“I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it.” Fever Pitch (1992)
Tim Lovejoy has just asked me (on twitter) if it matters what types of fan there are. Is one better than the other? I say yes. This is based on my own experience of being a fan through the 80’s and 90’s, right up to today, going through the hard times before basking in my teams current glory (without naming my team now, it’ll be easy for you to gather who I support as I find it hard to disguise).Like the North / South divide or the class structure we have in this country, I believe there is a fan divide. Similarly to the 2 Ronnie’s’ & John Cleese Class sketch, I feel that ever presents look down on pic ‘n’ mixers who in turn look down on glory hunters.
It’s hard to differentiate between ‘True fans’, ‘Followers’ and self-proclaimed ‘Die hard’ fans as it’s so subjective. A lot of people define themselves as die hard if stick to one team and that’s it, whereas I’d just call that loyal, which is commendable but not die hard. Others say it’s someone that attends games. Some even say it’s someone that attends every home and away game, as well as buying every kit, scarf and toilet roll holder with the club crest on. For this reason I’ve not included ‘true fan’ or ‘die hard’ in the list below, but hopefully have covered all aspects that make a football fan. I believe that throughout life each and every fan changes the type they are, depending on life situations. For a time I was an ever present, then a pic ‘n’ mixer and will always be a generation hand me down. Therefore I would like to stress that each and every fan reading this not only is most likely going to be a mixture of the below and not necessarily described by one type to a tee (I’m a generation hand me down, pre-premiership pic ‘n’ mixer, but none of those alone defines me nor do I completely adhere to any of them), but also has the chance to make their way up the ladder to the top of the fandom tree, becoming an oracle all things their team (no not facts and figures which anyone that’s never been to their home ground can find out on Google, but those that have attended games home and away, rain or shine, thick and thin). Every fan has their own credits and if someone isn’t as dedicated or knowledgeable as you are don’t write them off or dismiss their loyalty or passion. Similarly, due to life situations changing any fan could drop from being ever present to becoming a regular follower, which shouldn’t be frowned upon as I promise they will be the ones that wish they could get back those football days. There’s nothing quite like it, whatever league, town or form you’re in.
Another thought is: Is there such a thing as a fan that is ‘fit for purpose’? That fits in with each team? Are ALL United fans turning up at Old Trafford with prawn sandwiches after taking a day off from their bank call centre job? No. Each and every stadium could be filled with any of the below, or at least a large mixture. As you go up and down the leagues there will be a trend of majority supporter types (i.e. glory hunters predominantly in the Premiership, lower league sufferers in the, you’ve guessed it, lower leagues). This is football in the modern era, it’s not just a working mans’ game anymore and hasn’t been for decades. Please do not read this list and simply think of Prem teams, think of fans, male and female, from the Prem all the way down, past QPR to the Conference North /South and County leagues. Their fans will also be covered here.
The Ever Present
They are the lucky ones. Or maybe not? They are at every home and away game, (including European for the big clubs) and their season starts 6 weeks before most of us even think about the Charity Shield (hate the name Community Shield). Their season actually starts with the first pre-season friendly. They want to be ready for the first league game and be up to date with how the new up-coming youth or new left back are fitting in. Their life is carefully planned around the fixture list and any new friend, partner or colleague is aware of this from day one. So if you want to get with this fan, never, ever suggest a holiday between August and May, or a dinner at kick off. I wouldn’t like to suggest they won’t have kids or would be single as I have known some ever presents that have a family, but they were at least retired, so that helped.
I suggest at the beginning of this segment that they may not be the lucky ones. This is a direct nod to a wonderful ever present lady I follow on twitter that follows her team around the world and back again. However due to prices of flights, hotels, tickets, trains (gone are the football specials of yesteryear) this particular lady, amongst plenty of others, have to somehow find the funds to support her habit as she’s no millionaire. This is tough. These are the fans that shout loudest about increasing ticket prices, though I’m at least glad to report that some clubs allow loyalty points to carry onto the next season. However that’s not enough, if you can prove you were there in the dark days of a club, you should get even more loyalty points. These fans need to be looked after. They spread the good word and fight the good fight for their club more than any director or ex player doing the speech circuit. These, if any, are closest to being the true ‘die hard’ fans.
