Faith, Hope and Charity
September 2, 2009 8:59 AM   Subscribe

FootballFilter: This is a question of loyalty and etiquette and is aimed to all football (soccer) fans.

At what age do you “choose” your team? Is this considered a life long loyalty or are you allowed to switch allegiances when you move to a new locale? How do football club loyalties work between generations? I ask this question because during a conversation in the UK I had with a group gentleman in their late 50’s-60’s they commented about a person using this sentence, “Born in Liverpool but a Chelsea man now” with everyone but me clued in on the nuance. Also, some griping about the younger generation not being “loyal.” Its been months since the conversation but I figure the green could help me understand the culture of football and loyalty/fandom.
posted by jadepearl to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have no international football loyalties, but the same sort of thing can be seen on this side of the Atlantic.

My mom and dad grew up as fans of the University of Georgia. And so did I. There was always talk of how UGA was better than everyone else and we should go for them. So in all sports, I like Georgia. I added Winthrop University when I started going there. Luckily they don't play each other much in anything. There was a baseball series last year, I picked Winthrop because I went there.

I also like any professional team from Georgia. I don't really have a favorite NBA or NHL team, but if I had to pick it would be the ones in Georgia.

There are certainly other teams I like watching, and I try not to miss their games if I can help it. But if Georgia or Winthrop had to play the University of North Carolina (which did happen in Winthrop's case a few years ago) I'd always go for my teams over the teams I just like to watch.

I know over here a lot of people like certain players. Sometimes it has to do with the college they went to. I like watching NFL games where someone from Georgia is playing.

The loyalty seems to work differently with people my age for reference I'm 22. A lot of people my age will like whatever team their favorite player is on. Even if that means he went to the old team's biggest rival.
posted by theichibun at 9:14 AM on September 2, 2009

“Born in Liverpool but a Chelsea man now” has more to it than just football and it wasn't a compliment.

That brings in Northerners vrs Southerners - Chelsea FC being from London and relatively recently endowed with Roman Abramovich's wealth.

Perhaps the person they were talking about guy went off to London to work (and maybe earn a bigger salary than he could in Liverpool) and these guys think he dropped his roots even down to his team ?

Football allegiance is "supposed" to be for life and people that chop and change would be viewed as fairweather fans even by mild critics.

You are also "supposed" to support your local team, perhaps strongly "guided" by your fathers allegiance.

I would guess most allegiances are formed in boys/girls around the age of 10yrs or so.

But I'm in my 40's now so things may have changed a bit now.
posted by selton at 9:17 AM on September 2, 2009

Nick Hornby's "Fever Pitch" describes football loyalty as "not a moral choice like bravery or kindness; it was more like a wart or a hump, something you were stuck with."
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:31 AM on September 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

There are no rules now. Very generally speaking, in working class areas you support your local team, probably the team your father raised you to support. You can change allegiences whenever you like and for whatever reason, but it's seriously frowned upon amongst traditional supporters. Moving to another area isn't a reason to stop supporting a team, you just wouldn't get to games as often and might watch your new local team casually to get a fix of live football. This is especially common with people moving abroad, they might leave Liverpool for Brugges, remain a Liverpool fan, but probably casually adopt their new home team as a "second" team. The team you support needn't relate to where you were born or your proximity to a certain ground, a Liverpudlian can be raised in a Chelsea supporting family and travel to London for games. "Chelsea man now" is odd as it suggests a switch from supporting Liverpool to supporting Chelsea. They're either distastefully commenting on someone from Liverpool supporting a London (southern) team, or distastefully commenting on a Liverpool supporter switching allegiance. Or both. There is a general simmering resentment of Chelsea throughout the UK, and a general distaste for the south from a lot of northeners. Liverpool is a fiercely passionate working class football city.

