A recent conversation with a colleague got me thinking on of those completely irrelevant tangents. Any time spent thinking about sports is time wasted, but since I am pondering in that direction, what has the internet done to those who follow sports? Let’s say you are one of those who claims to be a Manchester United fan, for example. The ideal prototype of a Manchester fan would be someone who grew up in Manchester, buys the shirt every year, subscribes to Man U TV, and attends every game possible, including overseas matches. This kind of fan is truly a fanatic, following his team and supporting them with cold, hard cash at every possible occasion. He can quote statistics at will, knows the history of the club from start to finish, and can put together his all time lineup from 100 odd years of players.
The average Manchester fan is somewhat different. I propose we call this type a follower, and not a fan. The average Manchester fan has never been to see a game in person, and became a fan because much like your average New York Yankees fan because they are always winning. Much like so-called Real Madrid, Barcelona, and AC Milan fans all over the world, they just want to like the best team and don’t really know much about them. They only know the best player in the lineup (Messi, Rooney, or Ronaldo) and are pretty much at a loss when asked to describe tactics or which formation best suits the squad.
The third type of watcher is right in between. A supporter of the team (and I include myself in this group) is someone who lived in the area, has been to see some games live, watches them on TV when time allows, and occasionally splashes out on a hideously expensive team strip, but is more likely to be content with an older one as long as it’s not too faded and doesn’t have holes in it. With this in mind, I can describe myself as a supporter of two teams, and a follower of one.
I lived in Nagoya for about 5 years, and went to Nagoya Grampus Eight matches between 10-12 times a year. I thought about buying a team strip but choked at the exorbitant $150 CDN price, opting for the rather cheaper $25 T-shirt instead. I don’t often watch Grampus games on TV or Internet anymore because of the time difference, but I keep an eye on the standings and don’t curse and swear too much when I do see a game. I don’t have a 100% knowledge of their current lineup, but know a fair bit about their history and their all time greats. This makes me a supporter.
Hamburger SV I have been to see several matches live, but it’s been a while. I have splashed out on a few team shirts, but they were rather cheaper, especially when I bought them in Japan because a Japanese player, Naohiro Takahara, was on the team. I guess they didn’t sell well because they went on sale for a much more reasonable $75, although still expensive to my mind. I curse and swear when the HSV play, and definitely was depressed at their appalling performance last season when they barely avoided relegation. Although I don’t know the club history back to the very beginning, I certainly can put together a great all time lineup and definitely can point out the weaknesses in their current squad. My blood pressure begins to rise when thinking about all the great players that have been sold recently (van Buyten, Boulahrouz, de Jong, van der Vaart (welcome back, by the way), Kompany, and a pile of others) and how the board has completely mismanaged the finances. The idea that one of the 25 richest clubs in the world has no money to buy players completely baffles me, and I’ve watched in a stupor as one excellent manager after another has arrived, become pissed off at board interference, and left in a huff, often under the thinnest of excuses (yes, Martin Jol, that’s you). If I lived in Hamburg, I’d be closer to a fanatic than a supporter, but I don’t. Their ticket prices make it possible to actually go to a lot of games, unlike many other big clubs. I am definitely in the supporter category when it comes to the Rothosen.
And finally, the club that I follow, which is Arsenal. I greatly enjoy their style of play and am starting to feel a bit of pain when they don’t win. Since I watch a lot of Premiership games, I will usually chose to watch them as opposed to another club just because of their style of play. Although they are a rich club, they are unable to buy the league like Manchester City or Chelsea (yes, Man U does it too, but they built up their buying power naturally and not just by some gazillionaire buying the club) and therefore have to be canny in the transfer market to compete at the highest level. My latest favourite player is Lucas Podolski, just recently arrived from the Bundesliga, and I am watching his progress with interest. I don’t own a team shirt, but if I found one on sale, I would probably buy it if it wasn’t too expensive. I am unlikely to ever live in London, and if I did I would probably find going to games too expensive for my taste. I am definitely a follower of Arsenal, but not a fan. I wish them well, but I certainly don’t live or die by their success, or make a point of reserving time on the weekends to watch their matches.
So there you have it: the fan, the supporter, and the follower.