5 Underrated Fanbases in World Football

Tony MabertContributor IMarch 1, 2012

5 Underrated Fanbases in World Football

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    In these times of football clubs clamouring to drive revenue, maximise markets and use other such business jargon, the fanbase has never been more important.

    Clubs such as Manchester United, Liverpool and Real Madrid are true global brands, with ardent supporters all over the world who care far more about the fortunes of a team thousands of miles away than the one which is just down the road.

    Others, such as Bayern Munich and Barcelona, have become paragons of how a club owned by its members can still succeed at the highest level.

    All of the aforementioned sides are some of the biggest in the history of the game, and as such they are expected to have vehement and vast support both inside their stadium and in the wider world.

    Here are five clubs who often have the size and fervour of their fanbase underestimated.

Seattle Sounders

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    Few citizens have embraced a new football team quite like those of Seattle did when the Sounders became an MLS franchise in 2007. 

    Within two years of their formation they became the best-supported side in Major League Soccer. Last season their average attendance of more than 38,000 was more than double that of all but three of the other 17 franchises in the league.

    Not only do they have the fans, but they also have the fervour. Any snobbish European detractor of the MLS would do well to look at the sustained chanting and unity of the Sounders' crowd as an example of how it is not impossible for Americans to "get" soccer. 

Borussia Dortmund

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    Given their exemplary history and widespread support, it is little wonder that Bayern Munich are the most popular and celebrated club in Germany and abroad. They are not called "FC Hollywood" for nothing.

    However, they are not Germany's best-supported in terms of bums on seats. That honour goes to the reigning Bundesliga champions, Borussia Dortmund.

    Fans at the Westfalenstadion have certainly been through the mill over the past 15 years. In that time they have seen their club go from winning the Champions League to the verge of bankruptcy and now back as domestic title-winners. 

    They sure know how to celebrate their club's glorious resurgence, filling their 80,000-capacity stadium every game and putting on intimidating choreographed displays like this.

Chelsea

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    One popular jibe aimed at Chelsea from visiting fans is "You're just a small club in Fulham!"—the implication being that they are a team with little in the way of support before the arrival of Roman Abramovich's money hailed a trophy-laden new era.

    There may still be an element of truth in such goading—the Blues still struggle at Stamford Bridge for many cup games—but the fact is that, this season, they are punching their weight in terms of home fans. 

    The club's average attendance for Premier League games so far this season is 41,591. That is more than Sunderland and Aston Villa, who both have bigger capacities at their grounds.

    The likes of Didier Drogba and Michael Essien playing for the club has also made them immensely popular in West Africa, and they have certainly stepped up their efforts to attract new support abroad in recent years.

    A club of Chelsea's current stature should expect this situation to be the minimum requirement, but it shows they are not quite as deserving of the "no fans" tag many would still pin on them.

Fenerbahce

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    Fenerbahce are the most successful football club in Turkish football. They have won 18 Super Lig titles, one more than Istanbul rivals Galatasaray.

    It is no surprise, then, that they are the best-supported club in the country, boasting average attendances of more than 40,000 for every home game at their Sukru Saracoglu Stadium.

    However, after disorder from the club's passionate supporters in a preseason friendly, Fener were ordered to play two matches behind closed doors. 

    As a compromise, the club negotiated that they could let fans in for their match against Manisaspor, but only if they were women or children. More than 41,000 supporters fitting that description turned up and cheered the team on to a 1-1 draw. 

    When the club repeated the trick for the second game of their punishment against Sivasspor earlier in February, an even bigger crowd turned out to see their team win 4-2.

    Even when they cannot call upon any of their regular fans, Fenerbahce still play to a packed crowd.

Real Betis

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    They may be Sevilla's "other" club these days, and they may yo-yoed between the top two divisions in recent years, but Beits are still a big club in Spain.

    Los Beticos continue to flood through the gates of the Estadio Benito Villamarin no matter which division their team happens to be in. 

    Last season, their average attendance was still in the top 50 in Europe despite them being in the Segunda Division. 

    This season, their average attendance of 40,041 is the fifth best in Spain, more than Basque giants Athletic Bilbao and even better than that of their more salubrious local rivals Sevilla. Only Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Valencia pull in bigger crowds.