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The Evolution of English Football Supporters And What It Means For Your Club

man city man united fans The Evolution of English Football Supporters And What It Means For Your Club

Prawn Sandwiches, floppy jester hats, a brand new replica kit and a camera memory card being used to the point of melting. These are all increasingly common sights at Premiership grounds, particularly for the ‘Champions League clubs’.

Depending who you speak to, this ‘new generation’ of fan can be considered to be ruining the game or providing the funds essential for clubs to continue competing at the highest level. Which came first – the chicken or the egg? Did a club’s success bring about more fans or did more fans and increased revenue bring about success? It’s increasingly obvious that the two co-exist.

With the Premier League having lucrative deals for TV rights all over the world, football truly has become a global commodity, something clubs understand the importance of milking. By opening their doors to the global market, clubs can vastly increase their net profit, often with little direct effort. The right placed advert, prize competitions, access to live games, club TV channels with exclusive access and copious amounts of memorabilia and merchandise all provide easy money for big clubs. Couple this with the odd pre-season tour, giving thousands of fans the chance to see their heroes in the flesh and a club can really hit the jackpot.

The concept is not exclusive to foreign shores. Times have changed, and football culture has evolved over the years – at pace. Whilst the financial benefits are abundantly clear, there’s a fine line to be tread. It has become extremely easy for a club to lose its identity. In the past, youngsters would not pick and choose who they supported, they were told. Children would grow up supporting the team their family had done for generations, learning the clubs history and traditions as a ‘right of passage’ on the terraces.

These days geography has less and less bearing. It matters not where you are from, or what long-standing connection you have to a club. These aspects have been replaced, when picking a team youngsters will be more likely to question how likely it is they will be successful, how often will they be able to watch them on TV, what does their kit look like and who makes it, and will they beat other friends teams so they can gloat away on the latest most popular social networking site. These days Darren from Dover is as likely to support Manchester City as Steve from Salford (they’ve recently even produced a bluffers guide to supporting the club).

Although everyone has an equal right to support whoever they want regardless of geographical location, and there are undoubtedly keen and knowledgeable fans amongst these – there is a blurred area between a club reaping the new found commercial rewards and opening its doors to the world, and a club being able to maintain it’s traditions. The further removed a fan is from a club the stronger the ‘Soccer AM’ influence can become. Age old songs unique to each club and historic terrace rituals can easily become lost in chants of “easy, easy, easy” and “who are ya”. Clubs employ people to gauge their new perceived popularity, increasing ticket prices accordingly, running the risk of becoming soulless money making machines all too happy to abandon their roots in exchange for a few extra pounds.

Football fans are not stupid. They know the game has changed and the only way to remain competitive is with large amounts of money. As a result, in recent years fans have developed a ‘thirst for Sheiks’, and are now happy for their club to be taken over by the latest billionaire looking for a new toy to play with – A dangerous philosophy that can backfire badly, as any Portsmouth fan can testify. Thankfully steps are being taken to minimize the risk with tests being required before a takeover can occur (whilst still not being stringent enough, it is at least a step in the right direction).

But who are the real losers in this modern craving to support one of the ‘big boys’, a club deemed popular enough for a fan to be seen walking around their nearest town centre sporting the latest seasons 6th away strip?

Attendances in the lower leagues have been steadily falling in recent years and the smaller clubs are alarmingly flirting with administration on an ever increasing basis. With the exception of Brighton & Hove Albion, no club in the bottom two divisions of the English league (nPower League 1 and 2) achieved more than 68% attendances per capacity on average over the course of last season. For clubs at this level of the footballing ladder the bulk of income comes on matchday, so dwindling attendance figures present a real danger.

A quick look at the league tables will show you that there are some big names currently presiding in the depths of the lower leagues. Unfortunately for these clubs it becomes increasingly likely they may become trapped in a vicious circle – needing fans to turn up to increase gate receipts allowing money to be available to investment in the squad, but fans only willing to pay to see the top players. The choice is available now and for a little extra money fans have the choice of going further down the road to see some of the best players around.

Unfortunately as a result clubs are therefore often limited in their options. Gamble, take out loans, invest in playing staff and hope for promotion and the fan base and money that inevitably follows. Or tread water, give up hope of returning to ‘the glory days’ and be thankful they aren’t one of the unlucky ones to be hit with administration.

Nobody begrudges the new breed of fan. It’s their choice. They spend their money and can argue they have as much right to support their chosen club as any other. Football is completely globalised and geography bears little relevance these days (although you shouldn’t need a map to find your own club’s ground). There are however 92 clubs that make up our league system, so spare a thought for your local club – you might just miss them when they’re gone.

