by David Clark

When I was a lad, all those dark dreary years ago, if you supported a team you went to see them every alternate Saturday. Yes younger readers, Saturday. At 3pm. No deviation. There was of course the odd mid week fixture, especially for those few teams in Europe, but generally 3pm on a Saturday was where you got your football fix. Now because people actually attended games in those days it made sense for them to go and see their local team. For some it was Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Spurs, or one of the other ‘big clubs’ that contested for the trophies on offer. For most of us though it was about hoping, praying, that one day your team would be up there with the greats, giving you the chance for a street party or a visit to Wembley.

The sanctity and secrecy of even knowing what game would have its 2nd half broadcast on the radio was something that made amateur detectives of us all as we tried to pick up tips from something the announcer would say, or the song you thought you could hear the crowd singing. So even if you hadn’t managed to make it to the match you still felt a part of it.

Begging your parents to stay up late to watch the highlights on Match of the Day, and the anticipation of finding out who would be the main highlighted match on The Big Match or its local equivalent, was something those now used to live matches every day and highlights programmes on continuously on Sky wouldn’t understand.

So, to get back on track, we either had football supporters (those that attended at least a few matches a season) or non football supporters (those that had no interest).

Now, as far as I can tell, we have;

Real Fans;
These are supporters of a club who will sacrifice anything in their pursuit of following their team. Family birthdays are missed, anniversaries forgotten (unless it’s of something like ‘when we won the FA Cup’) and weddings that aren’t planned with the aid of a seasons fixture list are shunned even if they are their own.

They will happily sit in a cattle truck for a 10 hour round trip to some God forsaken football ground for a meaningless friendly but would moan like anything if the wife asks for a lift to her anti natal class.

While working out the family budget from their wages, trifling matters like food and heating would come a distant 2nd to making sure they can afford to go to the match and have enough for a few beers.

Someone they nod at while at a match will take on the role of best mate while those friends that they have in the real life have long ago stopped bothering to ask them to go out in case it clashed with ‘the 3rd round draw’ or some other significant occasion.

Clubs will increase their ticket prices at will and they will begrudgingly continue to pay, while bleating about the rise in fuel, beer and anything else and try to find cheaper options.

These people are the heartbeat of a club. They know it, the clubs know it. But watch what happens when a day out at Wembley comes along. The loyal fan is forgotten while those who are lucky enough to have a cleaner who has a brother who works for the gardener of an employee at one of the clubs sponsors is given a ticket. Free.

Generally these people will support either their nearest club or one that has some significance to them that is still just a bus ride away. They were taken along to matches by their Fathers or elder brothers and loved the feeling of being part of a larger being. They followed their team through thick and thin, generally thin unless they were lucky enough to support a team that won things.

When they had their own money and Independence they continued to go to matches, albeit it with their own friends rather than their family member.

When the calling of pubs, clubs and girls came along, they wrestled with trying to still be a full time supporter while living a life away from the game.
As they got serious with girls they started to find the lure of Saturday shopping and the unspoken promise of the ‘reward’ that would surely follow would compete with their ritual of football. Even jibes from their football going mates would be met with a ‘I can’t. I promised’.
Eventually attending a football game would become a treat rather than the ritual it once was. Results were still looked for in the newspaper but more and more it would be a guilty pleasure.

If there was a ‘big game’ they would go along but once marriage and children came along then there really were better ways to spend his money. And anyway, how could he attend when he was trying to get a bit of overtime on a Saturday to help with the household budget?

As the children got older they started to talk in the playground about the teams they followed and on ‘The Supporter’ hearing this they decided that now was the time to follow what had become the most ancient of rituals. Followed down through the generations. Taking the son to his first match. Every man remembers it, every child will talk of it. (Mine was Chelsea v Crystal Palace, I took my son to Ipswich away, first Home game v Peterborough in FA Cup)

As the boy gets older and money becomes a bit more forthcoming, each birthday is celebrated with the announcement of a precious match ticket. Gradually the pattern continues and both Father and Son start attending a few more matches as finances allow.

But as quickly as it re-started it can stop. A run of bad results (although only if the team looks like it’s not bothered) the ticket prices rising too high, or getting fed up that you must have a membership that allows you to buy a season ticket that allows you to give the club your money despite not knowing if the team you follow will be stripped of its best players and be hoping for mid table survival.

You may not be able to change your team like you would change your supermarket, but that doesn’t mean you have to continue to reward them for a bad service.

