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“Supporters” and “fans”

Posted in Arsenal, Football, sports, Welcome! with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2008 by GooneRC8

I grew up watching football both at the stadium and on TV. In fact, some of my earliest memories are from when the Chilean National Team played in international competitions. I remember the crowded room; 6 people in a tiny apartment celebrating and suffering the fate of ‘La Roja’. One memory stands out; I’m being held by my mother, who is protecting me from the sheer euphoria emanating from a post-goal frenzy. She was the only one who paid attention to me at such moments… she obviously wasn’t as fanatical as the rest of the people in the room.

When things are going well, the behaviour of all football aficionados is essentially the same. They go to the stadium, they love to brag about being the best, they get on the internet or buy the morning papers to find out about the latest news involving their beloved teams – You’d swear all of those interested in ‘the global sport’ are a homogeneous mass of invariable behaviour. But you’d be wrong. Just like you may think all brides and future husbands are the same if you only watch them during a wedding, people, even those who follow the sport closely, can be fooled by the seemingly die-hard attitude of the people who “the others” refer to as Glory-Hunters.

Football followers can be divided into a number of sub-species, but I think the most essential and definite line to be drawn is that which separates “supporters” from “fans”. The roles of these 2 different kinds of followers are very different, as is their behaviour both on and off the terraces. Nowadays, with high ticket prices, metro-sexual players, celebrities, and impressive stadiums, football has become (regrettably) fashionable. 75% of the people who watch football every week would agree that football is ‘just a sport’. And many of them are only “fans” when their team is enjoying the sweet taste of victory, whilst they suddenly ‘lose interest’, generally due to unrelated factors (yeah, right) when the team experiences a rough patch.

People from all over the world “randomly” pick a team to follow and stick with it as long as it is successful or has a chance of being successful. Because they don’t have a real link with the team, they team represents a choice, a bet, so to speak, that they want to win in order to brag about their good taste or prediction skills. And just like with these examples, there’s always a space to make a step back and say ‘I was wrong, I’ll change my prediction for next time’.

That’s exactly what’s going through the minds of those that switch from ManU to following the Chavs in a matter of months and without further remorse. This may seem to be completely ilogical for a real supporter, but for someone who does not feel a sense of belonging at a club, there really is nothing tying him up to the cause. Likewise, I know a couple of Arsenals fans who’d probably stop supporting the club if we started playing ultra-defensive football. This is because the sole reason they like Arsenal is because of the football they play, and should it stop, they’d stop feeling identified with the club. Sadly, this is not only a foreign phenomenon; many of the people who go to matches in England and around Europe think like this, as do many of the South American “clasiqueros” who only turn up for big games.

A supporter, in the other hand, is someone whose ties with a club are so difficult to torn apart that in all likeliness this person will feel represented by the institution for as long as it exists (and even ’til after it ceases existing in some cases). Supporters don’t go to the stadium to see if the team wins, they go to try and collaborate with the collective objective of actually helping the team obtain 3 points. They don’t go to watch a show or be entertained (even though it’s really nice when that happens), they go to help making sure that efforts of ‘their people’ are rewarded. Effectively, a football team is like a nationality – there are certain values that are inalienable to both the club and yourself, and that make this sport all the more interesting.

Football is, or used to be, a mean for the people to express themselves in an official stage where the superiority of one of the contestants could be proven over the other. Football makes the poorest soul wealthy, because it gives it something to lose. While the higher classes prefer to feel identified by what they own, those who do not own anything significant only have their honour (in the shape of their local representatives) left to lose. It’s a damn shame that those who are there to enjoy a show are now taking that away.

I didn’t become a supporter up until I met Highbury and its people. That’s when I truly became part of a community of people whose will for something that’s essentially out of their hands captivated me to the point of no return. I now know that irrespectively of what happens from now on, I’m condemned to die a Gooner, and to suffer or enjoy whatever happens to the pride of London for the rest of my life.

Fans can be turned into supporters, but first of all they need to learn that football, above all, is about identity and representation.

If football is just a sport, my heart is just a muscle.

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