Within modern football, there is a sub-competition going on. A competition to be the best fan. Everyone these days seems to have to prove their support towards their club; they do this either through listing the number of away games they have been to, how long they have supported the club, spout their knowledge of every intricate detail about their beloved club, or boast of how much they sang. But do these things really matter? Is a true fan only proven by their physical attributes they offer to the club?
To find out, once and for all, what makes a true fan, I have posed the question to thousands of supporters from across the Football League. What makes a true fan? Their reactions were mixed, and at times surprising.
“Go to games, not just sit on here [Championship forum] and moan”. This is how Huddersfield Town fan Brad Drake defines a true fan. Going to games has for a long time been a hallmark of a true fan. If you buy a season ticket, you are already one up on those who have not. But Brad is right. Part of being a football fan is going to games and cheering on your team. It is for this reason teams such as Leeds United, Portsmouth and Sheffield United have gained such glowing reputations for having ‘Great Fans’. Leeds United had an average crowd of 25,088 last season, Portsmouth boasted average figures of 15,460, and The Blades offered up 17,506 as their average attendance.
Now, I am not saying that large attendances make true fans. But, the remarkable thing about these attendances, and why they have been chosen, is that all of these teams suffered disappointing seasons. Leeds finished in 15th, despite many touting them for an automatic promotion spot. Sheffield United spent a large portion of the season in and around the League One relegation zone, before a miraculous climb up the table saw them finish seventh, still disappointing after, like Leeds, being fancied as one of the favourites. Again, Pompey fans dreamed of the beginning of a climb back up the Football League ladder after falling down the leagues. But, 13th was the finish for them.
Northampton fan, Ben White believes that being a true fan is “Going to all matches home and away”.Whilst I agree with Ben that attending all matches is a great show of your support, it still does not make you a true fan. My point is this. Your club having high attendances does not automatically make you a good fan. It is the fans that continued to go to matches for these three teams, and clubs in similar situations that are the good fans. But, going to matches also does not make you a ‘true fan.’ More and more frequently, you are dubbed an ‘armchair’ fan for not traveling from Watford to Carlisle on a Tuesday night. People work, people are poor. Not everyone can make a midweek run up to Carlisle.
“I support Coventry and I am a true fan because I boycott Sixfields”. These are the words of Coventry City fan Peter Duckett. Now, before I start this section I believe I should make it clear that I side with neither those who choose to go in, nor those who watch from the hill. The point Mr Duckett makes is a near opposite opinion to Cobbler’s fan Mr White. If a football fan needs to go to every home game, does that therefore mean there are only a few hundred true Coventry City fans? Of course not. Instead, the Sky Blues faithful compensated for the understandably low home gates, by travelling en masse to their away games. Over 7,000 made the trip to Stadium: MK in December, an amazing show of support regardless of the length of journey made. Trips to Wolves and Sheffield United also saw City break the 1,000 fans mark.
However, in my opinion, you can travel to as many away games of whatever distance, it still doesn’t make you a true fan.
If a man is 90 years old, knows everything about his club, and listens to the fixtures on the radio every week, but is physically incapable of movement and is therefore unable to attend matches, is he no longer a true fan? If a husband and father, who works every hour of the week, only earns enough to provide for his family, yet has supported his club for his entire life and religiously checks the scores on Final Score every week because he has no money left for games, is he now not a true fan?
Let’s be honest, a massive reason we go to football matches is personal motives: to be entertained, to relieve stress, or, for the minority of each club, to have a fight. All of these are totally fine and understandable, bar the latter. Everyone does it. But does it constitute being a true fan, if you are doing something for personal gain, and not with team’s needs at the forefront of your mind?
Many fans nowadays are also fixated with visiting all 72 grounds in the country, again, proof that some travel for personal kudos. Of course, there are some who do travel with the intention of cheering on their team, and of course once there, everyone will cheer on their team.But that is not to say they are thinking of the club when travelling.
I feel Blackburn Rovers fan Matt Wallford summed it up best: “a rich man goes to every game, has every top but his seats are a corporate box where he does business deals. Is he a better fan than a man who gets a shirt every few years, goes 2 or 3 games a season, but goes without eating to make sure there is food on his kids table? It’s like asking who loves you more, your mum or your kids? They both love you differently but love you all the same, and isn’t that what really matters?”
Travel always seems to be the focal point of proving you are a true fan. I’ve been to here on a Tuesday night; I made a 30 hour round trip to see my team. But does that matter? Does travelling ridiculous distances to see your team make you a better fan than someone who sits at home on that Tuesday night, but is still equally concerned of the result? I don’t think so.
“A true fan definition? Someone who doesn’t change teams like the wind, doesn’t matter whether they go to one game or all games. What matters is, they’re staunch to one club!”. Loyalty, I believe is a massive part of being a true fan. You cannot be flicking between two teams, as Wigan Athletic fan Ryan Hoey has outlined. It is becoming more and more acceptable to have a ‘Premier League team’ these days. I, and I’m sure many Football League fans, have grown tired and frustrated by conversations that go along the lines of:
“Who do you support?”
“Oh! But who in the Premier League?”
It is not possible to be a true fan, if you say you support two teams. You cannot feel every emotion if you think, oh! Exeter lost today, but it’s alright because Arsenal beat Burnley 6-0. Without feeling the full impact of the lows, you will not get the true ecstasy of the highs. So supporting another team is to your own detriment.
Continuing the theme of loyalty, many of the fans who took part in this article feel they are true fans as they stuck by their team whilst they were struggling. Luton Town fan Darren Murtaugh defines a true fan as “Seeing five years of Conference football and sticking with it”. And because he stuck with them, Darren was able to experience the sheer delight that no doubt came with the Hatters promotion back to the Football League.
I believe that sticking with your team is an integral part of being a ‘true fan’. Derby County fan Jake Baker agrees:
“[True fans are] Fans that support their team through thick and thin, no matter how badly they’re playing”
There are, of course fans who claim to be true fans, but are not. I am of course talking about the ones who show up at football matches just to start fights with other fans.
In a recent documentary by BBC3, the lives of youth firm members were scrutinised. One of the boy’s in the Bury FC firm the IRS claimed that firm members were the most loyal fans of a football club. You cannot help but laugh at the naivity. He could not be further from the truth. Loyal fans are beneficial to a team, people who go to football matches and arrange fights, are not.
One fan, Aaron who was 17 at the time of filming, even changed firms, leaving Bury’s IRS to join Manchester City’s Blazing Squad. That is not loyalty. That is not sticking by your club, although I imagine Bury were happy to see him go.
My point is no matter how much good these people think they are doing for the club’s image, in reality they are causing mass expenses in damages, and ruining the reputation of the club, which in itself has knock on effects on the club’s finances. People are going to be put off going to games if they know ‘firms’ will be meeting. Fans will be scared to wear their team’s colours, and attendances will drop.
You’re probably sat there thinking, so what does make a true fan?
“A true fan is someone who claps when we lose, and cries when we win”.
These were the wise words of Port Vale fan, Regi Taylor. And I believe he has summed it up perfectly. Being a true fan is all about emotion. Not physical presence, or car mileage, but caring when you win, and not disappearing when you lose.
Of course, the aforementioned characteristics such as traveling and going to every game are great for the team, but are not necessary to call yourself a true fan. You can be angry when you lose, or optimistic, but if you come away from games thinking, oh well, it was just a game, then I would struggle to class you as a true fan. But as long as you feel something strong when you lose or win, then you are a true fan. You can sing your heart out, and travel to Guatemala to watch a friendly, but unless you have strong emotions when that final whistle goes, I do not believe you are a true fan.