The Culture Of Football Fans - Are We A Modern Day Tribe?
Football appears to be a consistently evolving economical force. With a seemingly endless supply of commercial opportunities, we’ve seen more money pumped into the sport so those wealthy enough can get even more money out of it. At the age of 25, I may have grown-up in the ‘modern football era’ but even in a relatively short period of time, I’ve seen massive changes in the structure of competitions, the running of football clubs, the mentality of players and most recently, where a club might call ‘home’. Although there may be several contributing factors to these changes, there is most certainly one thing that rules all. Money.
When analysing the impact money has had on the sport of football, I began to wonder if there was one thing money might not change. One thing that the greed of others and potential financial reward couldn’t alter. Aside from the cynics amongst us, I believe there is one thing that hasn’t changed (or at least hasn’t changed so drastically) in the game of football. What it means to be a fan. Not what it’s like to be a fan, we know match day tickets can cost a small fortune nowadays (not to mention the obligatory pie and cuppa that goes with it) and you practically have to take out a loan to buy the latest version of your team’s kit. That is the experience of being a fan, I’m referring to the emotion of being a fan. Our passion for a certain team, our adulation of our favourite players, the ecstasy we can’t contain after beating our local ‘enemies’ or the frustration we take out on others after losing three valuable points. We may not look like your perception of it, we may not act like your perception of it (for the most part anyway) but us true football fans are almost like a modern day tribe.
We have our ceremony of watching the game, our match day rituals and superstitions, the team we worship and the players we see as heroic figures. There’s our badge or crest that symbolises who we are, our tribal colours and garments that represent to whom we belong, as well as our chants and songs that are used to express our devotion. Many fans, including myself, go as far as having their team permanently etched onto their skin as a means of expressing such a deep connection to them. Although a group of strangers, we are brought together by our loyalty and shared beliefs, a common desire amongst us all, the desire to achieve dominance over other clubs. Our sense of belonging to this tribe and similar values as individuals can be determined by all kinds of reasons, be it territorial, hereditary or as is becoming increasingly common in later generations of fans, choice.
Certain connections are bound to be drawn between comparing football fans to a tribe. Hooliganism is one such comparison that I won’t be paying too much attention to. The aggressive and primitive actions that so often dominated society’s view of football in the past appears to be fading. That isn’t to say it is non-existent in the modern game, it just isn’t as prevalent as it was a few decades ago. The point of this article isn’t to analyse if we act like a tribe in terms of primal behaviours, it is to assess whether we feel like a tribe. In amongst all the changes in the modern game, do we, as fans, still feel like a community or is there as much disparity amongst us as there is between ourselves and those that have ‘control’ over the game?
There are, of course, exceptions to this notion of football fandom being a kind of modern day tribe. Nowadays, supporters seem happy to ‘jump ship’ and follow another club in the quest for success. Some supporters stake claim to multiple clubs and no longer have just one to which they devote all of their passion, they are selective and calculated rather than intuitive. This is why I refer to such people as ‘supporters’. They don’t become part of a club or immerse themselves in it, they merely ‘support’ a club. Foreign investment means the leaders, those in charge, no longer try to appease the community but simply try to bolster their bank balance. It may well be that gone are the days of fans having an influence over decisions made by the club. If the money involved in the game continues to grow as an overriding factor, we may end up with players being sold at will (providing the offer is big enough), regardless of how much they are loved by the club’s loyal following. Seeing someone who is a ‘fan favourite’ being employed as a club’s manager could quickly become a thing of the past.
For so many fans, who we support becomes part of who we are, a collective expression of identity. There may be various psychological factors that determine how this expression of identity is portrayed in our behaviour but at the very core, the identity remains the same. There are very few aspects of modern day life where people of different backgrounds, class, age, race and even political views can find common ground and feel as one in a community. I may be an optimist for believing that this idea of a tribal belonging still remains in football but that’s all it is, a belief. A hope, perhaps.