The Plastic Fan;
These fans can usually heard at their most vociferous on radio phone ins and ranting on mediums such as Twitter (or Blogs?).
They usually support Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, or more recently, Chelsea. As a young person generally finds out if they are straight, gay, or just confused, at about 11 or 12, this is also the optimum time for boys (and increasingly girls) to decide what team they will support. Notice I use the word ‘support’ rather than ‘follow’ because to follow something means to actually go to games.

Hear a call in voice speaking in an Essex accent that is commenting on how well Man U or Liverpool are doing and most will be able to age him (or worse, her). If Liverpool then they were 10/11 in the mid 70’s making them late 40’s early 50’s, and Man U anything from 20 – 40. Obviously its harder to pick up on Arsenal and Chelsea as they are less vocal at the moment (although a lot of the Arsene out brigade seem to be calling from home too soon after an Arsenal game has finished.)

The annoying thing about these fans are that it is usually impossible to have an actual discussion with them as they are of the ‘We’re great, you’re shit’ type level of discussion and would never agree that a player of another team is any good. Real football enthusiasts will be able to tell you the greats from other sides and you can have decent banter with them.

The Plastic fans are also the main activists in any ‘action’ that supporters want to get a voice heard in. Whether its ‘Hodgeson out’. ‘Arsene out’ ‘Glaziers out’ ‘Benitez out’ its generally those that don’t attend matches that shout the loudest. That’s not to say other fans don’t feel that way but they generally make their feelings known at actual matches rather than on 5 Live or Talk Sport.

They are also the ones that talk of the opposition supporters as Scum. Surely you can only make statements like ‘We own Manchester’ or ‘Manchester is Red’ if you live there? Can someone living in Basingstoke consider Everton their rivals? Local Derbies were called that for a reason. They came about as you didn’t want to lose to people you would see at work or in the pub the next day.

These people are also the sort that you will see walking round Tescos in their teams shirts ( Twitter account Full-Kit Wankers @WankersFullKit has to be one of the funniest ever) often while their team is playing live on TV!

But teams know these fans are fickle and make sure they don’t alienate them.

With success comes ‘The Tourist Fan’. Indeed, in front of me in the Shed we have a little guessing game what nationality they will be each week. See the Tower of London, The Houses of Parliament, watch Chelsea play and boo Benitez.

I’m sure at Old Trafford, Anfield, The Emirates, and now The Etihad people are sick of seeing cameras, I-Pads, and I-Phones obstructing their view as a corner or free kick is being taken.
But as more and more of these people take up seats, the question that should be asked is ‘why are there seats there for them?’

These seats are free because more and more people are falling into category ‘Supporter’. Those that will pick and choose games, only going to those that they want to.

I am one of many that has a Season Ticket but sells off those games that I don’t want to go to. I am the sort of fan the club hates. I can take or leave if I go to games or not. I love it when we win, but am over a loss by the time I’ve walked back to my car.

And this leads me to why I have called this blog ‘Are ‘Real Fans’ the problem with football?’

In any business, and I have had many, the company relies on their customers. Most of us realise that that is exactly what we are for our clubs, customers. However the breed ‘Real Fans’ don’t see this. They look at each obstacle placed in front of them (rising ticket prices, lack of tickets, lack of respect shown by clubs and players) as a challenge they can boast about beating. While away ends are filled with the ‘loyal supporter’, why would teams reduce ticket prices? Initially the likes of Man United and Liverpool, even Arsenal, Chelsea, and Spurs, might make up these sales with extra home support, but as more and more clubs are having to adopt a ‘walk up and pay’ policy for a lot of games then the idea of the away support boycotting will make them start to worry. As long as everyone stuck to the plan. Imagine how a team like QPR or Reading would react if they had quarter of their ground empty. Rangers were almost a 100% successful when they refused to buy tickets against Dundee. Dundee even got onto the SFA to try and force them to buy tickets. Despite a few breaking ranks and going to the game, Rangers fans hit them where it hurts, in the pocket. And Sky wont be impressed if games have no atmosphere due to there being no away support.

Rather than be the backbone of our game I think the ‘through wind and rain’ supporters are actually enabling the clubs to continue to rip us off and treat us badly. Only when they decide that enough is enough will clubs be forced to change.

David’s first novel, The 3 Card Trick, described by one reviewer as a ‘London geezer crime story’ is out now on Amazon

It traces the gradual slide of Jimmy Fox, from dabbling in slightly dodgy scams and cons to entering full scale into dealings with real heavy weights in the criminal underworld and comes with a Cutter recommendation.