Religious, political and a plethora of other reasons can also decide or alter allegiance. Teams with players from countries that rarely produce players of the highest calibre (China, Japan, Togo etc) usually gain a huge following in that country, fans support the players and switch teams when they do. It's rare, but mismanagement, personal dislike of acertain individual, or certain policies at certain clubs can also force a change of allegiance. Off the top of my head I can't think of anything too serious that happened at Liverpool that would prompt a switch.

Football has changed radically since the 1980's. It's a family day out for some, footballers are celebrities and household names, the reason for choosing a team or switching allegiances could be almost anything these days. If these 50-60 year old men were discussing a contemporary that'd be very odd. For a 50 year old who has been supporting Liverpool since childhood, to switch to supporting Chelsea (of all teams) in adulthood would be very, very strange.
posted by fire&wings at 9:32 AM on September 2, 2009

You pick your team early on, usually in the equivalent of 2nd or 3rd grade. Sometimes it's your local team, sometimes it's the team your friends and family follow and then you're stuck with them for life. Even when they turn out to be a useless shower of underachieving bastards.

Anyone who switches to a more successful team lacks moral fibre and deserves mockery.
posted by IanMorr at 9:32 AM on September 2, 2009

I was raised in Blackburn in the 80s (ages 8-18), and for better or worse am a Rover for life. Supporting your local club started to decline with the advent of the Premier League in 1992, when football became more popular on TV than live. A few years ago in a job where most of my colleagues were 10-15 years younger, to a man they supported Liverpool, Arsenal or Man United, despite being all native to Leeds and Bradford.

Specifically to Chelsea - yes, they are the nouveaux riches of English football, and somewhat of a byword for bandwagon jumping.
posted by Bodd at 9:35 AM on September 2, 2009

(These comments refer to the UK) I've seen quotes from hardcore fans who challenge even the idea of being a fan since the age of 10 (or 8 or whatever): they would describe themselves as lifelong fans of their team (presumably inherited through their family and/or the area in which they live). That said, I see plenty of young children who clearly support a different team from their fathers (usually, they would be wearing Chelsea or Man Utd shirts - the big successful teams - whereas the father would support a local but less successful team, like Millwall).

The idea of someone changing the team they support is distasteful, at the least. You choose your team, you're stuck with them for better or worse. You certainly do not go off and support another, more successful team. Though if you moved town you would probably be allowed to watch (but not seriously support) a team in your new town.

No serious fans would support a team because a particular player plays for it.

(My other sporting knowledge is of New Zealand): you would support the team from the area where you grew up, but if you moved (and many people do) you might change allegiance to the new local team.
posted by Infinite Jest at 9:36 AM on September 2, 2009

As selton notes, that line carries a lot of weight. It isn't just that Liverpool/Chelsea represents a geographic divide, but also a class one: Chelsea is simultaneous associated by other teams' supporters with a lot of superficial, glamour-seeking, bandwagon-jumping fans and a fairly nasty core. So it's basically an accusation of class treason. (Treading carefully here, but the phenomenon of the 'professional Scouser' carries with it the idea that you should retain the outward characteristics of your Liverpudlian roots even if you're living in a nice house on the Thames.) "Born in Exeter, but a Chelsea man now" wouldn't mean the same thing.

The accepted line is that you "decide" early, and you don't change your team. (How that's decided? Well, my sister's kids were apportioned their allegiance based upon the aggregate result of the season's matches between the two contenders.) It's okay to have secondary sympathies -- a team to support in other leagues, or in other divisions, or a team to support in Europe -- and it's okay to be a lapsed supporter if you disagree with the direction of the club. But jumping from club to club generally gets frowned upon, particularly if you present yourself as a die-hard supporter.

On the other hand, real-life allegiances outside die-hards are much more fluid. There was a piece in the Graun recently (I think -- can't find the link) blaming Nick Hornby for all this, while noting that he was a Cambridge United fan before coming back to Arsenal. The ubiquity of televised football and the growth of a fanbase outside traditional regions and groups means that there's even more fluidity, with fans of players who'll switch when the player gets transferred.

