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{09/03/2012}   Football: what on earth is it all about?

I don’t get football, football fans, footballer salaries, why football teams are named after towns, why fans wear nylon team kit, why fans travel the country and sometimes the world to support their team or country. I really don’t get it.

Yesterday lunch time I had a walk around Manchester city centre and ended up heading for roars of noise, wondering what on earth was going on. It came from (is there a word for a group of football fans?) a herd/pack of predominantly Bilbao fans, cheering and … chanting? The all had plastic beer glasses attached to their hands and were adorned with their team’s shirts, scarves, banners … I don’t mean to be offensive, but I find it hard seeing grown men wearing what looks like dreadful fancy dress. To their credit, seeing them then (early stages of getting drunk) and seeing them about four hours later (clearly fueled by beer), at no stage did any of the groups of them do anything more offensive than cheer in the faces of a few homeless people and anyone else standing around. They weren’t aggressive or particularly intimidating, just raucous.

I have friends who go to football matches (including women, but as far as I know none of them go out dressed head to toe in nylon) and they don’t fall into what I suppose is a stereotypical category of a football fan, the ones I saw in Manchester. So maybe this rant doesn’t apply quite so much to them … but then I find myself wondering why and I get that horrible niggle about class and then I feel strangely uncomfortable writing about this or thinking about it.

As I saw it yesterday, hundreds of fans were fueling up on beer ready to go to an 8pm kick-off. Why? Then at about 2.30am a load of them woke me up shouting on the street below. You can see why I thought about this rant today! I get that you want to support a team, I get that it’s about belonging. They are a sociable lot, I can see that; strangers that know they have something in common so barriers are broken down and they can speak to each other, it’s sociable.

My dad was a Derby County supporter when I was growing up. He never went to a game, most likely because he was the only one interested in football in our family and because weekends were for family things and driving across the country, hotels where needed, match tickets; it gets expensive. The reason my dad supported them was because he’d lived in Derby and used to hang out with the team, they were blokes who drank at his pubs. He kept that loyalty despite the huge changes in the football world with footballer salaries rocketing, the glamour, etc. Now, teams keep their old names but they are businesses not town teams. That really bugs me. Is it not disappointing being a fan of the game but having to pay quite a lot to go and see them when all the people you are watching play come across as being glamourous and obscenely filthy rich? Is it not cheating to poach the world’s greatest players because you are a super rich club? Surely the money to buy the best players means you really should win every match? Was it not or would it not be more fun to watch if (dare I say it) the players from, say, Manchester United (who I note lost against Bilbao last night), were from or at least lived around Manchester? Or do I just not get it?

I find the amount of money around footballers and clubs disturbing, I hate this whole WAGs thing. I just find it obscene. The players and most fans are worlds apart in terms of lifestyles.

Where male fans are concerned (I am sure there are some female fans who are the same but it’s the male fans I see around), men aren’t able to express their feelings or bond as easily as women. Is this where men get their sense of solidarity? How fathers bond with their children? How men feel part of a large community? Is it escapism? I had a form tutor at school when I was 13. He supported a football team. The only time I have ever gone out of my way to check football scores was when his team were playing because if his team won, he would be in fine spirits the next day, but if they lost (seriously, ask any of my classmates) he would be in an absolutely horrendous mood.

I could go on for so much longer but at each point I am not quite making, I find more questions. So my conclusion mirrors the beginning: I don’t get football and all that is associated with it.

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