Grrrrrrrr Please vacate and go back to the rugby. To quote Brian Reade, “The stadiums are home to middle class families watching pre-match entertainment from comfortable seats and corporate clients sipping chilled wine over three-course meals in plush boxes. Twenty years ago our grounds didn’t smell of wealth and fine cuisine but resentment, from fans fenced into crumbling terraces by law-makers who viewed them as an unruly mob”.
Brian was about to discuss Hillsborough disaster, which now finally has the truth published, but I feel it still shows the difference of when I grew up to the toff of today changing our experience on match-days.
Nobody wants you taking up tickets at our beloved football (note this is likely to only apply to top half of Prem clubs that sell out each week, meaning toffs really will be taking someone else’s seat). You are only there due to getting either corporate tickets or to show you can be one of the lads. You don’t care about the result and everyone would be better off if you were watching at home. You complain about the songs (too loud, course or grammatically inaccurate) and think it’s slumming it by having a pint and a 3 course meal before the game, even though you can’t see why they can’t have a decent Chardonnay in the stands. You spend most of the time videoing action of the game on your iPad (which unless you’ve come straight from work you shouldn’t have with you, and certainly not taken out of the bag!) and copying the phrases of those around you. You may even have the bottle to start a chant, and it might work, but don’t think this is acceptance into our world. If you are rich, talk with a posh accent and a genuine fan, you’re not a toff, as people can be successful and one of the lads/ true fan – look at Hugh Grant at Fulham who goes to watch when his schedule allows; or Sir Dickey Attenborough who’s a life-long director at his beloved Chelsea.
Johnny Come Lately (AKA Plastic)
Generally these see football as the cool thing to do at the weekend and didn’t realise clubs let anyone in. They’ve no idea about non-league football or the tradition of the FA Cup. They talk about the marketability of a club as if they’re on Wall Street and talk about the football side as if they know what they’re saying. However they don’t. They’ve read one magazine to get up to speed with the lingo and quote Gary Neville till they’re blue in the face. They also don’t know why the term EPL is frowned upon within England. They don’t understand why the keeper used to pick the ball up from back-passes pre-Premier League or why everyone hates Leeds. However they do know everything there is to know about West Ham United because they’ve seen Green Street, and thought it was a dramatised documentary. They are likely to last till May and forget about who they’d ‘followed’ come August during the baron summer months, when true fans are frantically getting their fix of football news within the tabloids. Often similar to the toff, they will record bits of the day out purely to show everyone how adventurous they were in going to a footy match. They probably would be advocates for the European breakaway super league or the 39th game. Their opinions are based on unbiased business rationale and they don’t truly care about the final outcome or long term life of the club – why would they? They won’t be here in 12 months anyway!
There are, as you may have realised, a lot about Johnny Come Lately’s that could be said about Toffs too, and vice versa. You decide which bits.
This category could be split into two: those that switch to the latest winning team and those that start following football by choosing the best team at the time and stick with them. However the latter would, in my opinion, stop being a glory hunter when that team stops winning and they keep following their team in whatever capacity. An example of this is the 80’s generation fans that started to support Liverpool or Everton, and still support them. The former type of ‘glory hunter’ is despicable and eventually likely to just give up following football in adult hood. I went to primary school in London with a Liverpool fan, who switched to Arsenal after Micky Thomas’ last minute title winning goal at Anfield. By the time we were in the 2nd year at senior school, he was die-hard United. They have no shame and will have a collection of kits in their wardrobe that looks I’ve the background to the old boot room programme that showed the kits of by-gone title winners.
Generation Hand Me Down
These can also be spilt into two: one that supports the team their family support but not be too interested in football (my twin girls knew they supported Chelsea before they knew what football was. Ask them why they support Chelsea and the reply is always “because Daddy supports them”).
The second option would be me, where I was 14 before I knew some people chose what team they support instead of being bought up with one team. I always thought that when you’re born your parents get to choose your forenames but your surname, nationality and football team are already predetermined. By 14 there was absolutely no thought of switching allegiance, which would have been like saying I now wanted to be French and change my name to Claude.
