In a perfect world, we all support our local professional soccer team. Not only do we support them, but we go see them play during the home games. We buy their merchandise and we follow them til the day we die. But I believe that idea is antiquated and undemocratic. Let me explain why.
After the recent Philadelphia Union game against Manchester United, readers on this site who were Manchester United supporters living in America were chastised by both Union and United fans for being supporters of the Red Devils. Union fans complained that the United supporters in the States should support their local MLS team. And the Man United supporters in England said the same thing too.
But who sets these rules? We all know that most of the Manchester United supporters in England don’t live in Manchester. So, should these supporters follow only their local team and be “forbidden” from supporting United? And for soccer fans living in the United States, is it fair that they should only support their local MLS team when they may not feel a bond with that team, may not live near them or may not see them on television that often? After all, in the case of Manchester United, the Red Devils are on television far more often than your average MLS side.
The reason that the old adage that ‘you should support your local team’ is out-of-date is because it doesn’t consider globalization. Nowadays, we may feel a closer affinity to a team, no matter what the sport, that is thousands of miles away because we see them on our television sets that are eight feet in front of us at all times. Whether you live in England, the United States or anywhere around the world, many of you probably support different teams from different countries and leagues. As just one example, Tyler Bleszinski, the founder of SB Nation, supports AS Roma, Oakland Athletics and New Jersey Devils. Each of those teams are thousands of miles away from each other.
I believe that it’s undemocratic for sports fans to be expected that they should support only their local team. It’s almost like a fascist regime that dictates what you can and cannot do. What if you born in Newcastle, a deeply passionate city, but you despise Mike Ashley, the owner of the club? Even though you disagree with the way he runs his business, do you have a choice? Obviously you do, but if you believe most people who insist that you should only support your local team, you have little choice for the rest of your life.
Just because you were lucky to be born and live near your team doesn’t give supporters a right to chastise everyone else around the world who supports that same team. Because you live closer to your team doesn’t make you a better and more knowledgeable supporter. A fan who lives in Lexington, Kentucky or Melbourne, Australia may be a much better supporter of your club and know more about them than you do.
And what’s supposed to happen to people like me who grow up supporting a team but then move away? When I grew up in Wales, I chose Swansea City as the team I supported not because they were the closest, because they were, because I fell in love with the club during their meteoric rise from the lower divisions to the top of the English football pyramid system. But because there were my local team, it was easier for me to see them. Most of my friends in Wales, however, supported other teams such as Manchester United and Leeds United. And they still do so until this day.
But when I moved to the United States when I was a teenager, was I supposed to leave my allegiances to Swansea City at the border? No matter what I was supposed to do, I still support Swansea and they’re still my favorite team. I’m quite a traditionalist in many ways, so while living in South Florida, I ended up supporting the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and, later, the Miami Fusion and – now – Miami FC. But for those MLS supporters who believe I should follow and support Major League Soccer, what is the connection that I have? None. I live 1,000 miles away from my nearest MLS team. So should I put on a DC United jersey and support them even though I have not one connection with Washington DC?
I understand that it’s important to support local soccer because otherwise how can local soccer survive if we’re all watching overseas clubs? But the reality for local teams, especially in Major League Soccer, is that they’re not competing with local markets anymore. They’re competing with globalization. So if they want to get butts on the seats in their stadium, they need to market their teams differently. Local allegiances are decreasing as globalization gets stronger and stronger. Why go see your local team play inferior soccer when you can see the best-of-the-best from around the world on your TV set?
The other argument I hear quite often that I find amusing is when people argue that how can fans of a club really be fans when they have never been to the club’s home ground? It’s a weak argument in my opinion because if we all had the money to do so, I’m sure we would all visit our club’s home ground as much as we would like. While it’s a dream of most supporters to go see their club play a home match in person, it’s impossible. With Manchester United, the estimates are that they have more than 330 million fans around the world. Old Trafford is a massive stadium but the club would have to play more than 4,000 home matches in a row and herd in a different 76,212 fans into each game to reach close to that number. Season ticket holders may be a little upset at this quandary.
So my argument is this. Go support your local soccer team, but don’t feel ashamed if you also support a team that is hundreds or thousands of miles away from you. In this day and age where we consume entertainment from around the world, we should not be told what we can or cannot do. We’ll support different teams for different reasons. Those reasons won’t always be because the team is the best. We’re not all gloryhunters. And for those English football fans that laugh in our faces because we pick teams, just ignore them. They don’t understand. The same applies to fans of MLS teams.
Support whatever teams you want and love them for your own reasons.