(Liverpool's actually an interesting example: you'll find plenty of families of mixed allegiance, based upon asking kids at an early age whether they want to support Liverpool or Everton.)
posted by holgate at 9:48 AM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hmmm, interesting. This seems pretty analogous to baseball and (American) football support in the U.S.
In working-class cities like Baltimore, where I grew up, supporting the home teams is pretty much a requirement, no matter how bad they are. This is especially true among the older generation. it's part of the "us vs them" mentality that is probably part of provincial, working-class cities the world over.

Of course, in Baltimore, you will always see some younger people walking around with Yankees or Lakers gear. These teams are the Chelseas of the U.S. in that they are from big cities, glamorous, and perennially successful, and so they tend to be popular among people who want to break away from the limitations of the place they are from.

Of course, this is all less extreme than in the U.K., because the class divides aren't as deep. And in the U.K. some of the rivalries even have a literal religious element to them, in that fans of each team are of a certain religion (Celtic vs Rangers, I think?)
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:57 AM on September 2, 2009

Missed it in live preview, but:

Nick Hornby's "Fever Pitch" describes football loyalty as "not a moral choice like bravery or kindness; it was more like a wart or a hump, something you were stuck with."

And yet that's something of a narrative device -- he's drawn back to Arsenal after a long period of absence. There are doubtless Arsenal fans who just lost interest and now cheer on Chelsea from the comfort of their living rooms. Still, we're all living in both a post-Hornby/WSC age, which redefined fandom one way -- in a kind of renaissance after the bleak 1980s -- and a post-Sky/Prem age, which refracted it in another.
posted by holgate at 9:58 AM on September 2, 2009

It basically comes down to:

Local team: by birth / growing up (e.g. moved early in life so supported team of re-location)

Inheritance: Usually parents but grandparents & siblings can have a say.

Random connection: Usually the method for complete outsiders e.g. outside the country.

I was born in Leamington Spa so follow Coventry City & Leamington FC. [LFC were originally AP Leamington who were disbanded in 1988 but reformed as Leamington FC 10 years ago so I've ended up supporting two teams now. Living 150 miles away from both clubs makes for expensive & occasional attendance although internet commentary helps.]

I will always have bragging rights over friends who support the big clubs as most don't have any connection to those clubs. I've probably been to Old Trafford more times that a lot of Man Utd 'fans'. My ex-, annoyingly, was a legitimate Man Utd fan (via her father).

Any adult who supports a team just because they win (Man Utd, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Barça, Bayern Munich, Milans, Juve, Celtic, Rangers are the main suspects in Europe) is pretty low on the football supporters food chain. I know a Coventry City fan who not only goes to every first team & reserve team game but also most of the youth team games too so I'm guessing he's pretty near the top of the chain.
posted by i_cola at 9:59 AM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

holgate: I doubt there are many Arsenal fans who have drifted to Chelsea. Arsenal have had enough success of their own recently and are the most entertaining team in the Premiership. All the Arsenal fans I know, and I seem to know a lot for whatever reason, hate Chelsea only secondly to Spurs and even then, with Spurs it's more derision & mock pity.
posted by i_cola at 10:04 AM on September 2, 2009

Yeah, I grew up in the Valur sports club area in Reykjavík and I'll support them forever. As for teams in foreign leagues I'm more vague. I like some teams more than others but that's about it. In terms of international football, however (between nations, the World Cup and the like), I have pathological likes and dislikes. I'm Icelandic so I of course support Iceland and as I lived in France as a kid I will always support France and then I have an incredibly complicated hierarchy of teams that I like or dislike (e.g. I will pretty much support anyone against Italy (because they always play ugly football) or Brazil (because they used to play beautiful football but don't anymore) and then I can pretty much place every single nation in the world on a continuum between these extremes.
posted by Kattullus at 10:10 AM on September 2, 2009

Agree with the comments. The statement in question is actually less about football than class and class solidarity. Almost all English/British conversations have an super-lingual class dimension to them that's practically invisible to most foreigners (I say this as a Brit living in the US). The cliched example is saying tea (working class) versus dinner (middle class) versus supper (upper class) for your evening meal. Would suggest a very good book called 'Watching the English' by anthropologist Kate Fox.

