Blind fan devotion does nobody any good

FOOTBALL loyalists often boast of their undying love for their club and sneer at those you don’t share the same obsessional view. “Where were you when we were shit?,” is a much-asked question of the new fan by balding, cynical long-standing fans. 

There are 92 bodies of fans in the Premier and Football League, each with their own identity. Fans within the core follow their club, come what may, the difference between the core and expanded supporter base is determined by team performance. Do well, and the crowds rise, do poorly and the support dwindles down to the core.

Supporters don’t always stick with it, hence the myth that “managers, players and chairmen come and go, supporters are a constant” isn’t necessarily true. The body support remains, but the size of that support changes. How could it be anything other than an organic being that expands and shrinks? Just consider that in 1983, Chelsea’s average gate was around 12,700 and some attendances were less than 7,000. Regulars at Stamford Bridge today, many of whom were not around in those desperate days, would find it hard to believe just how low Chelsea’s support fell and how disillusioned so many were.

Similarly, in 1991-92, the last pre-Premier season, Tottenham averaged 28,000, Manchester city 27,000, West Ham 21,300, Chelsea 19,000 and Arsenal 32,000. Yes, fans have always been there, but the numbers have changed. So who are the loyal fans?

You hear criticisms of fans who are not “loyal Blues, loyal Gooners or loyal Spurs”, but the the word loyal needs examining. What does “loyal” mean? Loyal is returning to the stadium even though the team might be rubbish, urging the players on even though they are of limited ability. 

But is loyal a healthy condition? In the modern world, we have choice, we do not have to go to the game, we do not have to tolerate inadequacy, we certainly do not need to silently put up with poor facilities or poor communication by clubs. We have choice, we have alternatives. In the distant past, if your home town had a football team, you went along, squeezed onto the terraces and watched honest toilers kick the ball around for 90 minutes. It was cheap, the spectator accommodation was often appalling, the catering primitive, but it was the best the establishment offered.

As we moved from being hordes of working class, obedient proles to a crude form of middle class theatre-goers, we became more discerning. Amazingly, with the arrival of the Premier League, we still allowed admission prices to be raised astronomically and players wages climb to multiples of the ordinary man or woman’s income. But still, the fans continue to feed the beast, buying merchandise as if it were rare baubles from a tomb raid and filling stadiums to record highs. They complain about how they are frequently taken for granted, but still they pour their hard-earned into the coffers of the big clubs. Somebody forgot to tell many fans that football is a discretionary spend and not an essential item. Football fans are often classic examples of FOMO (fear of missing out).

Football clubs are prone to making mistakes, but they do not see the inevitable outcome of so many of their decisions.

The loyalty of the fan rarely seems to be questioned, as if it is a prerequisite for being perm itted to attend, but so many people do themselves a disservice by bolting themselves to a football club, which in reality, comprises a troop of young men with all the hormones and temperament of street-corner youths. That grown men and women with education and sophisticated lifestyles align themselves, with no questions asked, to such an entity is a mystery and underlines the curious role football plays in society.

But such allegiance should not be a case of blindly following a team and not questioning the status quo. Football fans are customers, products of capitalism and the relationship is simple – pay your admission, watch the game. By all means, shout your encouragement, but being a loyal fan is doing just that. Or is it?

We are no longer passive spectators who accept what’s dished up like extra from Oliver Twist. If the fans are supposed to be stakeholders, then the act of tenuous ownership, either actual or emotional, demands the club and its management is accountable to the fans. If you want spectators, do not treat them with disdain or try to cheat them. Likewise, listen to them and keep lines of communication open.

So does being loyal mean you don’t have license to criticise, ask questions and blindly support the club even if you know things are not right? Are the only people who can say their team whether a team is poor are the managers themselves? 

And does the act of being critical mean you are disloyal or a turncoat? Take for example, the manager whose time is running out. His best pals will, invariably, tell him he’s great, insist that he’s been unlucky and given he’s a top fellow, things will work out. It’s like the loyal wife who tells her husband he’s wonderful all the time. Delusion sets in. The real best pal will tell his manager friend it’s time to go. It’s a tough task, and won’t be well received in most cases, but prolonging pain does nobody a service.

