Champions League final to be watched far and wide but fan snobbery sees some followers judge their own
There are football fanatics who will never make it to the stadium, but is going to the game any more legitimate than watching from afar?
“Why are you sitting down?” was the exclamation from the man two seats away from me at Wembley last Saturday just moments after the whistle blew to signal the kick off of the FA Cup final between Manchester United and Chelsea.
In the upper deck of the national stadium the United section had gone from being on their feet for the pre-match rituals of Abide With Me and the national anthem to taking their seats for kick-off and it was to the annoyance of my almost seatmate: “What’s the fxxxxxxg point of coming? Yous could have stayed at home.”
He went through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance in about five minutes as he pondered why everyone was getting football “wrong” in his eyes.
To many of the others in that top tier, he was the one getting it “wrong”. They had paid their money to watch United at Wembley and they would be doing it sat down.
What is football support in 2018 when the clubs themselves have ditched the term in preference of the wider “follower” and are so quick to tout the number of followers they have on Chinese social media?
Everything used to be so simple when it came to being a fan. Not now. Now there is an expectation but the problem is it is so very different from one seat to the next.
While my Lancastrian almost seatmate was fuming to anyone who would listen about how the atmosphere was better at the FA Cup semi-final, everyone else was settling into recreating their usual Old Trafford experience, namely grumbling loudly at Marcus Rashford and refusing to sing.
As they are entitled to. They have paid their money and they have made their choice. Who is to say what fandom is meant to look like?
Then again, as annoyed as that one lad was, when he left the game with several minutes still on the clock and his side just a goal down, those in the row behind him who had been so quiet piped up.
“I hope you miss another 30 minutes of extra time” was their input on how he was getting football “wrong”. But what is right and wrong?
Is going to the game any more legitimate than how the vast majority of people consume their football? Is it not more of a commitment to get up at 3am to watch the game in Hong Kong or Shanghai than it is to get the bus or tram to Old Trafford after work?
It’s the same at clubs across the world. The accepted snobbery of supporters that the ones that go to the games, those few thousand who can fit inside the stadium on a Saturday, are somehow virtuous.
Having sat next to a man on the other side of me who fell asleep – some might say rightly based on the abject action in front of him – that’s clearly nonsense.
Is paying £115 (HK$1,200) to sleep in the stands a more legitimate way to support your team than those ultra leaders who spend the game looking the other way to lead people singing? Is either of those “better” than being a part of the supporters club in Hong Kong and singing along to the TV?
Football has changed. One Manchester City supporter told me that when he was at this season’s League Cup final at Wembley there was a another Blue in the row behind him who kept leaning forward and screeching at the players that it “wasn’t good enough”.
City were 3-0 up at the time against Arsenal and were also cruising to the league title. If you can’t enjoy that then what’s the point?
Those lucky enough to make it inside the Olympic Stadium in Kiev will no doubt feel the same. There is something about football fans – and perhaps it is a peculiarly British thing, like other aspects of snobbery – where they judge their fellow fan.
Hopefully, win or lose, they can take the time to concentrate on enjoying the game rather than getting their enjoyment from dismissing everyone else as inferior supporters.
There are people now who consider themselves big fans of football players and clubs who will never ever go to a game. There are those that consume football through Reddit highlights and Ladbible banter.
There are people who live their life on football Twitter. None of these are “wrong”. Nor is showing your allegiance by buying the shirt or risking your freedom by watching games on illegal online streams or listening on the wireless.
Football has changed so fandom will have changed with it. It’s a global game and an increasingly global world.
The world game should be bringing us together rather than driving us apart and the message that goes out over the PA at the end of the game – “thank you for your support” – is one that is for everyone, inside the ground, in the pub or watching online. Everyone except the fans who fall asleep.