What they're actually saying is that the subject has:

a) Turned his back on his working-class (and Northern roots)
b) Picked a team that has become only recently successful (unless the subject actually lives in SW London, but that alone doesn't fully mitigate the ultimate point)
c) Thus demonstrated a lack of class solidarity, and arriviste/hoity toity inclinations (arriviste would be the word used from an upper class perspective, hoity toity from working).

Class is pretty complicated in England. C.f. a good Harry Enfield sketch that interrogates a similar nexus (
posted by momentofmagnus at 10:12 AM on September 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

No serious fans would support a team because a particular player plays for it.

I was born near to Ipswich in the mid seventies. As I became interested in football my Dad took me to Portman Road to watch them as they were one of the best teams in England, not just in the area. BUT I never really liked the team and my family weren't interested in football, and I didn't go to see my local team (who I watch fairly regularly now and do go to watch). BUT I loved, I mean really idolized Paul Mariner (great striker by the way - video of him grabbing a poachers effort against France '82). In 1984 he moved to Arsenal, and I just went with him. My dad stopped taking me to Portman Road, and I had no interest in Ipswich Town any more. For some reason (probably trying to fit in at school or something) I then started supporting Arsenal, and have done ever since, not caring when Mariner left because by then the club was the important thing.
posted by brighton at 10:14 AM on September 2, 2009

It has nothing to do with geography, for a start. I spent bloody weeks of my life hoofing it up to Elland Road with my ex and Upton Park was literally around the corner and in spitting distance of where he was born and raised.

When I asked him to tell me the story of his (doomed - oh so doomed) love affair with Leeds, he told me his dad had been a big West Ham supporter and in typical, childish contrary fashion, he had vowed to support the first club to beat West Ham at home. And thus, a die-hard Leeds supporter was born.

Based on my uninformed observations having dated a lot of bankers, financiers and other City Boys(TM) back in the day, I think Chelsea's popularity owes a lot to social mobility. There's a huge slew of city slickers with new money who want to surround themselves with flash cars, flash pads, flash totty and other accoutrements of outward success. Hull City FC are neither flash nor successful and not somewhere you want to admit you're going for the weekend to watch a game, either. The fact that I knew a bunch of guys living in Brick Lane or Docklands who chose Chelsea over the far closer West Ham seemed to support this view.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:16 AM on September 2, 2009

Almost all English/British conversations have an super-lingual class dimension to them that's practically invisible to most foreigners (I say this as a Brit living in the US).

That's right on the money. I'm also a Brit living in the US and, I think because of this I notice the difference between the two cultures more starkly. The quoted statement is as much about class and the north/south divide as it is about football. Especially as regards Chelsea. I hate Chelsea, not because I'm a Fulham fan (OK so there's a bit of that!) so much as they represent nouveau riche bandwagoning of the highest order. If you add in the north/south divide and specifically Liverpudlian pride (which strikes me as a pride like no other) you end up with one very loaded statement.
posted by ob at 10:32 AM on September 2, 2009

This question fascinates me because it highlights two very different types of sports fans. The first began rooting for their teams in early childhood, usually but not always because it was their local team and because their parents were fans. These fans tend to feel that their team chose them. They are analogous to people who follow a given religion because they were born to it. This group forms the bulk of the die-hard fan base for most teams, regardless of sport or location. The second type of fan chose their team themselves, of their own free will. They are analogous to religious converts. Many of these fans are just as enthusiastic about their teams as native born fans. I think there is a tendency for native fans to look down on the converts, though, viewing them as bandwagon fans, or deciding that their fandom makes no sense ("What is an Oakland Raiders fan doing in Massapequa, New York?". In the UK, perhaps this would be "Why is a Southampton man rooting for Newcastle?"). Many sports fans review their fellow fans' orthodoxy carefully, looking for signs of insincerity. Bill Simmons' columns on ESPN are full of this type of stuff.

