I had the idea behind this post a while ago, but I figure its worth finishing off properly now. Its about identity. I started thinking about my Twitter ‘biog’ and how I defined myself as a Huddersfield Town fan, despite being more than that (I am – I read a lot, I write a lot, I watch a lot of films – why should the XI blokes who kick a ball about while I watch be my primary definition), and the context of that fandom within the bigger football world.
I am a football fan. I like watching the game, be it Hull City v. Sheffield Wednesday, Torino v. Siena, Manchester Utd v. Liverpool or Mali v. Niger. The level of football doesn’t so much matter to me as much as the level of competition. If two (relatively) evenly matched sides are facing off, the physical, tactical and mental battle between the two is intriguing to me, and I can, and will, watch. As with most people, while watching the game, I tend to have a bias towards one team or another. The more games I watch, though, the more variable that is. I can’t say I’d ever get to a point where I was cheering Leeds Utd on, but I have found myself wanting to see their play rewarded with a goal, albeit under my breath.
That doesn’t make me a Leeds United supporter.
I want to see the teams who play at their best get their rewards. If a team is under the cosh by somebody I expect to beat them, and they’re holding on desperately, I love seeing them hold on – Chelsea’s run to the Champions League Final last season was a bit like that. I don’t especially like Chelsea, but through the combination of blind luck, dumb judgement and sheer hard work, they clung on to their leads and made it through. I was happy for them. I have written before about the arduous journey I went on with Didier Drogba last season, and it was poetic justice to see his performance in the final.
That doesn’t make me a Chelsea supporter.
I remember watching Greece a lot over the last few years. Their players are not the most gifted – Fanis Gekas up front? Samaras? You’re not going to get flowing, freeform, total football out of that team. Accordingly, when faced with better teams, they kept compact, tried to avoid conceding and hoped they could muster something up front. Seeing that gameplan often enough, I grew rather fond of it, but when they came up against Germany they were taken apart
spectacularly. I was always hoping Greece might get back into it, but still, the way Germany attacked, I was hoping they got their reward – they did; with some lovely goals.
That doesn’t make me a Germany supporter.
Even when watching Huddersfield, if a team is attacking well, and there’s the opportunity to do something that would be nice to see, I get frustrated and annoyed when they fail to execute it as I’d like. Often, I’ll say ‘ball’ (which, if you’ve sat with me and watched football, I apologise for – it must be annoying) when I see a good pass, whoever plays it. I don’t want to see Huddersfield lose, but I accept they must from time to time, and if you’re going to lose, you might as well lose to something worth losing to – those two goals Leicester scored at the John Smith’s Stadium being a case in point.
That doesn’t make me a Leicester City supporter.
I can understand the blind devotion of the fanatic. I realise that, when I’ve stood on cold terraces at Chesterfield and the like, there’s nothing I’d like more than to have my team score, score a glorious goal, and win the game emphatically. That’s why we go, isn’t it? You don’t pay money to see Arsenal beat your team, you pay money to see your team try to beat Arsenal. Unless you’re an idiot, you know at the end of the game whether your team have beaten Arsenal. You might even be able to pinpoint reasons they did or didn’t do so. I’m sure Manchester City fans this morning can point to their surge in the first half when Arsenal were (correctly – though frustratingly) reduced to 10 men. During that first half, City played some lovely stuff. I was glad when they were rewarded with a goal.
That doesn’t make me a Manchester City supporter.
The second half was different, though. Arsenal managed to regroup, and attacked with purpose while defending, when called upon, with vigour. Considering they were a man short, they did bloody well, I though, and it was a shame they didn’t get a goal back.
That doesn’t make me an Arsenal supporter.
The more I see and read about football online – particularly the Premier League, the less connected to it I feel. Everything anybody says or does seems to be taken in the context of another club or person. It used to be – and still is, really – the case in Spain. Any praise of Barcelona means criticism of Real Madrid, any praise of Madrid is criticism of Barcelona, as though they are the only two clubs that exist. I enjoy watching Barcelona matches; the way they unpick teams gradually is a wonder to see. I enjoy watching Real Madrid’s highlights. They have such thrust and punching ability that they can floor most opponents within a couple of minutes.
That doesn’t make me a Barcelona supporter.
As I say, though, that is becoming the case in England. If I make a negative comment on Manchester United, say (as I did criticising the state of their pitch yesterday) I automatically become a ‘Liverpool fan’, though I am not a Liverpool fan; I thought the Merseysiders played quite well in the second half, and probably deserved to edge a draw (I was hoping they would get one while their play merited it), but their defeat was no outrage, nor disgrace. Daniel Sturridge played well and he linked up well with Suarez. It was nice to see.
That doesn’t make me a Liverpool supporter.
I thought United were imperious during the first half; they had the look of a team who were just biding their time, like a serpent about to strike. It was a lovely, lovely goal when it came in the end. On a day like that, Manchester United can be a privilege to watch, and they certainly showed it in patches during the first half – Danny Welbeck’s movement and Michael Carrick’s control of the game were both a sight to behold, and when Tom Cleverley hit that volley that fizzed inches wide, I was praying it would nestle in the net.
That doesn’t make me a Manchester United supporter.
