MatchDay Memory–A Fan’s Crisis Part 2

My previous post described how I got here, the process of going from following a team on the other side of the ocean to following other clubs in other countries to following a sport the covers the entire world. Now I am at crossroads. I can’t really call myself a supporter of any the three teams; at best I could classify myself as a casual observer.

Living in America, I would argue that we are fan whores. Okay that’s a little harsh, but let’s just say that Americans are not necessarily the most loyal fans, willing to change their allegiance due to relocation, relative success or a uniform change.

I reread chapter 10 of Soccernomics to get another definition of fan. Most fans believe they are or want to be Nick Hornby from his book Fever Pitch (which I read again this spring and really brought these thoughts about fandom to the fore) but the data and the actions of fans do not support this. The chapter—Are Soccer Fans Polygamists?—is broken into two sections: examining fan data from English Soccer for over 60 years in an attempt to break down the percentage of fan attendance year over year and isolating a single team over the course of four seasons to identify how fans label themselves.

I won’t bore you with the analysis of years of English soccer. Let’s just say that fans come and go and that variances in attendance usually have something to do with success on the pitch. The authors also evaluated an English team from the Midlands during the mid 90’s and broke down the fan base into three categories:

  • Fanatics: Season ticket holders
  • Committed casuals: In the middle, want the club to win, may watch/go to the exclusion of others
  • Carefree casuals: Soccer fans and not necessarily club fans

After reading the chapter, a couple of things struck me. Mega clubs (of which I support three) have a mix of Hornbys and casual fans, with historically rich teams having more of the former, but in the end, the phenomenon of Nick Hornby’s portrayal of the fan, the supporter who spends every waking moment (attending almost every home game and most away games) and almost every last cent (scarves, programs, kits, etc.) towards the team of choice (in his case Arsenal) is not the norm.

Fandom is not a static condition but a process and has its own spectrum. For instance hardcore fans evolve over time as their lifestyle changes (marriage, kids, career, etc), causing them to end up at different points of a fan continuum. For carefree casuals, going to a match is an entertainment choice (dinner, movie, etc) rather than an emotional, all or nothing event. I think I most identified with committed casuals, who the authors stated “Have soccer support in perspective with the rest of their lives”.

The other item that is addressed is the argument for the dirty secret of English soccer: fans support more than one team. Example, Hornby supported Cambridge United and Arsenal. The authors make an analogy to music–you have several favorite bands and your tastes evolve over time. I will always love U2 but right now I’m into Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and ten years from now I’ll probably be into another band that doesn’t even exist yet.

Me, I’m loyal, almost to a fault, I am just running out of hours in a day, week, month, year, but my loyalty has been spread out so that the meaning of the word no longer matches the reality. As Soccernomics puts it: “The object of their love may not have changed, but the intensity has.”

I watch a dozen or so United games a year, focusing on matches against the big clubs (Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and now City) and the Champions League. I had a hard time following the Reds in the Europa League because adding another day of games to my schedule was too tough. Due to all the podcasts I listen to and the fact that United is an English team, keeping up with them is pretty easy, much easier than getting the Glazer’s to spend money.

I watch more FC Barcelona games for several reasons. One, I have really started getting into La Liga, writing a weekly review column, subscribing to several pods and blogs and trying to broaden my horizons; two, the team is so good, one of the best I may ever see, that I don’t want to miss “it”; and three, their success has led to the Blaugrana being involved in high profile games (Treble of 2009, El Clasico apocalypse of 2011, Chelsea stunner in 2012).

As for Juventus, my support of them has suffered the most. I stopped watching the Black and Whites because I just didn’t have enough time, especially for games that tended to be not as entertaining. So what happens? The Bianconeri win their first official scudetto in almost ten years, and instead of celebrating in relief and ecstasy, I couldn’t fully engage because I hadn’t put in the work of a true supporter. Posts such as this one by Bassel Barakat for Juventiknows exposed the difference between il tifosi and just some guy with a Juventus jersey.

So what do I do? Continue following these teams half assed? Narrow it down to two? Or one? Chuck it all and start following hockey? How does Cedrick do it? Finding time to teach, play soccer, and keep with the NY Red Bulls, PSG and Arsenal. How does Ty follow the NFL as a blogger and still find time to support Liverpool? How does Aaron work, be a husband and run a local supporters club and support Philadelphia Union? Maybe I’m not doing it right.

My original plan was to rotate teams, ie pick one team and follow them to the exclusion of the other team for a year. Example, MUFC in 2012/13, FCB in 2013/14, Juventus in 2014/15, and so on. Sure I would peek in the others from time to time, watch big games, but I would devote my time, resources and energy into one team per season. One downside might be that if I was following United and Juventus, my La Liga writing and knowledge would suffer. Maybe that’s the price I would pay. Maybe Morbo Minute would become a tri-annual exercise in learning and appreciation.

Maybe I continue doing what am I doing and accept that. Or maybe I just ditch all of my current teams and start fresh in the Bundesliga or other league. (MLS would not be a first choice.) Let it be clear I’m going to keep watching the beautiful game; I may just have to prepare myself for awkward conversations about my definitions of fan and supporter and where I and others fall on some sort of soccer loving spectrum. These wouldn’t be the first uncomfortable situations I’ve had, and if that’s my lot in my life so be it. But I am open to options, to tips, to secrets from the footy loving community about how to do it. This fan/observer/soccer nerd is out of ideas, sort of like the Dutch team at the Euros, and needs help. The floor is yours.

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