Tuesday, April 10, 2012

United Fans

For some on the Left, sport is little more than a way to enforce hegemony and control on the duped masses, another opium for the people to divert their attentions from their social problems and delay the revolution.

Following football is expensive, the games less competitive (between 1985-95, 13 different clubs finished in the top three of the , exactly the same number as in the previous decade and the decade before that. In 1995-2005 years, that figure was just six) and the matches less atmospheric than ever in all-seated stadiums with traditional albeit bigoted songs outlawed. So why do supporters still love it?

The identification with a team, its colours, and history involves football’s most direct appeal to the gut. The tribalism displayed by a community of fans has an almost immeasurable force. It creates instant rivalries where none may have previously existed. For a few hours supporters inhabit a place where only one identity is acceptable: to be a Rangers or Celtic or Aberdeen fan. Any statement that violates the group’s one idea can prove dangerous, and, in a few cases, fatal. Being a football fan entails loud, aggressive, expressions of triumphalism and total team worship.

The term “imagined community” comes not from an analysis of sports, but, from Benedict Anderson’s book on nationalism. Anderson sets out to study why people love, die, and kill for countries. According to Anderson, a nation is “an imagined political community—and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.” Nationalism, then, is not “an awakening of nations to self- consciousness; it invents nations where they do not exist.” As Anderson puts it, “It is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep horizontal comradeship.” This phenomenon is not limited to political communities. Hence, beneath all the commercialism and competitive rivalry is a deeper yearning for community that we dismiss at our peril.

To yearn for the football stadium crowd is to yearn for belonging in community, to dream of some kind of connectedness with your fellow humans. The further our alienation moves towards an ever-more-atomised society, one solely centered on the isolated individual, the greater there will be attempts to reclaim our to-getherness. People look to sports for a sense of something larger because social relationships with one anotherhas severely eroded throughout our society. So people look for some kind of connectedness with the tribal identity of their football club allegiences. They believe that - on some level - there's a bond between them, the players and their team. They follow them everywhere, even fight for them.

Sadly, it's not reciprocated. Kiss the badge when a player first scores for their new club. Most fans buy it every single time. The fact that they'd switch employers for a 200% pay rise without a second's thought seems lost on them. And that's not all they buy. There's the pricy season ticket, the home strip, the away strip, the third alternative away strip, the premium rate text services and so on.

When are people going to realise that when your favourite club isn't counting your cash, it's laughing at you? Rick Gekoski writes in "A Fan Behind The Scenes In The Premiership". "I was reminded of a conversation I'd had with John Salako. 'Fans,' he said, 'most of them are sad. They think the game is more important than it is, it says something about the miserable kind of lives they must lead. They get things out of proportion.' Another player, who did not wish to be named, said: 'Fans? Come on. Players hate fans.' "

Don't become a slave to football's pointless merry-go-round. In 2005 there were just seven clubs in the country owned by supporters' trusts - while only 23 trusts have elected directors on the board. When it's your club being dragged over the coals by insolvency accountants or re-located by new owners , you fight tooth and nail. When it's the club up the road, you merely give a shrug of the shoulders. Time for real football supporters to stand united and kick off.

"Football without fans is nothing" - Jock Stein

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