Football fans, particularly those wrapped up in the fandom of one particular club, often celebrate zealous dedication to one club. Even fans of rival clubs are given grudging but genuine respect for being a “true”. To support other clubs as well is to be inauthentic, disloyal, untrustworthy. Some fan cultures have even managed to extend this to the usually unifying force of national teams, i.e. some Manchester United fans refusing to support the supposedly anti-United England team. I quite admire this lunacy, this frenzied passionate partizan lunacy. It makes football more dramatic, more tense, more squeeky bum… more murderous.
However, I don’t think there’s ever been a time when football consumers en masse have really exclusively supported just one club. This seems to be the case at all times; from the Victorian beginnings of amateur association football (indeed, before recogniseable fandom had been collectively invented), through the pre-war pattern of English supporters seeing a city’s two main teams on alternate weekends, through to the contemporary globalised choicefilled football market (where kids in Plymouth Argyle’s under 10 squad can support FC Barcelona & AS Roma but not Argyle).
And if there has been a period of oneclubfandom, I would suggest it’s something of a blip in the history of football and its time is drawing to a close.
The legislative and technological liberations of globalised media confront the football consumer with many more fields from which to choose pantomime heroes and villains. The increasing global exchange of football labour and growing significances of supranational competition such as the Champions League interconnects clubs and formerly more isolated national footballing cultures.
Admiration for other clubs has even informed fans how to support their indigenous club. I bet there would not have been half as much anti-Glazer protest and posturing had United fans not had the totemic FC Barcelona standing as an example of “democratic” fan ownership*.
If we are to except this multiplicity of football choice, then I would urge football fans to embrace it proactively. Do not wait for BSkyB or Nike etc. to push a set & sterile menu under your nose. Explore the world. Inform yourselves. Express the multifaceted you. And throw yourselves in with as much passion as you can muster. We must swallow the mythologies whole. NO CHEWING!
* = The true extent of Barça’s democracy is difficult to define – and not only because that vague term “democracy” is a slippery lump of jelly to even the most generalising hammer and nail. Presidential footballing democracy of big clubs like Barcelona & their dramatic rivals Real Madrid are so often case studies in elective dictatorship (see the decades the corrupt and self-obsessed Josep Lluís Núñez held power at Barça). The average fan has absolutely no chance of becoming El Prez, a position more commonly held by successful lawyers (such as Joan Laporta), businessmen or politicians (Florentino Pérez qualifies as both).
However, the sense of democracy is nevertheless very important. It draws people in, that sense of ownership, of control, of being positioned deep in the fabric of this thing to which you give your loyalty. It is very romantic. People used to care about it. Awash with history. Vivid with heartwarming stale.
“Democracy” is thus enormously attractive to fandom, I would imagine, for the same reasons nationalism and mass democracy have been so entwined through history.