This type of fan sees them self as a ‘true fan’, has most likely had a season ticket for a few years and tries to convert as many new football fans as possible to support their team. They will know more about the history of their team than most and often remembers times in their life in comparison to their clubs successes/failures (i.e. I know I left school in 97 purely because it was a couple of weeks before we won the FA cup for the first time in my life time). These fans grew up entrenched in their team colours and it probably dictates their life in more ways than you can think of.
Lower League Sufferer
I grew up in the 80’s when my team yo-yoed between the old 1st and 2nd divisions. As we won the old 2nd division twice and have been a Premiership club since its inception, I can’t and won’t classify myself as a lower league sufferer. This group of fans deserve more than me muscling in on their credit. They are the fans that still have terraces to stand on and can still pick up tickets on the door (although looking at last weekend’s football league capacities I think anyone can get tickets to any ground outside the Prem on match day without any problems at all). A cup run to these fans means making it to the 2nd or 3rd round of the FA Cup at best and the chance to meet a Championship or even Premiership side. Hayes (now Hayes & Yeading) were minutes away from a 3rd round FA Cup tie with Chelsea 2000, who went on to win it that season. They had drawn 2-2 at home to Hull and only lost 3-2 after extra time at Boothferry Park. Hayes took thousands away that day and each and every one of them will remember that tie till the day they die. These fans live for those moments. They don’t need to invest in their team too much in terms of ticket price and cost of going to games (likely live in the same town etc.) but they will invest as much of their lives in their team as anyone. If it wasn’t for these fans, the rest of us are unlikely to exist, as they keep the foundations of British football going. Should England lose the lower leagues, the Premiership will find it easier to turn into a European Super League to keep going. THAT would be the end of club football in my eyes, but that’s another article entirely. In summary, lower leagues and non-league fans – we salute you.
I feel bad for those that were born post the beginning of the Premier League as they never really experienced the true tradition of English football. No terrace steps or ‘all the kids to the front’ memories. The fans pre-Prem (and probably talking about 5+ years pre-Prem) are now, unfortunately for me and my generation that have grey hairs creeping in, seen as old school. Even though we don’t feel like it.
We remember sneaking past the turnstiles and onto the terraces for free as a child and the older ones will remember the importance of the casual movement and some of the world cup winning team still playing. These will be the biggest advocates to the controlled and safe return of terrace stands and are the authors of books the youngsters read of the good old days. Also likely to have written a book of the good old days by the time they’re 40, if that way inclined.
It’s not their fault when they are born, and Chelsea and United fans born post 1992 will likely have to explain their family are Chelsea/ United fans each time they tell anyone who they support, to mitigate being called a glory hunter. They are of a different generation of fan. They will be just as loyal and passionate as the older generations, but have so much more interaction with their club and each other than another era. They also know much more about European and world football (mainly due to FIFA, Pro Evo or football manager) and will know about incoming international players long before their multi million pound contract is signed on English soil. Many will also have read books of their teams past, possibly out of respect or to be ‘seen’ reading them as opposed to genuine interest, and be able to recite enough from these to hold conversations with any old timer. One thing they won’t do though is attend games in groups like their predecessors. In the terrace days you’d go to a game with a few mates and meet up with a couple of other groups of lads that stood in the same area of the terraces. This doesn’t happen anymore and is down to not own the demise of the terrace (another article but I agree with the Taylor Report & JF96 etc. but now they should investigate the potential of controlled terraces making a comeback) and also the change in lifestyle in todays’ youth. It’s less likely that a group of mates will all support the same team and even more unlikely that a few mates will subsequently become friendly with other groups at the game.
Angry Fan (My Step Dad)
They hate most of their players and moan about everything from prices (which is getting stupid, but that’s another article altogether) and their new top scorers silly haircut. They’ve clearly been through the bad times with their team and stuck by them, moaning the whole time about the board, management and players. Then when their team wins, they say ‘I knew we’d do it’. The ironic thing is they seem to be happiest during the hard times as it means they were right and can gloat about that with ‘told you so’ and the impression they know what they’re talking about. This fan is pessimistic beyond belief but shouldn’t be dismissed or blamed for that. It’s likely they started following their team with all the hopes & dreams of any of us had at the start of our lifelong love affair. However over the years of constant relegations and trips to the arsehole end of the country, hope and optimism has been beaten out of them. They’ve come to expect mid table Mediocrity at best. Outside of football they may play golf, a game in need of a positive mind, and constantly wrap their club around the nearest tree after every other shot. They invited the term ‘mulligan’ so they could stop going into treble figures during a 18 hole round.
