Right now, I am a dyed in the wool football supporter’s worst nightmare. I am new fan. Yes, I like Manchester United. And you know who has a problem with that? Some of the longtime supporters of MUFC and the fans of all of the other teams who want fans to come support them.
Some are wondering if I know that it’s an insult to say Man U, if I know anything about the Busby Babes, if I know when Man United won the Treble and against whom, and who coached the team before Sir Alex Ferguson.
Why is that? Because regardless of what sport you follow, you hate to have it ruined by potential bandwagoners, fair weather fans and posers. And to all of you out there who fall into one of those above categories, believe it or not, I totally understand!
I can safely say that I know some answers but I’m still learning others. Given time, I will know.
Let me give you a bit of history. I am from Baltimore, Maryland. I am one of those who remember the night the Baltimore Colts left for Indiana. A lot of us were angry and hurt that it had come under such bad circumstances. Some of the fans here were left with choices: follow the team to a new city, follow other local teams (Steelers, Redskins and Eagles being those choices), find a completely new team to follow or follow none at all. Less than two decades later, we got a new team (some still say it was under similarly questionable circumstances) in the Baltimore Ravens. Our new team has proven to be one of the most resilient teams in their short tenure, even winning the Super Bowl once and as time passes and our team gets better year in and year out, along with us now having one of the hugest rivalries in the NFL, our fanbase continues to grow.
So, what does that have to do with me being a Man United fan? Read my last sentence. It has everything to do with new fans coming into any sport. Everyone loves a winner. But it’s difficult to distinguish new fans from those clambering aboard the bandwagon and justifiably, as some MUFC supporters would probably look at me with a side eye, I do the same with new Ravens fans. It bothers me if you don’t know who Tony Siragusa and Jonathan Ogden are. It bothers me if you don’t know why we have a big rivalry with the Cleveland Browns along with that team in Indianapolis. And if you are just a passing through fan who doesn’t know what schools Joe Flacco and Ray Rice were drafted from, we may not have much of a conversation.
But why are long time fans like that with new fans?
It simply has to do with the idea that there are some fans that were around when the teams were young and struggling, at a time when very few outside of that region even knew of that team’s existence. As time wore on, these teams got better and as they did they attracted followers and as some chose to stay on, others got off. It’s just how fandom is.
But it’s nothing worse than being a part of a sporting culture. Your team is winning and the moment they win big, you see people who never before were fans start sporting a teams colors. A good example of this was when the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl a few years back. All of a sudden everybody was a Saints fan! How many remember Archie Manning or Rickey Jackson? Thus MUFC supporters will ask new fans: are you willing to learn who George Best is? Or why the name Eric Cantona still stirs supporters to song? For the Saints, while it was a well deserved win for the team from a city that has been through so much hell, the bandwagon fans that cropped up afterwards were ridiculous. And even worse was how many who hopped on so quickly got right back off when their team lost that next season!
There is no respect in that and I can understand why some who are long time supporters may get a bit rankled when a new fan appears in their midst. Some say, “well why couldn’t you choose my team or any team but THAT team?” One thing we all must consider that regardless of what sport we follow is that very few voluntarily get behind the losing side. Also it’s about the marketing, plain and simple. In 2010, a poll was conducted to find out who the most popular sports teams were (not to be confused with most valuable or richest although I am sure there may be some correlation with this). Is it not surprising that a majority of association teams on this list are EPL teams? I am curious to see what the 2011 list looks like and there isn’t probably all that much of a change, but it simply goes to show that teams that do well, regardless if they are winning or in the running, will pull new fans in with their exposure.
When people are potentially new fans of a sport, it’s always natural to ask “who is the popular team?” and “Who is winning?” And why not? Even in a sport such as soccer, it means so much as new fans come in. They want a team they can be able to watch on TV, to have an easy time getting gear and memorabilia but most of all being able to find and commune with a fanbase that is as large and is as deep. And there is nothing ever wrong with rooting for the underdogs! But let’s be brutally honest. If you were new to American football and chose to cheer for the Cleveland Browns and lived in this region (Washington DC), I would have a million questions based on your choice. Likewise, I am sure that fans of Fulham, while welcoming a newcomer, would be full of suspicion of a newcomer, living in the shadow of Stamford Bridge.
But like any new fan should, I caution new fans to my sport and also I am taking my own advice. Don’t let your education of a new team that you follow end with what they did last year. I am still learning a lot not just about the sport but the team and its history. Take the time that you have to learn about where the team was before they came into prominence. Conversely, when you find that new fan to your sport, take them in and teach them because you will learn soon enough if they will be around. We all love it when our teams win. We love it when we can share that moment of victory with other fans who have been through all the ups and downs of long seasons waiting for that big victory.
We all just worry a bit when that new ‘rah-rah’ supporters who can’t ever know what it was like when we struggled through a bad season where we were predicted to win, suffer through an embarrassing loss or even have controversy heaped upon us. We don’t know if they plan on being around for the long haul or if they are just here for the moment, gone when the fair-weather turns foul, when the trophies stop rolling in.
Ask any Dolphins, Cowboys or Redskins fan in my area and they can define what it is to be a long suffering fan.