…My Birth as a Football Fan (Part One)

I have a secret to share — but not today. Today I lead up to the secret because things are always better when you work for them.

I’m a football fan. A lot of people think they are but they’re not. Someone who looks for the score of their team, and their team only, is not a football fan. They are a <team name> fan. I’m a football fan because I enjoy football in many guises — I enjoy playing it, I enjoy watching it, I enjoy thinking about it, etc. Increasingly, I’ve enjoyed writing about it — as you may have noticed recently.

I can’t remember when I started to fall in love with the game and it’s actually a bit of a paradox: I’ve loved football for the proverbial “as long as I can remember” yet I specifically remember hating football as a youngster. To revise that, I didn’t so much hate football as hate that sport my Dad kept watching on the TV. I hated it simply because I wanted to watch TV and “football”, whatever that was, was stopping me from doing so.

Despite knowing I’ve not loved football from birth, I don’t know when I did start loving the game. A couple of people who knew me growing up — and thus better than I know myself, in that sense — are adamant that I loved football from before I remember. I specifically remember disliking it though. A paradox indeed.

From these humble beginnings I somehow grew to the fanatic I am today. The first step was becoming a United fan. Before accusations of glory-hunting are thrown at me, along with the more heinous assumption that I actually care when levelled with the allegation, I want to point out that I quite literally was a United fan from before I can remember. Again, the finer details of the story depend on the source but United were my first true footballing love and I have the kit from 97/98 to prove it.

Having bagged my first club, it seems I wanted more. I’d ‘pick up’ a team over the most innocuous of links. A friend’s Dad followed another club? Yeah, I’ll check their results so I can laugh at him when they lose. Wow, this game I’m watching is really good, I’ll follow the results of both teams for a couple of weeks. I really like this player, I’m going to follow him at his new club and see how he gets on.

All of this led to me learning to love football as an environment — as a whole. While suffering with insomnia in my high school years I’d flick on Setanta Sports in the early hours of the morning and watch the Portuguese league. To this very day my three favourite leagues are the Premier League, the Bundesliga and the Portuguese league. Unfortunately, I don’t get to watch it any more and it’s difficult to find on TV. Adding to this, a friend of mine was playing as Boavista on Football Manager 2008 and was struggling. He asked me to take his save game, win a couple and then pass it back, which I duly did. Now I find myselfto be a bit of a Boavista fan. I’m aware of some of their past players (Meireles and Bosingwa of Chelsea both started their careers there) and I followed them very loosely until their second successive relegation, two seasons ago. Unsurprisingly, it’s difficult to follow third division Portuguese football in England.

I didn’t play football for my high school team and it never ceased to amuse me when I’d hear the supposed ‘football lads’ talking about football. It was clear their experience of football never went far beyond two or three clubs in the top flight, possibly a local professional team and the local youth set-up. It certainly never extended outside of English football, unless allowing for what the media imports (ie. transfer rumours of a player outside of England to a club in England).

As of this very day, I have a small army of teams that I look out for. United, of course, followed closely by Tottenham Hotspur and Barnet. Beyond that, I look for the results of my other local teams and some abroad, too. It’s worth a mention that my Cypriot team, AEL, are currently top of the league. If they get into the Champions League next year I will be both amazed and chuffed, in equal measure.

At the risk of being outed as a glory-hunter, I’m a sucker for teams that play the beautiful game. If I see a team play as a one-off and find myself impressed by their style of play, I can almost guarantee I’ll follow their results for a while, wishing them well.

The reason I mention all of this (and I’m not even finished, much to the world’s displeasure!) is because I want people to understand the difference between a football fan and a fan of a team. There are people who have a legitimate love for the game that transcends team boundaries. At half time of the Spurs-United game this weekend, for example, I accepted the result as what it was — a bit of an injustice. I don’t care for the opening of cans of worms but, as anyone who understands the laws of the game knows, Spurs’ first goal should’ve stood. That’s not my inner Spurs fan talking in the slightest — nothing touches my love for United. On Saturday Spurs were the enemy.

I intend to build on this post in the future. There’s definitely a part two, accompanied by the afore promised secret, and there is also a lot to be said in regards to being a fan of football. I think, fairly I believe, that being a fan of football is an advantage in terms of understanding the game and hopefully that will shine through in the future. The best conversations I’ve had about the game were with people who saw the whole picture as opposed to those who look through a tiny crest-shaped window. Everyone will appreciate that frustration you feel when trying to discuss football with someone who’s blindly tied to the mast of their club. I want to shake them and let them know there’s more to football than one club but, at least nowadays, I just smile and nod before trying to kill the conversation as quickly as possible.

For those of you who got this far, thank you for reading and congratulations on sticking with it. There’s a reason I’ve written this all out despite it not being hard-hitting or particularly intriguing, let alone entertaining, and it’s an open question for you to mull over. Ask yourself, what type of football fan are you? There are more than two answers and I’d like the celebrate that. You might also want to take some time to think of your birth as a football fan. Personally I’ve had a lot of fun writing this post and thinking back.

I’ll try to complete the second part to this as soon as possible. This post isn’t up to much without it but the two together would be too long for anyone to bother with. I should know, I’m the laziest man alive.