandchildren. It’s hard to idolise a player when he’s 21 and his parents are your peers.
It’s the game that is the most important element and it is still the thing that urges us to keep going to football. The mere sight of floodlights is enough to quicken your step, raise the heartbeat and send a tingle of anticipation through your loins. But it doesn’t need to be a bilateral relationship, you don’t need to be tied to one club – after all, modern life has gradually eroded the need to be part of a mass gathering. Ever since the 1960s, we have spent much of our time insisting we are individuals, yet the need to be part of the body football is one of the few congregational activities we still refuse to doubt.
Do we need to join the gang – the 30,000 loyalists who sit with their replica shirts straining at the gut and rayon scarf draped around neck? Why the compulsion to “show your colours” and tell everyone you are an ally of the legion?
Is there not just as much satisfaction in spreading your allegiance to a number of clubs? Fans claim that they care about their club, that they will be there come rain or shine, but the fact is, they are the only constant in the football equation. The days of loyal clubman (aka stalwarts) are over, most football teams, from the very top to non-league, are now composed of hired guns, players who will literally be “here today and gone tomorrow”. They want to win, but most will not let a bad result spoil their weekend. The fan will take that result home and let it stew for 24 hours at maximum temperature.
But why? Why let the antics of 22 young men determine if you have a happy or miserable evening? Furthermore, clubs are not vocational groups of footballers who are carrying the banner for your local neighbourhood, they often have more in common with a suburb of Lisbon, Paris or Rio de Janeiro. In effect, the singular bonding of fan and club is a link with the past that will never, ever, be as compelling as it was in the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s. The thing that bound club and fan – 11 men in club colours playing for the honour of the town or city and for the fans, effectively a replacement for war, is no longer relevant. It is corporate brand versus corporate brand, you either invest or you don’t.
So, the concept of the portfolio fan – is this a realistic option? In some countries, such as China, fans often support a number of clubs. They haven’t been tainted, if that’s the right word, by the traditional influences that determine your selection process, and they have been hugely sign-posted by globalisation.
I opted to broaden my football patronage beyond the club I started following in 1967-68, Chelsea, and explore the delights of a number of clubs across various countries. European football and travel have always appealed to me and I felt that merging these interests would make for an exciting and different pastime. I had also tired of the short-sightedness of the tribe, largely due to the behaviour of certain fans at FA Cup finals.
I compiled a list of clubs that appealed to me. I had long had an affection for Ajax and still do, even though two of their fans mugged me outside the Friends Stadium in Stockholm before the 2017 UEFA Cup final. They had to go on the list.
Spain was next. Obviously, it would be too easy to follow one of the big two, but I opted for Atlético Madrid, hardly imaginative, but I liked their new stadium when I visited the club, and I also love red and white stripes.
Saint-Etienne may be in the shadows of PSG these days, but the club came to my attention in the mid-1970s. They were cool successors to Ajax’s team of 1972 as far as I was concerned, but they didn’t quite have enough in their tank to become European champions. If only the goalposts at Hampden Park had been a different shape.
My interest in Inter Milan dates back to the late 1960s, mainly because of their kit of blue and black that gave them a slightly menacing look. Ferencvaros and Bohemians Prague being on the list are both down to my interest in central European football. The latter’s ground, the Dolicek, is one of my favourite venues, really atmospheric.
RB Leipzig, the representative from the Bundesliga, will surprise some people because they are so unpopular. However, I visited the city and the club and was impressed by what I saw.
Given my Danish roots, I opted for FC København rather than one of the smaller Copenhagen clubs. I always had a soft spot for Randers Freja as a kid, but have yet to visit them.
In Scotland, Heart of Midlothian were my choice, if only to avoid Celtic and Rangers.
Lastly, my English trio. Chelsea, obviously, Hitchin Town from non-league, my local club and Oldham Athletic.
For the past two seasons, I have had a season ticket at Fulham, but it hasn’t worked out as planned. In 2018-19, I was ill between November and March and missed quite a few games. In 2019-10, the season ended prematurely. One thing I realised, though, I don’t like being tied to a season ticket. Hence, the portfolio.
The portfolio for 2020-21 (or whatever they call next season) is an organic list. In other words, teams can drop off the bottom and new ones can be added. It is completely fluid.
I love football. I would watch any club to be entertained, informed and educated. I respect, admire and acknowledge great players, outstanding passages of play and I will always tip my hat at a better team. I am a portfolio fan and I am playing the field.