The contract between a fan and the club is personal, but it is a commercial transaction as much as an emotional agreement. It is a peculiar situation, one that is almost out of sync with contemporary life. You will still hear comments like, “you change your wife, but not your football club”, but why not change your club? Most clubs do not really represent their towns anymore, most players are not shining stars of the neighbourhood. Almost every team is multi-national, owned by foreign investors and representative of a global brand. The old days of clubs being symbols of their city or town have long gone. Not even non-league clubs are always local clubs for local players. Therefore, the idea you support your local team through good and bad, is an old-fashioned and dare we say, outdated, concept. Want further proof? – in most towns around Britain, you will find as many Liverpool and Manchester United fans as staunch followers of the local side. So much for backing “local”.

Clubs and their management make mistakes all the time. Sometimes, they cannot see the inevitable outcome of their bad decisions. The fans are there to hold them to task and nobody should be called “disloyal” for voicing that opinion. It is the 21st century, even in these worrying pandemic days, we have more alternatives than ever before. Loyalty has to be earned, a club has no given right to expect it when the wheels come off the wagon.

A £400 transfer to Fulham. Why?

Photo: Tom via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

CALL IT Premier League fatigue, economics or just a case of marginalisation. I have bought a season ticket for Fulham for the 2018-19 season and frankly, I am looking forward to spending a year at Craven Cottage. In exile, perhaps, maybe a marriage of convenience, but I prefer to call it the search for something new.

As a Chelsea fan since 1968, I’ve had season tickets at Stamford Bridge, but not for many years. I decided that I wanted to watch, regularly, top class football instead of playing the nomad, which has been my football diet of choice for the past 25 years. Of course, it’s difficult to get a ticket for a single match at Chelsea, let alone a season, and the process of trying to go and see the club I’ve followed since I was nine years old has become tedious. So what should I do if I want to see a reasonable level of football next season?

Fulham was an obvious choice, given they are just along the Fulham Road from Chelsea, and furthermore, it’s a club I have always liked. Matchday at Craven Cottage is always pleasant and Fulham have always struck me as a decent club. I’ve not discarded Chelsea, but I’ve kind of given up on trying to see them. Not an easy decision, but one I had thought about for some time – I want a break from non-league football and rediscover the passion of feeling attached to a club again. It wasn’t going to happen at Chelsea because I’m too detached from things – I’ve become a SKY/BT fan – and I have little in common with the current generation of spectators at “the Bridge”.

This is a club for today, not the past. I know all about Chelsea’s history, I can name all the great teams and players off by heart. I can recall the pivotal moments in the club’s history and Stamford Bridge will always be there, but for the time being, I refuse to scramble around, go on waiting lists and sit for hours online in the forlorn hope of getting a ticket.

There’s also the element of the unexpected that was, for many years, part of being a Chelsea supporter. My season ticket days were in a time when very few were interested, so I am familiar with boredom, frustration, false dawns and low levels of achievement. I couldn’t believe it, in 1997, when  Chelsea won the FA Cup – the last time I had enjoyed this experience was in 1970 when I was at Primary School. I loved it when Mourinho brought the first Premier title to the club, I almost hyper-ventilated when Drogba netted the winner in Munich and I can still go hoarse when Chelsea score a goal on TV. But it has become near impossible to be part of it and I want that level of allegiance, before I get too old to make the journey to South West London to see a football match. Also, I want a taste of unpredictability, of enjoying “little victories” and watching some reality rather than seeing a trophy win as a given, as something that is somehow owed to clubs like Chelsea.

How long will my exile last? It’s not exile, it is about aligning myself to more than one club. I now support Chelsea and Fulham. They’ve got my £400 for a season ticket and I will give them 100% backing in 2018-19. Whether that’s in the Premier or the Championship matters not to me. I want to enjoy the matchday experience again, cheer on a team and get more out of being a supporter again. Personally, I cannot wait to take my seat.