Do fans need to suffer to appreciate football?

Newcastle United fansI remember in December 2010 sitting in my friend’s living room, having a heated debate, about whether some fans have earned the right to feel hard done by when their team loses.

My friend in question was a Manchester United fan, who had openly admitted to crying when his side lost 2-0 to Barcelona in the Champions League final, in May 2009. I questioned his right to cry, needless to say it didn’t receive a welcoming reception.

However, it has since led me to question whether fans need to see their team lose and suffer the anguish of defeat to really appreciate football?

I think I maybe missed the point a little back then, in that what I had forgotten in such debates is that fans pay with their wallets, as well as their emotions, to watch their football team. Regardless of whether your team is winning 3-0, or losing 2-1, the fans are the ones who still travel up and down the country to follow their teams.

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The team I decided to take issue with back in 2010 Manchester United, are the fans that often are hit the hardest usually with trips to Stamford Bridge where they’re put in the Blues’ Category AA fans section for away ticketing. This means travelling supporters have to pay £60-plus for 90 minutes of pleasure or pain, depending on the result. This is before we consider travelling and any other expenditure of the day out, particularly for away games.

The suffering for the fan also becomes relative, now while I accept that no fan of any team likes to see their team lose, some almost become immune to it. It is also underestimated the release which football is often expected to provide for people who are looking forward to their team play all week, whichever team they support.

One thing though that is communal, is that it always hurts when you are not expecting a defeat. Especially when you watch your team playing what should be a rudimentary fixture at home, it is always fraught with danger and fear that your team could lose, and if it ends up occurring it is always a bitter pill to swallow.

It may seem a strange concept to accept but it is unfair to label some fans more understanding of the nature of suffering in football than others. This is because the supporters can only deal with what is in front of them. For example, supporters of Arsenal may feel just as frustrated at their trophy drought, as supporters of Cardiff do at their frustration at not being promoted to the Premier League.

Whenever fans have to suddenly accept a standard of football at their club which is not what they believe club is capable of, it takes a while to adapt and some fans simply can’t watch their team play a lower standard of football, as it hurts them too much to see it. Don’t get me wrong there are some fans that never have and never will appreciate the charm and quality of football outside the Premier League, but it does not mean that they don’t feel the same passion and energy at every ball kicked.

I often hear fans say the Championship and lower leagues are “real”. I admit there is a feeling within it that you can take a step away from the limelight and away from the constant scrutiny of Super Sundays and the ESPN and Sky cameras. This though does not mean fans in this division, or fans of the Npower football league clubs, suddenly feel football more than those who support Premier League teams.

The point this addresses is that I don’t believe you can argue a fan has suffered more at for example Blackburn last year than Manchester United. The reason for this is that whatever the end result is at the end of the season, each fan goes through extreme highs and lows at different stages of the journey. So for Manchester United fans it may have been an extreme for them to not see their team make it to the Champions League knockout stages in the same way Blackburn fans despaired at seeing their side’s demise which led them ultimately to be relegated.

I believe football is a commodity that fans can appreciate at whatever level their team plays, so the natural emotions are enough to grasp a true understanding of football.

And I certainly think fans who hold on to concepts such as Manchester United fans need to experience a relegation to acknowledge what football is all about are slightly misguided, as I was back in 2010.


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