Follow me on Twitter – @86CAMMY

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10 Responses to The Evolution of English Football Supporters And What It Means For Your Club

  1. MUFCforLife says:

    Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. I have been following this site for less than a month and I’m already tired of reading one story or comment after another about how international fans supporting a top team is ruining the sport. If a team has done well professionally and has the financial power to have a global influence, there going to have more of a widespread influence than the local teams. Football is a global commodity and that is a great thing for football fans around the world who follow the game just as much as people who live ten minutes from the stadium. While I will say living in the area where a team plays is a great opportunity for any fan, that doesn’t make them “better” or a more “true” fan as anyone else. It’s the 21st Century now and football like everything else is a business that is getting stronger by going abroad which isn’t something to hang your head down on like its the end of the traditions of the game.
    The globalization of a business is not the death of a team’s identity. The pride, glory, tradition and loyalty of the game is still alive and well. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say its probably just as much of a test of one’s fan hood to try and follow a team when you live on a different continent vs living right there. While football is a growing sport in North America, it’s still nowhere near as popular here as it is in England or any international market. The time zones make it harder to follow, there is hardly anywhere near as much coverage or media attention to football in North America as it would be in Manchester or London. Therefore, youngsters (and adults) don’t have someone like family telling them who to support because football is still very new here. AN dis it really that bad to have someone actually make the choice on their own to support whatever club they want?
    Ticket prices are raising in almost every sport due to economic reasons and increased supply and demand. It’s an unfortunate aspect of sports but it isn’t just limited to the big football clubs. (Try afford going to Yankee or American football games). The big clubs like United or Barcelona still recognize their roots. It’s the identity and tradition that they’ve built which in the yes of their supporters doesn’t make them the complete opposite of “soulless”.
    I feel terrible for local teams that aren’t able to survive in this day and age. I hope they continue to survive and hopefully they cans spread their influence beyond the local confines of their area to attract new fans. However, at least for people living in the States, its frankly impossible to follow lower tier teams that aren’t televised here. You can’t blame people for supporting a team that they can actually follow on TV.
    While I’m glad you point out at the end that you can’t begrudge new fans, you certainly try and make them feel guilty for supporting their team. What are we suppose to do, stop following the teams now and try and follow teams that are impossible to see or even worse just stop watching the game altogether? That’s not happening with me or any other true international followers of football. Therefore fans should be able to support a team in any fashion whether its following them whenever possible on TV, buying the kits, going to the “odd” preseason tour which I appreciate, and proclaiming my support for the team to all my friends especially through the internet whether on Facebook or here on EPLTalk.

    • tonyspeed says:

      I think he was focusing on English fans, not international fans.

      • MUFCforLife says:

        Maybe so but I still think it can be directed at international fans too.

        • Harry says:

          I almost have to agree. I really started getting into this sport and I felt a little slighted at the jab that new fans are ruining the sport. As long as a popular sport exists, there are ALWAYS going to be new fans and as crowded as a sports market we have here in the states, I think it would be beneficial that new fans come in and breathe new life into ANY sport. The only thing that is bad across all sports are bandwagon hoppers. Those fans who stick around long enough to support when a team is winning but the moment they lose you can’t find them. For instance, how many people supported the New England Patriots through all the years they struggled and got the payoff when their struggles turned to championships this past decade? Likewise, how many people were fans when the Dallas Cowboys were winning through the 90′s and now can barely get to the playoffs won’t claim them? THOSE are the kinds of fans that COULD ruin sports but they don’t. Why? Because there are too many dedicated fans that stick with their teams that won’t let fairweather fans ruin it for them. Now granted, I am new fan to this sport and may not ever make it to a game in Europe (although I will see the MUFC vs Barca game in July) but I should never be considered one who could ruin the sport. I know people who live less than 5 miles from Fed Ex Field and M and T Bank Stadiums in MD and have never been to either a Redskins or Ravens game and I am sure the same happens there. A good fan is always one who keeps that sport going.

          • IanCransonsKnees says:

            Nice post Harry.

            “A good fan is always one who keeps that sport going.”

            See my post lower down as an expansion on this sentiment.

  2. BD says:

    I think the bigger questions that this writer needs to answer are the following:

    1. How are Gwyneth and the kids?
    2. Will your new album be as pretentious as the last one?
    3. Could you please stop writing on yourself while playing the piano?

