Football and The Modern Fan: How to Love Your Club
Good old Arsenal
We're proud to say that name,
And while we sing the song
Our fans leave the game
It's just like Nick Hornby said: "The natural state of the (Arsenal) football fan is bitter disappointment, no matter what the score."
Now don't get me wrong - I love giving my lads a good verbal hiding as much as the next guy after they've thrown away those two or three precious points. And as a lifelong Arsenal fan, I must admit there's a lot of that.
Some people aren't too fond of that sort of thing, and will steadfastly stand by their lads no matter what; "He's recovering from injury you know..." they'll say sympathetically after Player X has just missed his fifth blinder. Nevermind if Player X has infact been fit for well over a month now - he's one of our lads and we'll stand by him to the very end.
To each his own then, I guess.
But there's also the fans who support the clubs they do for the Hollywood glitz, the stars, the goals and the glory. The Sunday fan, the casual fan, the ignoramus - call them what you what - they're there and they're a big part of the sport. They're the supporters who will always look down upon the Wigans and the Valladoids of the world as rubbish teams and think them easy games, and who - in their ideal world - would really like to see their managers play six strikers at once.
It comes as little surprise though that most of these fans are younger, much newer to the sport and generally, not from Europe. The staggering expansion of viewership of the European leagues beyond their traditional audiences over the last decade can be attributed to the incredible overall social and economic growth in Asia and Africa.
It's a good - no - a great thing for the sport. All of sudden, audiences have doubled for which in turn has forced vast increases in the quality and competitiveness in all leagues. After all, larger audiences do mean larger payouts from television rights and merchandise, and more to fight for.
I think there's also an ugly side of the modern globalization of football. Back in the day when fandom was a local phenomenon, you'd never hear of such floosy talk and supporting your club was a fiercely private issue - something you shared with only your community. You trusted your players, your trusted your manager and hated the men down the road. Simple.
But it's not that way any more - at least not for the biggest clubs in Europe - and while I'm glad Arsenal is one of the clubs to benefit from it, frankly, there's times when it can be annoying and sharing your club takes away from being a fan.
It's the little stuff - the ignorant talk, the crazy 'opinions', the lack of fervor - and it shows at the Emirates and other stadiums. As more and more new/young fans travel to watch their clubs play live, they add to the quiet, non-singing parts of the stadium. The clap politely and leave early - not because they're bad fans, but because they don't know better.
There's also the matter of what they demand. They want signings and signings big - no matter what vision the manager has, or whether his intentions stretch beyond just the one season - no, the modern fan really is quite unreasonable. What's worse is that they don't understand the nuances of football.
And as a one-club fan I don't really know how things are down your road. I can only assume the phenomenon is more intense at Man City or Chelsea, who's global popularity has been only recent, and with their oodles of cash attract no doubt ludicrous fantasies in their younger fans abroad.
It's really not that anybody's particularly concerned about how it's going to affect Arsene Wenger or Ancelotti - fans are fans, and the best managers in the world do develop a thick skin over the years. And because a lot of the short talk and single-minded yelling comes from fans who don't sit in the stadiums week-in week-out, frankly nobody at the clubs really cared for the longest time.
But money, oh that devil! The modern fan is fickle and easy in swaying away, and that's why we see manager's sacked for non performance in ridiculously short periods of time. After all, fans are but customers and owners are increasingly sentimental to those consumer demands.
I don't know if you feel it like I do, but there's this sense of instant camaraderie one feels every time they're with a fellow XYZ fan. It's rather obvious with the people you share a drink with while watching the game, but it's even very much alive even when you've just met a new colleague at work, or a professor in the classroom - and it's frankly one of the reasons I love the sport so much.
So when the Arsenal fan from Japan, Guyana, Dubai, or India spreads his virtual presence and goes on and on about how Arsene should leave because he's lost it - it hurts a bit. I'd much rather be in a situation where my club had half the fans it did, but those fans understood what being a supporter of the club was all about.
You don't have to be a season ticket holder. You don't have to watch every game - heck, you could run through the highlights of one game a season if that's the amount of exposure you want to your team. Really, it's all more than fine just as long as at the end of day you understand why the club is what it is.
One part of that has to do with understanding the sport itself. For far too many fans, the difference between winning and losing is the substitutions your manager is making - "Bring on Walcott for Denilson, he's too slow" is just the tip of the iceberg and is the sort of statement that is reflective of the 'Playstation culture' that many of the younger fans seem to have.
That changes with experience and education - it's only a matter of a few years before those fantasies evaporate and those fans learn why anchorman is where he is, or why he passes the way he does.
It's also the same case with signings and sales - a player's natural talent or physique or past record is just one of 10 or 20 different things a manager considers before making a move in the transfer market. The papers will proclaim what they will to sell but you as a fan ought to filter the impossible from the possible.
I'm certainly not saying you can't say what you think - that's your right as both a fan and a human being - but rather dare yourself to really, really get into why you're saying what you are. When that happens, people will begin to listen to what you have to say. And if you know what it is that makes your club tick while you're saying those things - smarter, more influential fans will take notice.
I think the nature of football is such that it will never quite stagnate. Baseball, the NFL and the NHL are all at points where there is a definite order to things. Fan bases inch in growth and there's a sense of mind-numbing repetitiveness to the order of the leagues.
Football - especially the Premier League - continues to grow at a remarkable pace both in viewership and essence, and that's the reason why we've got hundred's of 'types' of fans. And like I've said before, the reason I'm saying what I am is because when you begin to understand both game and club, there's a real sense of belonging alongside the millions of others.
You're only making yourself look silly when you say "we need Chamakh because he's big, and that's that" - it's a much better experience when you feel the heartbeat of your club and being there for its players and fans alike, as an educated supporter, through thick and thin.
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