EPL: The Fickle Faithful

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EPL: The Fickle Faithful
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Football is tribal, as the saying goes, and by the behaviour of many of the fans, a spectator unfamiliar with the culture of the game is bound to find this true. We won't deny it.

The loyalty to a team, be it Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, etc., espoused by supporters is deep, sometimes generational, and can even border on the irrational or ridiculous and foolish—consider coin throwing at players.

Taunting the opposition is natural in any sport, and even the players themselves indulge in honest dislike for the opposing team, as in the recent example of Wayne Rooney's admission that he hates Liverpool. This is natural, since he grew up an Evertonian and played for the Toffees prior to his transition to a Red Devil.

Yet, for all his loathing, when it comes to playing alongside Steven Gerrard, or other England nationals from opposing Premier League clubs, such emotion tends to give way to an understanding and camaraderie that can produce wonderful displays as those seen on Saturday.

As a fan, it is interesting to also observe our fickleness when the Three Lions are not playing and the individuals return to their clubs. There is no way a Manchester United fan can ever give anything but a half-nod (if that much, and only when United is winning) to Liverpool and their supporters.

Thankfully, the days of hooliganism are behind us, though there is always the possibility of some fanatic wanting to prove himself and his devotion to his club. But those incidents are rare these days.

But when Gerrard, Rooney, Lampard, and company from the best are adorned in the all-white of the home uniform or the red and white of the away colours, as fans, we quickly forgive each player their sins against our specific team.

A Red Devil fan will sing his heart out for Steven Gerrard, or you'll hear a Liverpudlian singing "Wayne Rooney, Wayne Rooney" (to the tune of "Let It Be"), and Stamford Bridge fans will applaud a Spur, as they all, fans and team, focus their collective dislike against the visiting national side.

However, come club rivalry games, the generosity that was poured forth from the stands in midweek is replaced by insults and contempt for the very players that we loved on Wednesday.

The recent Manchester United-Liverpool tie and the invectives hurled at players illustrate this, as many of these same fans would soon sing for all England players at Wembley, no matter their club.

This is natural on our part, for we have committed more than just our Saturdays and Sundays, our money, time with other friends who do not care for football and can't understand why between May and August a sense of drabness pervades our days.

We've committed ourselves to a team and a community of supporters, no, a family.

In pre-WWII Manchester, it was typical for a Mancunian to support both United and City; following WWII, loyalties developed without explanation.

The players themselves, however, because of the time spent with each other in battle against a common visitor, tend to show good sportsmanship when contesting against each other.

Whatever dispute might have developed in league matches is forgiven (or it appears so) as the players comprehend why they are together. It is encouraging to witness the sportsmanship displayed in the league matches and good relations among players due to them having spent time playing together for England.

This sentiment among players as well as fans is an example of the splendour and mystery of the game.

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