The fan/club relationship and its consequences. Part One of Three, Setting the scene by Jon Fox
As adoring fans, we conduct what amounts to a lifelong love affair with our club. In our case my fortunate fellow tribelets, it is the mighty Arsenal Football Club. All true fans everywhere fall in love for life and the few club changelings are much scorned as fair-weather fans, or as I prefer to call them, not true fans at all.
We all understand the instinct to belong to our tribe and to defend our tribe from members of other tribes and to deride rival tribes. Non-threatening rivals are usually not much scorned, and we reserve our main loathing for our traditional rivals. We even sing about how “we hate Tottenham Hotspur; we hate Liverpool too ……” etc. And with many of us that is real hate; we actually wish harm on our worst rivals, Spuds Chelski, Man Ure. You will note how I wrote those names. Not exactly the way a fan of those clubs would describe their adored club. Quelle surprise! Who among you can honestly deny that you “would love it, simply love it” (as Kevin Keegan would say) if only those “scumbags” got relegated?
During the worst period of hooliganism from the 1970‘s onwards, the Neanderthals among us normal fans chose to physically try taking over the home end of rival clubs. This was worse at some grounds than others, and although we at Arsenal had our fair share of idiots, we were among the least deranged fans in London. Chelsea and West Ham, along with Millwall in Division Two were widely considered the most aggressive and frankly, thick in the head. I could of course claim that even supporting those clubs is amply proof of being thick, but I am far too sweet natured (ahem, cough, cough!) to ever say that!
However, the vast majority of fans chose to avoid trouble and managed to sidestep being over much caught up in hooliganism, though it was often a close call and you ran the gauntlet of physical hate when you attended away games. I had several close calls myself way back then when I used to travel on the supporters’ club coaches. Now as a man of senior years, I can scarcely believe I was so in love with Arsenal that I would l endanger my physical health to be actually there, home and especially away, to show my love for our team. Was I crazy then? Well yes definitely, and are we not all crazy in being fans of a club that – unless we have a season ticket, or the club has our email address – does not even know we exist!
You see my fellow Gooners, that act of being a fan is essentially a one-way love affair. We all love our club; to many of us it is our whole life and we are ecstatic or miserable, according to the latest result and performance. That is not a healthy and mature way to be, but it is our fate. That is the price we pay for the glorious madness of being in a one-way love affair. But, being in love, we willingly submit to our fate. It is an addiction, a glorious, healthy, yet also unhealthy addiction. And we would not change it for the world.
In this new technological age, we have social media and so we who are addicts – pretty much the lot of us on here – spend much of our valuable time discussing and arguing with our own tribe mates about our expectations for our club. The club, remember, that probably doesn’t know we even exist! Imagine if this were the way you conducted a love affair with a person you were devoted to, but who scarcely know you were even there. You would be thought unhinged or at least in for a rough time. But with our club, do we care? Of course not. We willingly suffer this masochistic love for our whole life.
And who do we blame when results go wrong! Why the ref, or such and such a player or the manager or the owner or just bad luck, VAR even, (there’s a welcome new twist to moan about and how we love to moan!). Two whinges equal one moan and two moans equal one rant. So, what do two rants equal then? Why, one perfectly normal but deeply infected football fan of course! Guilty as charged then your honour!
Can you think then of the one person we never blame, at least not publicly? Ourselves, of course. The truth is that we personally chose this state of masochistic bliss and no person other than perhaps our Dad, a relative or whoever first took us along to our tribe can truthfully be blamed. Is that fair comment my friends? I truly believe so…
In part two I will explore in more depth the addiction we all have to our club and where it is both healthy and deeply unhealthy. When taken historically, as we older fans will tend to do, there are far more healthy matters pertaining to being a fan of the mighty Arsenal FC than there are unhealthy ones. Til next time then, my fellow masochists, I pray you all stay safe and happy ranting!
PS. Whatever did we do before smartphones and social media came along!