Similar to the angry fan, these have given up all hope and long for the old days when the players were seen down the pub after a game and you could chat to them like normal people. They have likely got a faded tattoo of a 1960s club badge, which has since been updated to be more marketable and modern. They miss going to games and will keep an eye out on the results but have basically moved away from football and although they regret it, their morals against the money and Joey Barton in football nowadays keeps them away.
Another option is that they have become successfully in their life and yet too busy to commit to their team like they used to. Not keeping up with fixtures and only briefly checking on the league table, they likely just about keep up to date enough to know what their sub ordinates are talking about. They could be classed as a follower should they watch games on TV when possible and always at least seek to find out the score and know when games are going on.
Disenchanted But Returned (Usually in retirement)
Once the latter of the disenchanted above retire, they are suddenly at a loss. If they weren’t disenchanted due to the changes and modernisation of the game, they find it easier to get back into it. Also, they now have both the time and the funds to do so. They will possibly get a season ticket adjacent to the half way line as they’ve no interest in standing up all the time behind the goal. But wherever they sit, they’re back and wonder why they ever left. All the old memories come flooding back and soon enough they’re explains to everyone what it was like in their day.
Another possible type of fan in this category are those that loved the game, their life took them away from it, but have been lured back only because their team are now doing well. These are the disenchanted glory hunters that once upon a time were dedicated fans that lost their way. They’ve at least stayed loyal to one team, but that’s about as much credit I’m going to give them.
Rich Becomes Director/ Chairman
Lucky, lucky bastards. This is always the dream of any football fan that they can one day own their club. However, Chairmen/ owners at the top of the game now have to be billionaires, not millionaires. So the dream I had as a kid has moved from owning to being silent Director, or even buying my local non-league team. The famous true fans come good that come to mind are the late great Matthew Harding (RIP) and the late great Jack Walker (RIP). These men have done wonders for their clubs and will be forever remembered by the fans.
The other types of rich fans are of course the rich foreign fan, namely Roman Abramovich, the Venkys and Glazers. Roman is different to the latter two as he is the sole owner and not fobbing off the club to a family business or securing assets vs. debts. The only debt Chelsea has is to Roman himself and this I believe makes it more stable than securing the club against a bank loan. Although Chelsea fans, no matter how much they have faith in Roman and his commitment in SW6, are bricking it that one day he’ll leave and they really aren’t self-sufficient like they said they would be by now. These billionaire fans are likely to remain loyal, but if they do ever get bored, it’s likely to be of the sport, not of their team, therefore are unlikely to switch teams one day. Ken Bates, Dave Gold & Dave Sullivan not included.
They attach themselves to their local constituency team to get votes. They hate the fans as see them as thugs from the 80s. See Johnny come lately. Some get turned on by their clubs kit and some are genuine football fans that just fell into the wrong crowd and became an MP.
These aren’t fans and following a team doesn’t have anything to do with football. They are there for a fight and often won’t even get near the game. A pint or ten from opening time until a pre-arranged ‘meet’ is the main reason for these to be anywhere near the game. The only connection they have with a club is that they act as fans of one club and their fixtures determine where their next fight or anti-social behaviour will take place. They are dying out, certainly in big gang forms, but they are still definitely a part of today’s game.
Another that has likely to have written a book about their days as part of a firm, they have now got too old to keep up. I can’t see anything other than age being the main reason they become ‘reformed’ but they will still pass it off as changing their ways because they wanted to, not because they couldn’t cut it anymore. Nowadays they’ll still be seen in the pub before a game and they will likely still go to most games, only now they go to see the match and support their team. You’ll catch them laughing at the other fans singing their fight songs on the terraces without knowing where they came from. Some of them are salt of the earth and regret their miss-spent youth, but unlikely to have changed a thing if they could go back.