The Rational Ref

Fans flawed in their blind loyalty to clubs for eternity

Following one team doesn't make sense as managers, players often switch allegiances

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 February, 2014, 10:11pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 February, 2014, 10:11pm

What is the definition of a true soccer fan? Would it be someone like middle-aged Malaysian Richard Wee, still a virgin when it comes to attending live EPL matches, whose plight at Goodison Park last week caused a media circus?

Wee, an Everton supporter for 30 years, made the pilgrimage to his team's home ground for the first time only to be disappointed when the match against Crystal Palace was postponed. Fortunately, someone at the club read Wee's tweet, got in touch and gave him a tour. Wee even got to meet manager Roberto Martinez and defender Leighton Baines in the dressing room.

The reason why Wee became an Evertonian 30 years ago was probably triggered by the Toffees' 1984 FA Cup victory. A year later, Everton won the old First Division as well as the 1985 European Cup Winners Cup. Such glorious victories were presumably what hooked Wee, growing up half a world away, in the same way that millions of Asians became fans of Manchester United following their sustained successes over the past two decades.

By supporting one team for life, soccer fans foolishly subject themselves to a lifetime of pain, misery and angst, with perhaps a little ecstasy on the way

These days, the average Red Devils fan is most likely to be Asian, if not Chinese, who has probably never visited the city of Manchester. If they did, they would discover that most people from Manchester support Manchester City. Old Trafford is located outside the city, in Greater Manchester, the basis behind the cheeky "Welcome to Manchester" giant billboard advert when Carlos Tevez left United and joined City.

Can Wee and millions like him be considered true soccer fans despite never having watched a home game in person?

Or is a real fan born and bred on the doorstep of their home club?

What about the impulsive and infantile middle-aged Newcastle fan who ran on the pitch during the recent Tyne-Wear derby and threw his season ticket in indignation at Magpies manager Alan Pardew? Would someone as passionate as that be considered a true fan? Or by throwing away his season ticket did he demonstrate a total lack of loyalty and respect to his club?

The EPL's definition of a true fan is a morbid, depressing and masochistic view of fandom. Their current television advert showcases British fans of diverse ages and of various clubs travelling up and down the country supporting their teams and ultimately enduring disappointment on the terraces rather than ecstasy. The take-home message is that true soccer fans are meant to suffer horribly for their blind devotion to one team.

From these assorted definitions, it appears being a fan of a particular team is illogical, arbitrary and silly. Relying on emotional and traditional ties to choose a club and then sticking by them through thick and thin does not offer optimal enjoyment.

Furthermore, teams change over time; they change players, managers, owners and even their playing styles. So a fan of a club is simply being loyal to the badge, and not the game itself. For example, throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, the Gunners were known as "boring Arsenal". It took Arsene Wenger to transform their style. So why support specific clubs, if it is the way the game is played, and usually represented by one or three standout players in a team, that is the true captivating essence of the game of soccer? Do people become soccer fans because they follow a particular club or because they love the game?

By supporting one team for life, soccer fans foolishly subject themselves to a lifetime of pain, misery and angst, with perhaps a little ecstasy on the way following some favourable results. As a lover of soccer, it would make more sense to follow favourite exponents of the game and to appreciate the beauty of the sport without being blinkered by biased leanings toward one particular club. Match officials, who are experienced at observing the game from a neutral perspective, understand this perfectly.

Agree or disagree? Contact Rational Ref at rationalref@gmail.com