To find a place to BILLY CRAWFORD on his quest belong in the circus of modern football...
WHY do we end up supporting the football clubs we do? For some of us it’s a family tradition handed down from our parents and grandparents, for some it’s the first time as young children we see a team play live or on the TV and are captivated by the players, the kit or the noise from the fans.
For others it’s something acquired in later life, perhaps learnt from our friends. Thinking about this made me wonder – if it was just about the team, the manager, the players, the owner, how many of us would still support the clubs we do?
Eric Cantona famously said:“You can change your wife, change your politics, change your religion, but you can never, never change your favourite football team.”
Why is this though, and in a world where clubs pay less and less attention to the thoughts and feelings of their fans, is this quote still true today?
Do older Leeds United fans, fed up with the crisis and botched ownerships of the last 15 years, still feel a connection between the club they see today and the club of Billy Bremner and Don Revie?
How do Cardiff City fans feel under the dictatorship of Vincent Tan, who has changed the club colours and badge backwards and forwards in recent years? Increasingly, fans are feeling more and more detached from their clubs.
The huge rise in player salaries and transfer fees, coupled with ever more expensive match tickets for fans, has helped with this alienation. Ever since the days of George Best and Charlie George, we have known that footballers lived nicer lives than us but the contrast has never been as sharp as in recent years.
How can a young man or woman struggling to pay rent on the minimum wage in Liverpool possibly relate to a 20-year-old who has yet to prove himself in the game turning down a £100,000-a-week salary? The figures alone in football these days are eye-watering. Manchester City recently paid £30m in transfer fees and £200,000-a-week in wages for Wilfred Bony, a player they seem content to use only off the bench.
Match tickets at London clubs like Arsenal can be anything from £60-£120, making it impossible for many fans to afford to go to football. All of this makes me wonder if our loyalty to our clubs should remain unquestioning. If supporting a football team is like falling in love then isn’t it possible to fall out of love?
This got me thinking about my own experiences as a football fan and whether other fans felt the same so I decided to find out.
As a child from a family without a football team to pass down to me, I looked around for a club to support. Growing up in West London in the 1990s, I naturally became a Chelsea fan. They were my local team and I was captivated by the skills of Zola, Di Matteo and company. When Roman Abramovich took over the club in 2003, I was a wide-eyed 15-year-old enthralled by the names being thrown about as potential signings. Henry, Rooney and Ronaldinho were all mentioned at some stage.
It seemed like my club could conquer the world and I wanted to be a part of it. I supported the club unquestioningly through the controversies of Jose Mourinho’s first season, celebrating the title win at Bolton and raging at Luis Garcia’s “ghost goal” for Liverpool in equal measure. Towards the end of his second season, I did begin to tire of Mourinho’s histrionics, the moment when he threw his medal away after winning the league being particularly difficult to watch, but they were my club and I would stick with them.
It was only as I got older and began to be able to afford to go to games more regularly that I really began to question what I was spending my time and money on.
Going to matches, I felt more like a corporate customer than a fan. The atmosphere was nothing like I had imagined watching games on TV. During one FA Cup tie, the couples behind me spent the entire game discussing their holidays, and the sky high ticket prices and lack of real working class fans all contributed to this.
Most players did not seem to have much connection with the fans, with the exception of those who had been there most of their careers, and many appeared to be simply highly paid mercenaries.
I started to wonder if my experiences were shared by fans of other clubs, so I began to research this. I spoke to fans of many clubs, some shared my disillusionment, some did not.
Many West Ham fans I spoke to felt some-
’ave it: Jose’s medal