In the climax to our three piece feature, Richard attacks the subject head on; forget your local team, forget your morals, modern football is here to stay for the better, and you better get used to it.
There are very few among us who can claim to truly support their local team. Many on the terraces around the world who may partake in the “We Support Our Local Team” chant are almost certainly guilty of not supporting their local team.
It’s tricky to decide just what defines your “local” team. There are a few criteria for judging, firstly: where do you live? I must state specifically, this means where have you lived most of your life? You can’t suddenly move to London and decide to support Chelsea, due to them now being local to you. It is the place you most associate with being home.
Besides those who live in isolated areas the vast amount of football fans will be living in some sort of metropolitan area – or close to one. By definition this sort of area is going to be pretty large and so there’s a good chance of that place having more than one team. It would be interesting to see figures for that kind of support perhaps called local-yet-not-local. For example I wonder how many Newcastle United fans (I’m not picking on you, Geordies, it’s just much easier with a “one team” city) live close to Walkergate. Almost certainly quite a few of them will do and yet their local team would be Newcastle Benfield. Benfield are one of the many small clubs that are often forgotten about, which is understandable when you’re playing at the 9th tier of the football league. There are no doubt many Manchester City fans too, who have lived their whole life in Salford yet go to grounds claiming “Manchester Is Blue”, knowing full well they’re a minority in that part of town (ignoring Salford City FC), surrounded by fans of Manchester United. No doubt these same Manchester United fans too, will be telling the City fans they know live close to them to “fuck off back to Stockport”.
As another criteria, a question could be: where were you born? This is a contentious way of justifying your support for a team. It’s true that for the most part, you don’t have much choice on where you live. You were raised there and you, in later life, may decide to move away – but that part of your upbringing will always stay with you and you can have little influence over its location. Your place of birth though is even more of a roulette. You could be born in a foreign country before moving to your new hometown; you could even end up with perhaps the best one “born at sea”. With their currently being no football clubs representing oceans or seas (I say “currently” with great caution) meaning, by that definition you’re free to pick and choose your team. This is a problem for Lille’s Rio Mavuba who was born at sea. You could have the good fortune of being born in Barcelona before moving to Blackburn, you’d be expected to support Blackburn but you would have the argument that “truly” Barcelona was your original local team. Or maybe it was Espanyol? Or perhaps it was lowly CE Europa?
A common occurrence is parents forcing (or giving, depending on your perspective) their team upon them from an early age. Indeed, I will almost certainly be guilty of this should I have the chance to. Being born in Manchester to Scouse parents is a fairly frequent occurrence judging by the distance of the two cities. It’s natural that the child of this family is likely to support Liverpool, or Everton, or perhaps less likely, Tranmere Rovers. It’s hard to argue with someone who has been force-fed his or her team, it is almost like brain washing and there is no way to reverse it.
There’s one extra reason that seems to involve a team being “local”, and here you’d have to replace the word “local” with “like minded”. I’m of course looking at the likes of Celtic and Rangers. You could well have been born right there in Celtic Park, but if you’ve grown up a Protestant, drenched in a Union Jack then you really aren’t going to be getting away with supporting Celtic. Factors like these are viewed to transcend such reasons as “local” teams but as long as these divides continue and few are brave enough to cross them then it will always be that way.
The most important point from all this is that you probably don’t support your local team, if you do then that’s fair enough but you’re likely to be a minority. For those who have any team in the football league that has always been closer to them then they will have to remember to think twice whilst singing “We Support Our Local Team”. For the most part this is all common knowledge, many will say that there are no Manchester Untied fans in Manchester, but everyone knows that is not true. It can’t be when you look at their historic attendance figures, it didn’t all happen in the 90s.
To go one further, you could even say that supporting any team you desire is a good thing, and that it should be entirely a person’s choice regardless of their location.
Modern Football is entirely different today than it used to be. Long gone are the workers heading in their many, many thousands to the rickety old football stadium at exactly 3pm on a Saturday. For better or for worse the growing popularity coupled with television and technology has totally changed the face of football to what you see today. It’s now possible for a young fan to see more Sevilla matches on their TV than perhaps their local team, Wigan Athletic. Your young football fan today certainly is much less likely to get the experience of being taken to their “local” team’s games due to the huge ticket prices affecting many fans.
It’s understandable then that many fans are drawn to teams who are easily accessible to them on television and also are talented (which in tern makes them successful too). You can sympathise if someone from say, Ireland, a country with a very sub-standard league was drawn to a club like AC Milan.
There is of course the argument that as more and more people are exposed to the bigger “Super clubs” and thus become fans of that team that the difference between the top clubs and the bottom clubs will be come even more polarised. That though, has how it has been mostly for a long time, there have always been your AC Milan, Juventus, Real Madrid and Liverpool – and that is unlikely to ever change. If you want to follow Benfica, as you feel connected to them in some way other than boundaries, then by all means go ahead, and don’t listen to anyone else. It is not impossible for clubs to come through, especially in times like now with super-rich owners. Villarreal are a great example of how a club can come from very humble beginnings and begin to enrapture fans from all around, and they make a strong case for why supporting a team shouldn’t be limited to location.
Villarreal (or Vila-real) is a small city on the outskirts of big-neighbours Valencia, with a population of around 50,000. That’s not a lot, for example the town of Bury has a population of 60,000. Their stadium, El Madrigal can fill 25,000. It doesn’t take a genius to work out the maths, and no everybody who goes to see them will be born-and-bred Vila-realencs. On average it fills about 17,000, which is still a very impressive figure for such a small place. It is chiefly the quality of the football on show that attracts the fans.
How about that team, FC St. Pauli? Where would they be without support from outside of the St. Pauli region of Hamburg? Constantly dwarfed by their neighbours Hamburger SV, mostly of the north of the city, and yet by far the greater proportion of fans. St. Pauli owe their fame to their origins as disgruntled Hamburg fans changed the clubs fan base and gained them exposure in the country as a cult club, and now their exposure stretches all around the world. Support your local team if you want, but how can you begrudge someone for loving a club like St. Pauli?
In the end location will always be trumped by the quality of football. That is what this sport is about! Manchester United has been the best-supported team in England since the 1940s. It isn’t just Sky Sports and the Internet that is the reason for this. And although Manchester is a big city, it is more than that, there was brilliant football from the Busby Babes and that is what will attract people to watching football. Ultimately, you should enjoy watching football, rather than watching your local village team getting trounced 7-0 on a windy wet Saturday.
You can follow Richard Cole on Twitter @filippoinzaghi.