Friday, 17 December 2010

The joys of supporting a rubbish football team

I’ll come out and say it from the start – I don’t like the Premiership. Actually, maybe it is better to say I don’t like what football is turning into, and I see the Premiership as the putrid sore that shows how sick football has become.

Funnily enough though, it’s not the foreign players, money or diving that lead me to think that (though there are aspects of all of those that do indeed make me angry), it’s how the whole nature of football has changed.

What I hate most about the Premiership is how everyone assumes you support a Premiership club.  Even when you tell them who you support, they follow up with ‘yes, but who in the Premiership?’, as if supporting Man U, Chelsea, Arsenal et al is an underlying unifier of all football fans.

I hate travelling abroad and seeing Premiership shirts being worn by people saying ‘I support Man U’.  No, you don’t, you just bought a shirt with their name on it.  If I buy a Ralph Lauren Polo shirt, it doesn’t mean I have declared my undying fealty to the brand.  And for these ‘fans’, it’s no different.  They have no more connection to their chosen club than I have with Walt Disney.  Maybe, if they supported their local team instead, it would mean more to them and maybe, just maybe, the quality of football in their country might actually go up.

It wasn’t my intention for this post to turn into a rant, but it is genuinely frustrating to see how fickle fandom can be nowadays.  To hear Arsenal fans on the radio whingeing that because they haven’t won a league title in 6 years they’re going to stop going to watch the team is ridiculous.

For those of us who doggedly turn out week after week to watch the dirge regularly served up in the lower leagues (and non leagues), it’s less about how many major trophies you’ve won in the past 6 years and more about how depressingly easy it is to count how many matches you’ve bloody won in that time.

Anyway, on to the main topic I wanted to write about, which is my own love / hate relationship with my team.  You may have guessed by now that I don’t support a Premiership team, but I should point out that I don’t feel that lower league supporters have any moral superiority over their higher division counterparts.  A true supporter is just that, whether their club plays in the Premiership or the Northern Counties East league.  The trouble is that those true supporters are so much harder to spot when the clubs are bigger.  I actually feel a little sorry for the real fans at those clubs (the ones who would still be there if the club fell from grace) – lost amid a sea of part timers, waving newly purchased scarves and foam hands, asking who the guy with the ponytail wearing number 5 is.  

My gripe is with these fair weather, 'fashionable' football fans who have a warped view of what being a real football fan entails, and will drop their club as soon as trouble emerges, or they decide to follow a new fashion trend.  Unfortunately, top flight football in particular seems to be basing it's future around these most unstable of foundations.

I suppose I should nail my colour to the mast at this point and reveal myself as a proud supporter of the mighty Lincoln City F.C.

Although LCFC began life in 1884, a founder member of the Football League, my own story with them began in 1993/4.  I’d like to say that my support has seen the club’s glory years, but sadly I arrived on the scene too late to witness our triumphs of the late 1970s (triumphs comparatively speaking of course), and have witnessed what can only be described as season after season of fairly regular application of effort with occasional outbreaks of skill.

However, I don’t want people to think I have a complete downer on my own team. You may even be questioning why I support them (or even why I like football in general).  But maybe that’s where I’m going with all this.  Why do I still support my team, when the relationship seems so one sided?  I pay for my season ticket every year – money which could be spent on many other things, and I’m grateful to my wife for entertaining this crazy hobby of mine.  All she usually hears is me grumbling that there’s a match on, which we’ll probably lose, and then grumbling afterwards when we actually have lost.  So why?  Am I insane?  What is it that keeps pulling me (and maybe you too) back week after week?

Maybe it’s that underdog spirit, that sense that each season or even each match might be different, that something might just click.  Maybe it’s like the lottery – you buy your ticket every week, and get caught in the trap of thinking that if you miss a week, your numbers are bound to come up.  In footballing terms, the match you miss is the one where you finally play well and batter someone.

Ultimately, I suppose we keep going not because we chose the team we follow, but precisely the opposite.  Our teams chose us.  We didn’t watch Match of the Day one Saturday evening and decide to declare our undying love for the team that just happened to win 5-0 that week.  We were taken to our first matches by dads, grandads, mums, brothers, husbands or friends and something clicked.  I’ve gone to the theatre lots of times, but no matter how good a play was it’s never made me go back every single week.

I’d like to suggest that nobody has ever seen Lincoln City play by accident.  Even the biggest football hater will have seen snippets of Man U playing when flicking between TV channels or watching the news.  No-one has ever been channel hopping on a Sunday afternoon and as a result fallen in love with Lincoln City.

We’re there because fate made it so and it’s our duty to keep going.  Maybe, just maybe when (not if) that success we all crave finally comes, we’ll know that we’ll have earned the joy and pride it brings.  Earned it in a way no part time Man U fan celebrating yet another title could ever hope to understand.

And anyway, Lord only knows what would befall the universe if we stopped.

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