First of all, let’s get one thing straight, I’m not questioning whether supporting your team matters. Of course it does. That’s like asking whether you should look after your kids, or be nice to your wife-occasionally. No my query is based on the argument that the “we support our local team” mob, are more important, passionate, vocal, better looking, than those supporters who live further away. Being a Manchester United fan, from Manchester- yes there are some of us- but living in London, whenever people realise where I’m from I often hear the same question. “Do you support Man City then?” Usually followed by “I thought everyone from Manchester did.” There seems to be a myth that most United fans are from London or Kent, or Shropshire or anywhere but Manchester. Now my point isn’t to start a debate about how many United fans can actually call themselves Mancunian no it is simply does it matter where you come from as long as you get behind your team- be it United or anyone else.
At Old Trafford there are undeniably a lot of fans from places nowhere near Manchester, there’s the Cockney Reds who make up a significant number of those attending matches, not to mention the Irish United fans of which there are many-usually giving interviews to Sky Sports or MUTV outside the ground. United aren’t alone though in attracting fans from other areas. During my time in London I’ve come across countless Liverpool fans who sound about as scouse as Michael Caine and there seems to be a running joke about Arsenal fans coming from Surrey- before all you Gooners kick off- I’m not saying there’s any truth to it, merely that I’ve heard it a few times.
There’s no doubt that any successful team is going to attract fans from outside its home city. Some of it may be due to the time you start watching football. If you haven’t got a dad who drags you along to games from an early age- as was the case with me and I always thank my lucky stars he didn’t support City- then you may like a team you see on the TV and start an affiliation with them. A case in point was around seven years ago when I spent a summer ’working’ abroad in Crete. There were several lads around my age- early twenties- working out there who all supported Spurs. These lads were from a lot of different areas- Slough, Chingford, Bromley, wherever, yet for some reason on that island when I was there, Spurs seemed to be the most popular team amongst my fellow ’workers.’ One day, I asked one of them why he felt this was the case, as to be honest I didn’t feel Spurs would have been that popular as Arsenal had always been more successful and many of the fans were not from that near Tottenham at all. He told me the reason he started following them, when he was around 8 or 9 Spurs had Paul Gascoigne, Chris Waddle and Gary Lineker playing for them, so he’d seen these players on the TV and found an instant appreciation of them. That’s what had made him follow Spurs and there’s every reason that other people his age may have had a similar experience. That made perfect sense to me, after all one of my friends who lives in Twickenham recently told me her two young boys argue over football, the older one -he’s ten- follows Chelsea while the eight year old follows Man United.
For United there does seem to be a big number of ‘out-of-towners‘, arguably because of the success the team has had, or maybe going back further to the days of Busby and the legacy he built. For whatever reason United do have a lot of fans from outside Manchester of that there can be no denial. Personally I used to find myself getting a little annoyed when I was younger and I’d hear cockneys- or anyone from south of Birmingham really -at Old Trafford. I’d create nonsensical ideas in my head that they were ‘glory hunters’ that were stopping real fans getting tickets. My attitude has changed a lot over the years as I’ve come to realise that not only is it irrelevant when it comes to supporting the team, whereabouts you’ve travelled in from but also that the main attribute most of us want from our teams fans is to get behind the players on the pitch- what accent you’re doing that in has no importance whatsoever.
Another factor which actually made me respect fans that travel from further a field to come to Old Trafford, was a story a bloke from Essex told me once when I was working in a pub there last year. George- that was his name, and probably still is- was born in Blackpool but moved to Essex as a baby with his family. His dad was a United fan- like mine- and had encouraged George to do the same. Despite living in Essex for forty years, he’d always remained loyal to Man United. He told me of his last trip to Old Trafford, a mid-week game against Wigan, he’d got the train up there but missed his train back as it took him longer getting out of the ground than expected. The next train wasn’t until the morning so he’d had to get a coach, it was raining heavily- as it always does in sunny Manchester- so him and his mate had sat on a coach that took about 8 hours to get back to London- where they had to get a train to Essex- in soaking clothes. The point is, he’d gone through a lot of bother, and expense- travelling had ended up costing him about £95 just to watch a pretty run-of-the-mill game at Old Trafford. Was he a true fan? Of course. Did he have every right to be there as anyone else? Certainly. Had he spent more than a lot of people to get there? Absolutely. Many fans who travel from afar have to spend a lot more money than local ones, my trips to Old Trafford have decreased over the past three years, as it becomes more and more costly to make the trip from London- not to mention getting time off work or missing Uni. When I’m in Manchester it’s a lot easier to get to the games-obviously- but also the offer of a ‘last minute ticket’ that a mate might have can be gratefully accepted, while a trip to a match commuting from London often takes planning of a military nature.
There are those that would argue you should support your local team- tell that to people from Chester- that anything else is just glory hunting, however after some years of thinking this may be true, I’ve realised that this idea is as outdated and egregious as Gerry Francis’s hair. As the Green and Gold campaign has shown at United- and I’ve seen many of these scarves lately in London- it’s not where you come from that matters it‘s who you support.
Read more of Justin’s work at his excellent blog ‘Name on the Trophy’