April 2010

What Is The Definition Of A Fan?

What is the definition of a fan? What differentiates an obsessive and a keen observer? What criteria do you have to pass before being let into a soccer-showing pub? Should there be a multiple-choice question on the doors that you have to pass so you don’t make an ass of yourself inside by asking “Why isn’t David Beckham playing?” when Manchester United run out?

I ask out loud because to the casual observer I am, to all intents and purposes, a football fanatic. A large proportion of my clothes have some kind of Middlesbrough FC branding, as I type this in my office I’m looking at a picture of a flying Massimo Maccarone heading past a Steuau Bucharest goalkeeper to complete the 4-3 comeback which sent us to the UEFA Cup Final in 2006, my American-sized coffee cup is full of tea (natch) but has a mock road sign for the Riverside Stadium and a couple of badges and I have a Bailey heirloom on my desk – a moneybox shaped like a football with an even older Middlesbrough badge that I had since I was a boy that now holds my pennies, nickels and dimes within.

I can name pretty much any team we’ve had from the past 20 years from memory and have visited over 70 different football grounds in the UK and Europe following my team home and away.

However, appearances can be deceptive. Yes, I live in the US now but I have only seen three and a half games on TV all of this season and they were all between August and October. The last match I saw, live or on TV was on December 27th and frankly, I’m worried that I’m not missing it as much as I should be.

I’ve listened to a couple of radio commentaries but my main source of news are some apps on my Smartphone that chime in two minutes too late to let me know we’re losing another must-win game. I realize that circumstance plays a part but I feel something of a fraud pontificating on matches and players I haven’t seen; like one of these Man Utd fans from Indonesia or Singapore that call their kids Giggs or Ronaldo but wouldn’t recognize the Warwick Road (as it was) if they lived on it.

Many US-based soccer fans must have a similar dilemma – but I don’t see the Freudian introspection behind the makers of the Atlanta Chelsea flag that gets rolled out in my football locale over here.

In the UK – the lines between fandom are very distinct – if you go, you’re a fan, if you don’t then you’re not – but where does this put old guys who can remember seeing football before the War and have been to more matches than you have even if you were to attend one every day for the rest of your natural life from now on? Maybe modern fandom revolves around much more than actually being in attendance – in the same way that Islam requires every follower to participate in at least one Hajj maybe football should introduce its own purity test – that every supporter should make a pilgrimage to their teams home at least once in their life and at 3 pm every Saturday GMT, should cup their ear in the direction of Upton Park or White Hart Lane for 90 minutes and stand like one of those awful living sculptures in tourist towns. Perhaps only then will we truly sort out the genuine article from the arrivistes; or more accurately, the Mustoe’s from the Smythe’s.

PS – I found this really great link. Clark has spent the past 20 years photographing football stadia and life related to it and this is a great place to while away a couple of hours.

Guy Bailey is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at guy@yanksarecoming.com.

Guy Bailey

  • Neil W. Blackmon

    Guy, Excellent work as usual. There’s an American side to this tale as well– that link surely displayed it– American baseball fans are perhaps the most similar group to European football fans– there is a certain dignity to being someone who understands a club’s history and has seen games in all manner of stadiums over the course of their life. The NFL, for all its American splendor– doesn’t have that “feel”. Point being– I think American baseball fans who take a liking to football understand the alternative “definition of a fan” much better than other American sports fans. This is why the girl @ the Tampa Rays game with a pink Boston Red Sox hat on is so much more troubling than the little kid @ a Braves game who wears a Mets hat because his Dad has one.

    As for a pilgrimage, I’ll make it to Goodison, or wherever Everton call home, one of these days. That’s a guarantee. I think then I’ll feel more sincere. Cheers.