I think those suggesting that there is a strong class element to your friend's complaint that someone was "Born in Liverpool but a Chelsea man now" are absolutely right. I think that in addition, the speaker is expressing disappointment that someone born into the perfectly good religion of Liverpool FC fandom decided to turn his back on the faith just because a smooth-talking preacher from Chelsea blew through town.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 10:40 AM on September 2, 2009

This isn't football, but...

I grew up in north-ish British Columbia. My father was born in Ireland, and had little interest in North American sports. However, when I began to make friends with other young boys, I was often asked what my favourite hockey or baseball team was. I really didn't have any favourite teams, knowing little about the sports. I knew that, when rugby or football were on, I would cheer for Ireland. That's about it.

The only point of reference I had was, well, RBI Baseball on my Nintendo. And, whenever I played that game--which I did a fair bit, as it was the first Nintendo game I owned--I always picked Boston, probably just because they had a fast pitcher. In fact, I imagine if they did not have such god-awful uniforms in the game, there is a chance I could have become an Astros fan. But, fortune dictated that I prefered the Sox to the Astros and to this day, I am a Red Sox fan, with all the Yankee-hating that it entails.

Nowadays, I realize the oddity of this. Most people I knew picked their allegiances by simple geography, so that in the town where I grew up if you liked hockey were either a Canucks fan or an Oilers fan (or, if you were particularly contrary, a Flames fan as I was at the time), or for baseball, either a Mariners fan or a Jays fan. But I'm a Sox fan, and can even remember--very sketchily--watching a certain error in the 1986 World Series. I didn't know the gravity of the situation, being five years old, but I remember them losing the Series.

I still have a soft spot for the Mariners and the Jays, mind, even if the Jays make it really, really hard sometimes.

I imagine football culture is an entirely different animal, but I thought I might offer another data point. In my experience, most people I know picked teams based on either where they lived or who their dad cheered for. For me, it was basically luck of the draw and RBI Baseball.
posted by synecdoche at 10:43 AM on September 2, 2009

I doubt there are many Arsenal fans who have drifted to Chelsea.

I'm thinking of Steven Cohen, co-creator and erstwhile host of World Soccer Daily in the US; his admission of having followed Spurs, then Arsenal, before settling on Chelsea was cited during his recent run-in with Liverpool fans as a clear indication of his professional opportunism and bad faith.

But I'm sure there are kids who went to one club with family and friends who drifted away to become "Generic Football Watchers" in later life, part of which may entail shouting on Chelsea in recent years. That's really just picking at the edges of what's covered by the term "fan", and perhaps arguing over the influence (malign or benign) of Hornby on fan culture.
posted by holgate at 11:05 AM on September 2, 2009

Steven Cohen sounds a right tool.
posted by the cuban at 11:22 AM on September 2, 2009

BUT I loved, I mean really idolized Paul Mariner (great striker by the way - video of him grabbing a poachers effort against France '82). In 1984 he moved to Arsenal, and I just went with him.

I stand corrected :). Still, I suspect you wouldn't have done it if you'd felt a really strong tie to Ipswich. And you presumably aren't going to switch allegiance to City or Barca or Inter, just because Arsenal players have moved to those clubs.

It has nothing to do with geography, for a start. I spent bloody weeks of my life hoofing it up to Elland Road with my ex and Upton Park was literally around the corner and in spitting distance of where he was born and raised.