I don’t understand the anger and the vitriol that follows these clubs around. Supporting a team used to be a positive thing, did it not? ‘Supporting’ is a positive thing; you’re providing help when help is needed. You don’t ‘support’ people with hatred towards others, nor by blindly assuming that those you’re supporting are flawless. I find it difficult to watch Manchester United v. Liverpool games nowadays – much less deal with social media before during and after. Reasonable people, with reasonable standpoints and reasonable opinions are mocked, ridiculed and shot down with recriminatory haste. If I’ve seen one ‘Howard Webb favours Manchester Utd’ comment, I’ve seen 1,000. If I’ve seen one ‘Howard Webb actually awards more freekicks to Liverpool than Manchester Utd – average 0.75 per game since 2008’ style rebuke, I’ve seen 100. United fans; be happy your team held on against a resurgent Liverpool team. Liverpool fans, be proud your team managed to put up such a display.
To feel frustrated during the game, especially a highly-charged game as Liverpool v. Manchester Utd will inevitably be, is understandable if you think things are going against your team; nobody wants to see their team beaten. To carry that frustration forward, to transfer it to anger, which you project onto a person who is, at best guilty of trying to do their job, at worst trying to seek an advantage where maybe none should be, is unhealthy. It poisons football at the top level in England. When we have reached a point where football matches are seen as a part of a battle fought mainly off the field, then there is something very, very wrong.
On Friday night, we flicked on, and saw bits of, Wolves against Blackburn Rovers. Both teams looked pretty bereft of confidence, Blackburn got a questionable penalty and Wolves pegged them back late on. The Wolves crowd, though, were angry throughout. I couldn’t count how many times, or how many people, I heard being described in a particularly derogatory way. I understand Wolves aren’t performing as well as they’d like, but that isn’t supporting the team. Venting spleens at opposition players and officials isn’t going to have any positive influence on your team, and it meant that – despite being generally fond of the Wolves – I was hoping Blackburn held on for the win.
That doesn’t make me a Blackburn Rovers supporter
On Saturday, Lee Clark, who managed Huddersfield Town through three positive (though ultimately unsuccessful) seasons, was back at Huddersfield. He was left his job about a year ago, and is now at Birmingham City. Had I been at the game, I would have (lightly) applauded his appearance. He did good things for my club, for a long time. I could pick faults in some of the things he did as a manager here, but I don’t believe he did them deliberately wrongly, he just made a different decision to the one I would make at the time. I wish him well at Birmingham – he obviously has something to prove after things didn’t work out the way he wanted with my club, and I hope he manages to do so.
That doesn’t make me a Birmingham City supporter.
Maybe the difference is in the semantics. I see myself as a supporter, rather than a fan. I follow Huddersfield Town, used to go home and away, and I want them to be the best they possibly can be. I don’t want that at anybody else’s specific expense. I don’t think I cross into the realms of ‘fanatic’. My club has local rivalries with Leeds Utd and Bradford City, but I don’t wish them any specific ill, I just hope my team is better than theirs. Sometimes they will be, often (given the financial clout of Leeds) they won’t. I was delighted that Bradford bloodied the noses of Aston Villa last week – I watched the game the day after, and they thoroughly deserved to do so. Does this make me soft? Does it make me less of a Huddersfield supporter? I don’t see how it should. The people who go to watch Bradford are no different from me other than an accident of birth. Just as I wouldn’t want them to take joy in my misery, nor would I wish misery on them for my own sake. Bradford City did not win that game at Huddersfield Town’s expense, so what business is it of Huddersfield’s, really?
That doesn’t make me a Bradford City supporter.
This all leads me back to the original question about how I define myself. I am a football fan. I love watching football, reading about football, talking about it, analysing it, writing about it. I feel happy to describe myself as such. However, I am a Huddersfield Town supporter. I love watching the Terriers play well, win games, and further themselves. It is not the be all and end all for me. I came back from the Peterborough playoff final in 2011 feeling disappointed, but moreso that Town hadn’t performed as I know they could and had deserved to lose. I came back from the 2-3 defeat by Watford earlier in the current season feeling disappointed that they’d lost, but pleased that I’d seen a really good performance by Watford – particularly Forestieri, despite his theatrics – who had deserved to win. I came back from the 0-4 win at Brentford last season feeling that I’d witnessed some really good football from my team, and they’d deserved to win the game – though four goals flattered them.
After all this, I’m just curious to know if I’m in a minority, to be honest. Do most of the people who attend football only do so to see their team win, by hook or by crook, and to spill bile at officials, or the opposition, if that doesn’t go according to plan? Or do they go in the hope of their team winning, but more to enjoy the experience than to necessarily get what they want out of it? My view? If you can’t appreciate good football when you see it, I don’t really understand why you’re there in the first place. You’d like your team to be playing it, obviously, but its not a personal affront to you if its their opposition – as I said in a previous post; they are not doing it at your team, they’re doing it for themselves, it just happens to be a game in which your team is involved.
I want to finish with a quick three question quiz – I think it might divide the supporters and the fanatics – see what you think, and whether you’re comfortable where you fall.
1. Have you ever seen your team lose a game you thought they played well but still deserved to lose?
2. Do you take joy in seeing another team having lost – one that doesn’t directly affect your club’s league position?
3. Is there any player/manager you will always root against because of an incident that occurred against your club?
If you’ve made it this far, do me a favour. Next time you’re watching a match in which you have no vested interest, take note as to who you want to win at different points, and why. I’ll leave you with that while I go change my Twitter ‘biog’. Medway-based football fan who has recently isolated himself from the fanbase of the club he supports.