Fans of the game are a ‘type’, and a very annoying one at that.
Football fans, as a rule, tend to be wankers. (Like bankers, but with less money.) Take me as an example. Every match day, I put on my bright red Manchester United t-shirt. I wear my United muffler, regardless of the temperature outside. I make myself a cup of tea, which I drink from my Manchester United mug with player signatures. My socks (needless to say) are red too. I snarl if anyone disturbs me. I, you may have guessed, support Manchester United, which happens to be the only good club in world football. It’s a fact; all the other ones suck.
My “Man Yoo” merch
I refer to the team only as “we”, like I hold some kind of ownership over 25 strangers and a backroom staff in a country I’ve never been to. “We won. We never lose. We bought the world’s most expensive player, etc.” In a way, it functions on the same principles as right-wing jingoism. Anyone who doesn’t support the same team as me is an idiot; anyone who does is an amateur. Not a “true” fan. See, authenticity is important — I can rattle off obscure trivia no one cares about, and claim to have watched matches in 1998/99, which makes me a true fan. And anyone who can’t, isn’t.
But I’m not even that bad. Like the time I made the mistake of referring to my team as “ManYoo” in front of a fellow supporter. That guy grabbed me by the collar and threatened to beat me up because the term has some negative historical connotations which I won’t get into. “Say ‘ManYoo’ one more time!” he dared me. (I didn’t.) Or when, after a game I was watching at a pub, rival fans got into an actual physical fight — a pathetic, half-hearted punch-up — because, well, they supported different teams. These are just minor examples.
Obsession. Image source: pixabay.com
How it often works is that in India, kids in their teens or so start watching football on TV — maybe because it’s a world cup year, or they play the sport, or their older cousin or parent or friend watches it too. The only exposure for grown-ups who started watching the game when they were kids (before the internet became the internet) used to be the English Premier League, which they would show on ESPN and Star Sports, with the really quite magnificent John Dykes hosting. They’d mostly show games featuring Manchester United, Arsenal, and Liverpool. Then, by the early-to-mid 2000s, Chelsea started winning a lot, so they got airtime. Then Manchester City. So we’d end up supporting one of these three-to-five teams. (You can find the odd Tottenham Hotspurs fan too, but those guys are statistically insignificant.)
They’d also show the Spanish League late at night, so fans of Real Madrid and Barcelona would pop up everywhere. And then there were the hipster losers who’d support one of the German or Italian teams — mostly one of Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, AC Milan, and Inter Milan.
We start young. Image source: slideshare.net
People began supporting these teams because they used to win a lot. But they didn’t want to be labelled “glory-hunters” so they masked their glory-hunting ways by rationalising their support, and claiming it was because of some abstract reason, such as style of play or specific players or attachment to cities. Which was all bullshit, but that’s how you play it (don’t hate the player…). Except me — I started supporting the team for very different, very real reasons (OK?).
Given how cricket has basically been ubiquitous in India for centuries, football fans generally have a massive chip on their shoulder. They develop a superiority complex because they watch a sport that not as many people around give two shits about. They act like master tacticians, discussing formations like they’re Rinus blooming Michels. They get unreasonably snarky around people who don’t have such an active interest in the game. Everything they do socially is designed to build up a siege mentality that people who watch sports tend to cultivate as a defence mechanism against any accusations of not having a life.
The things we do for love. Image source: commons.wikimedia.com
If you notice carefully, the kind of supporters I’m talking about are almost always male. They’re socially challenged, only able to carry on a conversation about football if at all, and only with those whose opinion they trust. You have to prove your credentials to break into that inner circle, by name-dropping a good-quality website or a match from a few years ago — otherwise you’re treated like a complete dumbbell. The sense of humour is often primitive — Rooney is fat, Messi is short, Ronaldo is vain, Guardiola is bald, Wenger is cranky, Klopp is a jackass, and so forth. The less aware ones among them also make jokes about how women never watch football because they don’t understand the offside rule (HA-HA!). They both love and hate the world cup, because it’s so exciting but then you have all these fair-weathered Johnny-come-latelies who infiltrate their safe space — ignorant newcomers who pretend to feel real passion for a month every four years, stealing the real fans’ thunder.
Sometimes, these people will do terrible things like finding each other on the internet, forming a Facebook group that turns into a full-fledged supporters’ group. See, for the most part, if you ignore football fans for long enough, they’ll just crawl back into their shells. Or you insult them and they’ll recoil. But it gets complicated when there’s alcohol involved.
The almost-male Manchester United glory hunters. Image source: Premier League
These supporter groups will organise match screenings at pubs, where they’ll go decked as full-kit wankers, singing all their famous club songs with no understanding of rhythm, melody, key, octave, pitch, music, or even sound. Chants are modified to fit the occasion, with plenty of colourful Hindi variations floating around too. They’ll laugh at unsuspecting newbies who’ve just come to have a good time and glance at the game on the screen, not knowing that literally the whole world is laughing at them. They behave like hooligans (usually without the violence), using archaic British slang, calling each other “mate” and “bloke”, in between guzzling beer that makes its way into the toilet 45 minutes later.
Being loud and obnoxious is one thing, though. It’s fine (just about); not like anyone’s going to befriend them either way. The problem is that these guys are emotional wrecks. Every cross-field pass, every mistimed sliding tackle, is relived and recreated with exaggerated fervour. Tears are shed, arm-in-arm with their brothers-in-arms from their supporters’ army, living and dying inside for their team. It’s hilarious and pitiful. At times, it almost feels as if the joy of sport is lost in the race for tribal partisanship, for the sake of drama and flashiness. Just sit down already, I feel like telling them. Not everything needs to be cranked up to 10, I feel like insisting, before realising I’m one of them too.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Akhil Sood
Cover illustration by: Eshna Goenka