  3. CM says:

    1. They’re fine, I think.
    2. Of course. What other type is there?
    3. Can’t help myself. I’m English.

  4. Taylor says:

    I think your complaints are directed towards certain fans
    who abandoned their local clubs for more “glamorous” big clubs, am I correct ?

    Some people want instant results and gratifications. Some people want to be associated with the winners. Some people are afraid if their “team” is not considered “successful” or “famous” enough. But there will always be fans who appreciate the beauty of supporting local clubs.

    It’s also the result of technology: 20-30 years ago, the most accessible way to follow football was through newspapers and for the kids who couldn’t read yet, going to the game with their parent(s), listening to radio, stories from their family member(s) were the first exposure of football. These days, there are different easy ways to get exposed to football: a lot of kids can access youtube earier than they can read; they watch different clubs more easily than their local clubs who might not be as glamorous as the clubs they can watch on youtube, etc.

    • IanCransonsKnees says:

      I agree with much of what Taylor says. Greater exposure has increased accessability as has the advent of personal transport.

      The idea that people need to be associated with people is a reflection on society and the celebrity culture we live in. If you’re not a winner or asscoiated with winners then you’re a nobody.

      I terms of cost the best example that I can give is that I get to see my team in the Premier League at every home match for £350 per season. Our local rivals are four miles away and in League 2, they have a stadium of a similar size and charge £319 per season ticket. I know which offers better value for money, in this instance the lower leagues can’t compete. Having said that I know people who would pay to go and watch Wigan, roughly 50 minutes away, in the Premier League rather than watch their local team in the Championship. It’s these floating fans that dissappear when relegation looms and this obviously has an impact.

      I don’t see how you can argue that locally based fans deserve to be treated with disdain for following their local team. I’ve spent a fortune watching quite frankly dross over the years, it has now culminated in a stay in the Premier League. We have our fair share of foriegn fans who made the effort and travelled over even when times were bad, they had it tough trying to follow their club but stuck with it. I don’t see who someone following a top four side who has never set foot in the stadium can consider themselves on a par with these fans never mid these who go week in week out, whatever the league, whatever the distance.

      In my opinion this is the reason why MLS is destined for mediocrity if not failure. There seems to be a groundswell of interest and support for football but it is almost purely foriegn. Even when you have the opportunity to watch it at a local level it is dismissed. You have to realise that you’re the ambassadors or pilgrims for the sport in your country and to a degree have a responsibility to get involved and make the effort to support those trying to raise the game in your country. Football isn’t always like or about the Barcalona’s, Arsenal’s, Real Madrid’s, Inter Milan’s etc of the world, until this is realised the game on a domestic level is doomed in the US. Even people in this country are convinced there’s a market to be tapped into, a director form my own club has a big interest in this. He’s involved in Orlando City S.C and previously the Austin Aztex (victims of your cynical franchise system).

      It’s easy for me to say but pay your dues, put some time in with your own teams and enjoy the actual experience rather than the virtual experience. Buying a shirt and watching a stream is a truly stale way of being a football fan in my opinion, but peole need to realise that it’s not the only way. I’m not saying you cannot do both but I can guarantee you’d end up forgoing the flat screen for the seat in the stands more often than not. It’s about experiencing life and building memories, meeting people and building relationships you’d never otherwise have had. There’s no shame in following football that isn’t of the top level, like me you can always dream that one day it will be. It makes it all the sweeter when you get there. We’re only here for a visit and when my life flashes before my eyes hours in front of the box aren’t what I want to look back on.

      This may not get a response and I imagine if it does most will view it as criticism but it’s not really. It’s a plea to help grow the game and to get you involved in real life experiences of football. Believe me you don’t know what you’re missing.

      • Harry says:

        I so agree with what you said. For instance, I am a fan of the Dc United because they ARE the local team but I also like Manchester United and Barcelona because they are recognizable to me. It’s a possibility that this may change, but new fans to a sport are either rooting for the underdog or the winner. Take anyone else who is new to sport here in the US. Can you see someone new to American football root for the Cleveland Browns? The New Jersey Nets or the Baltimore Orioles (and yes I am FROM Baltimore) if these teams are not local to them? No. Not unless there is a player or a group of players that makes these teams exciting to watch it’s the only way. Great example is Lebron James. Like him or hate him, Cleveland was an exciting team to watch for the past 5 or 6 years because of him and now that he is gone, how many people who became new fans of the Cavaliers still follow? Same thing with any sport. If you get an exciting player and the team starts turning around, people will watch but once the magic is gone, so are your fans.

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