What I find interesting as an outsider is that the generally accepted discourse is that geography (or family tradition) is everything, and that there's something wrong with people who don't support their local teams. And yet there's a significant subgroup of English fans who support incongruous clubs, and (quite often) have elaborate justifications for how they are still true fans of their clubs, even though they "should" support someone else. Sometimes they've got good reasons (my Jamaican-born friend lived very close to Upton Park, but supported Liverpool because of West Ham racism).

I do think geography is important though: I mean, the most common chant you will hear directed at Man Utd fans is "we support our local team".

Then there's foreigners like me who don't really fit into the caste system; so we're either "allowed" to support whoever we like, because our opinions don't really matter, or we're vilified for supporting any English team at all, rather than our local team back home.
posted by Infinite Jest at 11:50 AM on September 2, 2009

Steven Cohen... erstwhile host of World Soccer Daily in the US

Not any more.

Steven Cohen sounds a right tool.

I think the above link proves that to be true.
posted by ob at 11:53 AM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Erstwhile basically means "not any more".
posted by kmz at 12:09 PM on September 2, 2009

Yep; I support the team I watched as a teenager with my schoolmates but haven't lived locally for decades now. Would go to what games I can and must confess to arranging visits home from abroad soemtimes to coincide with some what in footballing terms are very unattractive lower league fixtures but a handy game for me to get to while visiting family. Tragic but true.
Accompanied other friends to watch their sides while living elsewhere, but wouldn't become anything like a supporter of another full professional side, certainly not in England. I did watch the local non-league side regularly in one southern town I lived in, and go and see Beijing Guo'an (not recently now the topic comes up) sometimes here; tend to prefer if they win but not a supporter in the same way.
posted by Abiezer at 1:09 PM on September 2, 2009

It's a fascinating subject. My favorite was always noting the reaction of the fans on the terraces to the half-time scores. There are some really convoluted reasons why Liverpool fans would be delighted to hear the score of the PSV Eindhoven Vs Ajax game. It has everything to do with history, local rivalries and history. With some history thrown in.

Xabi Alonso just left Liverpool for Real Madrid, a horrible, fascist, monarchist club that just signed a bunch of (ok, only slightly) over-rated galacticos like Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo. Real Ma-fucking-drid?? Now I have to support them because they've just signed the best passer of a ball since Jan Molby and my own good self left the game? He's a Basque!! How could he? - I mean he could have joined Momo Sissoko at Juve last year, why not? Barca would be OK if absolutely necessary, but Real Madrid??

Why, Xabi, why??

posted by Nick Verstayne at 1:14 PM on September 2, 2009

i find it interesting that hornby chose his team somewhat arbitrarily, as his dad didn't pass on a particular allegiance, but was simply a newly divorced dad looking for some way to connect to his son and chose a random football match.

Hornby also recounted an elder's chastizing during his youth in Fever Pitch for not supporting Reading, the closer team geographically.

(rose city 'till i die! and pdx-ers who buy sounders gear should be drowned in the willamette. :)
posted by acid freaking on the kitty at 2:36 PM on September 2, 2009

A few years ago in a job where most of my colleagues were 10-15 years younger, to a man they supported Liverpool, Arsenal or Man United, despite being all native to Leeds and Bradford.

That's interesting, I'm from Bradford and every one was a City fan at school. One of my friends was a Leeds fan and that was considered the height of treachery. The exceptions were people who had actually moved from other towns. This was in the mid-Nineties, before City went up to the Premiership but also before they went into freefall.

I think the fact that people move about so much more than they used (even a couple of decades ago) has had a major effect. I also think the fact that most football has disappeared from terrestrial television has had an impact. The only clubs you ever see these days are Arsenal, Chelsea, Man U, etc.
posted by ninebelow at 3:44 AM on September 3, 2009

Thanks for all the replies! This has been enlightening. I knew that the comment about the other fellow being born in Liverpool but a Chelsea Man was a loaded statement but not sure since it was understated. I knew it was not good but not sure why.
posted by jadepearl at 12:11 PM on September 3, 2009

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