To support a football club/team, to enjoy their game, to cherish their wins, to chant the players’ names, to wear that special jersey, to stand with them during defeat and times of turmoil, to live through the exciting yet painful transfer season, to see club favourites leave and new players arrive amongst ridiculous rumours, to brag about its greatness amongst forums and sometimes to ridicule other clubs and get in vicious fist fights with their fans are some of the fine virtues I think should be in a true fan, well except for the fist fight part.
What is ‘geographical belonging’ when compared to the excitement that a game by your favourite club in some foreign country provides?
Well, it is something if you are biased about supporting your home club or team and that is a good thing, a good thing to stay through thick and thin with your home team/club no matter how underperforming the club really is.
Most of the times it’s not about political borders. Rather, it’s about where your heart lies, it’s about the moment it clicks and before you know it, you’re in love, in allegiance to the club and its players, in a league in some distant place. Your timetable revolves around kick-off times of different matches and it does not matter if it’s past midnight, you at least catch the score/highlights the next morning and that is some sort of serious obsession, unhealthy for the body but good for the soul.
For such non-native fans there are a number of genuine reasons why they started watching club football and chose their favourite clubs/teams. We can’t talk about fans that chose a club because it was winning big, had star players and because it sounded good for their stature among friends and in the football community. They are the same people who later change allegiances for other clubs. There’s no loyalty in that and true fans, whether native or non-native must commit to the reason why they fell in love with that team-not because it was winning big but because it clicked, it just happened.
Non-native fans support clubs mainly because of a favourite player that they admire a great deal. For example a lot of fans in Asia and Africa started supporting Barcelona because of the great Ronaldinho and now Messi.
Zidane, Ronaldo, Raul, Casillas and now Cristiano were the reasons for many non-native Real Madrid fans. Same is the case with Arsenal fans, many became fans during their invincible year due to Henry, Bergkamp and many others. Many would agree that Gerrard has singlehandedly produced many Liverpool fans especially after that stunning night of the miracle at Istanbul and his awe inspiring career. Language rarely becomes a barrier in following a foreign club provided the league has a good distribution of telecasts for fans all over the world.
Widely popular FIFA video game series did the job for many of the non-native fans who may have had personal favourites among players and teams but associated themselves with the club they played in the game. It is such an underrated feeling to be able to manage your favourite team on your terms, buy and sell players with your consent and handle the day to day activities of the club. It is an exhilarating thrill that can’t be put into words.
For me it all began with a poster of Wayne Rooney in an England kit and later on my admiration of that young lad grew. I didn’t know which club he played for, but it all fit very well in the end, when I really liked their logo, the name, their kit and chose Manchester United as my career mode team and found a sense of belonging amongst the players. The love grew stronger after I started following their games in the premier league, read about their history, its legacy of working on its youth teams and I didn’t mean to support any other team after that. When I look back at it, I realise that it could have been any team if I didn’t choose them but it didn’t happen that way and I’m glad I chose them or rather I should say it chose me.
A broken heart, a broken dream,
A broken plane, a broken team,
No words were said, a silent vow,
We loved you then, we love you now. (A famous Manchester United fan chant)
Other reasons for non-native fans may be because they liked the type of game play that the club had, or because of other family members or maybe the club set up some football academy in other countries and helped with local causes as part of their charity work. Some fans even pledge commitment to their beloved managers. It’s also fun to support the underdogs of the league sometimes.
Club ideologies play an important role in deciding its fan base for example, there are clubs who spend a lot to purchase talents and others who work on their youth players, clubs who brought in international players (Internazional Milan) and clubs who wanted local guys (AC Milan), working class clubs and rich clubs, clubs with religious ideologies such as Celtic (Catholic) and Rangers (Protestants).
I think every reason to be a specific club fan should be given proper consideration, irrespective of whether you were born there or not, as long as the enthusiasm for the club/team remains and grows stronger.
In the end, a relatable quote by the great Dennis Bergkamp: “When you start supporting a football club, you don’t support it because of the trophies, or a player, or history, you support it because you found yourself somewhere there; found a place where you belong.”