Where Do Fans Belong?

Baris GercekerCorrespondent IOctober 21, 2008

It was just a game but that was a long long time ago. It really is a totally different question to ask: why did people watch the game as spectators for the first time?

One may guess and type in this scenario for that question; they were probably not able to participate but they wanted the team they sympathised to win, so they took their places in the stands. Then, probably, came the chants and possibly boos and jeers. We kind of know the rest of the story.

The feeling and instinct of possession from the fans side is indescribable. You cannot rationalize it in any simple way. When you try to rationalize this and create similarities with other affinities a human being can carry, there is always a flick where the example does not fit in. Some associate it with mother-child relationship, some with husband-wife, some even with God-creature.

Being a fan is not like any of those. Maybe in some aspects it is, and in some aspects it contains some of each, but never the total sum. It is a unique kind of affection, affinity or love, however you may name it.

Industrial football is a cold phrase. All it reminds me of are tall chimneys, giving out black smokes to a dark sky over football pitches. Choking. But it is as cold a truth as the phrase itself. The fans evolving into customers is a part of that very same cold phrase.

Fans can be subdivided into branches, hard-core, soft-core etc. Then there are spectators. And then come the customers lately. None like each other but they often have to sit side-by-side.

Stadiums are the only venue where they meet and interact, in real. You can see the looks on their faces while looking at each other, not even friendly to those who support the same colors. Sad but it ultimately came to this point.

Money started to mean a lot more than chants in the stands. And since this immaterial support lost the importance fans turned onto themselves. They isolated themselves if they survived, formed groups, produced their own focus of power, they made a stand against the money. Their so-called love cannot be bought by money.

It sure looks good on paper or walls or signs but the reality is much more different. Club boards desire regular season ticket holders who buy expensive merchandise from official stores. Buy their drinks from the over-priced stands in the stadiums rather than the sleazy bar near the venue.

The game was the fun of the poor in the old days, it was popular among the heavy duty workers and labourers. Of course it took place in universities and colleges and I know enough that the rules were set in those "educational surroundings." But still it was not the game of the rich like golf or polo or whatever.

Poverty goes hand to hand with closer and deeper feelings against colors of a jersey, because they need more to hold onto in their casual lives other than their jobs and homes. And as tickets price go higher and higher along with senseless boards managing clubs in other ways, the real and true core fans feel more and more estranged as days go by.

Club purchases by rich campaigns is the fashionable trend lately. Chelsea, then Manchester United, West Ham, Portsmouth then came the City. The Russian league is also considered to use a similar approach, where rich companies see football clubs as "investments" and some even suggest they are used for laundering money. The color of the game gets greener but not because of the grass it is played on.

The fans may protest, arrange meetings and chant their slogans against such actions but does it really matter that much? Unfortunately not. What fans think and want does not really matter much. The boards can decide and go sign a player that the fans despise, sell their mostly beloved figure in the team, or sack a manager who the people in the stands stand behind.

The game started as a fun pass-time for the players on the pitch at first, people did not definitely intend to entertain anyone other then themselves. Then it all changed and it became a game for the spectators. What's being done was all for the supporting fans in the stadiums, who travel after their teams regardless of the distance traveled. Then came the TV and live coverages, commercials, big signings which came along with their sponsorship agreements, and it all became about the money.

The fans of course are not supposed to be in charge of managing a club because the separation between fans, boards and players is the sane way. But these should be aligned. The boards are definitely there to improve things, or at least to not worsen the situation. And to do that actions required may contain some conflicts but all has to be well calculated. It is a gentle balance that need to be kept.

Lately supporters you can call the customers, or consumers do not really care about a club's past, its traditions etc. All they care about is the success, glory and the reputation, having pure fun on game days, regardless of who brings that fun to them and how. So a conflict between those and real fans is inevitable.

Internet provides these virtual arena's, or forums to be precise, where the sides of those conflict can confront each other and there is no winner. Other than that they yell at the same referee in the home ground and while customers/consumers stay in their warm homes, the fans are stuck in the away stands at the hostile away venue.

There is no winner. As the game gets bigger boards' concerns upon issues keep on changing while fans still remain conservative and customer/consumers follow and approve almost all that the boards do, not really considering what may be the pros and cons. The ties that bond them together vary but the love for the game itself is ascending.

Whether this trend will slow down or even head back in the reverse direction is an important issue. Right now no one is absolutely right because customer/consumer's invasion in the stadiums are yet to prove that fans are right, or otherwise.