When Premier League Footballers From Rival Clubs Are Friends Not Enemies

After yesterday’s impressive result but lackluster performance by Manchester City, the race at the top of the Premier League is still on and it looks more and more likely that the Monday, April 30 match between City and United at Etihad Stadium will go a long way to deciding the title.

With so much on the line, you can already imagine that the two sets of supporters on April 30 will literally be at each other’s throats, cheering their teams on and shouting abuse at their opponents — both the players and supporters. The police and stewards will be on extra alert to prevent any skirmishes from getting out of control, and will do their best to minimize interaction between both sets of supporters.

On the pitch, it’s a different matter entirely. On the pitch, many of the Manchester United and Manchester City players are best mates. There is very little to no resentment or hostility between the players to their opponents. In fact, some of them — such as Joe Hart, Ashley Young, James Milner and Chris Smalling — even get paid to appear in the same video together (see above video).

It’s the norm these days that professional footballers, even from rival clubs, are known to party with each other at nightclubs. During the season, these footballers are often in contact with each other via social media. Or playing pre-arranged online video games against each other.

Keep an eye on the players after a match ends, and you’ll often see them giving each other a knowing smile, or patting each other on the back as if they’re mates — which many of them are.

I could never imagine someone like Roy Keane or Tony Adams being best mates with the players from the club’s most hated rivals. While football supporters hurl abuse and banter against their opposition fans, it’s completely at odds with the footballers on the pitch. The players are still giving their 100% to win the match for their club, but it seems more about collecting a paycheck than playing for the passion and loyalty of the club and the club supporters.

However, it’s no coincidence that Hart, Young, Smalling and Milner all play together on the England squad, so they’re used to spending time together outside of club football.

While each footballer is free to do what they want, I’m not a fan of footballers from rival clubs being best mates. I wasn’t brought up that way, and I don’t think most football supporters would appreciate knowing that many of the players from different clubs are best pals outside of their football club. In some ways, it seems like a facade. A very competitive league with competitive games, with supporters spending a lot of time and energy building up their dislike for a rival club, only for the footballers themselves to be best of mates. It seems wrong.

What do you think? Is it a good sign that footballers from rival clubs are best mates, or should there be a divide between these players? Share your opinions in the comments section below.

17 thoughts on “When Premier League Footballers From Rival Clubs Are Friends Not Enemies”

  1. This has been going on for ages.

    The most famous example was George Best who lived with Mike Summerbee while Besty was at United and Summerbee was at City. They also owned a business together and Summerbee was Besty’s best man at his wedding.

    Both legends at their rival clubs but best friends

    1. Interesting. I wasn’t aware of that. I wonder, though, how many of the average football players know how pally players are with each other, even from rival clubs. Many supporters would never be that friendly with opposition fans.

      The Gaffer

      1. I understand why the players are friendly with each other, many grew up playing football together at young international level and academies. Also I would presume that some foreign players, lets say Spanish players in London, stick together because they speak the same language and have similar experiences.

        Personally as a fan it is odd when you have two sets of supporters shouting (and sometimes going further) at each other while the players are just having a chat. Saying that not sure if Joey Barton is pally with anyone

  2. As has been said many times before, the fans in the stands care far more about the end results than the players on the field. The players loyalties are to themselves and their families. Club and country come in a far second.

  3. I like it. I think (and I speak for myself here) that we tend to dehumanize players on the pitch. We want them to be our gladiators. We attribute them traits (including moral ones!) based on their performance – just look at the adjectives we use, such as calling a performance “heroic.” While it glorifies the players, it is still dehumanizing. When we want them to totally absorb and manifest our attitudes towards the opposing team, we are simply treating the player as a container with which to fill with our feelings. (Indeed, I think it is a fault of mine that I have such negative feelings towards other clubs.)

    Camaraderie and friendship between competitors is healthy. We want competition to be exciting and engaging, but also fair and defined by good sportsmanship. I’d want to apply the same standards to professional competitions as we try to inculcate in youth sports.

  4. I don’t have a problem with players being best mates as long as they perform at a high level. From personal experience (albeit a much, much lower level), I played with more passion and intensity against opposing players that were my friends off the pitch.

    I also think that it is good for the game. As a spectator, there are teams I can’t stand. But seeing players that are friends before and after games, helps to put things into perspective. While these games are a big deal, it helps to show that there are more important things in life. It shouldn’t take a horrible incident like what happened to Fabrice Muamba to remind us of this.

    I read a short little essay a while back by George Sheehan, called “Life is not a Spectator Sport.” You should google it. It gives a little bit of insight into the differences in the mindset of the athlete that is playing the game and that of the spectator who is watching.

  5. I don’t have a problem with it and I think that it’s been this way for years (and probably forever). The home made video of the party at Steve Bruce’s house that was released when Man Utd first won the Premier League in the 90’s had players from other local teams show up. The Bobby Charlton story recently shown in the UK talked about his great friendship with Franz Beckenbaur and his friendship with other players from his hometown.

    Another thing that I would add is that when I played seriously, I always had more aggression and more drive to do well against my friends, and probably had more “incidents” against friends than any other people. When I was 15 playing rugby against a local rival school I got a ride to the game from a friends from the other school and his family, during the game the friend and I had a punch up with him, then after the game got a ride home :)

    The more I think about it I find the whole article an odd premise, they are bound to be friends since they all live in the same bubble.

  6. So, if your best friend and teammate gets sold to your rival you can no longer be friends? Players move all the time and as you point out yourself many of these men play together on national teams. It is simply not rational to assume they would sever relationships because of team affiliation or try to hide the fact that they are friends off the pitch.

    One of the things I enjoy about rugby is that after trying to brutalize each other for 80 minutes the players leave the pitch bloodied and battered, but chatting with each other as if nothing had happened. Regardless of how fans might feel, they understand that sport is just that. It is not life.

  7. It would be a facade if footballers were pressured into hating each other for the sake of hating each other.

    Britain is multi-cultural now and football is global, and the Premier League is THE premier league of the world. Players aren’t just local lads coming up through their particular side’s culture. You have players from around the world coming to England who can’t just fake pride and mimic their fan’s inbred tribalism.

    So hoping for players to hate each other in 2012 England/Wales is just silly.

  8. Red Nev said in his autobiography that as much as he hated Liverpool, he always respected their players and more than once he tried to woo Stevie G into joining United.
    So there you go.

  9. Thanks everyone for your comments. It’s good to hear that most of us have a positive outlook on how the players are friendly with each other. As a product of the ’70s and having witnessed Leeds, Cardiff and Chelsea fans, I guess I was brought up to hate opposing fans and, at the same time, was brought up thinking that players wouldn’t associate themselves with other team’s players.

    But good points made. Today is a much different age, in a good positive way at times.

    The Gaffer

  10. You seem to be sticking to this idea that they were not friends back then, I’m telling you that was simply not the case. Players have always been pretty friendly with each others. There are exceptions of course, as there are today, but in general they share a common lifestyle and has always been friendly.

    FYI: My Dad played for Preston in the 60’s and was pretty friendly with the Blackpool, Bolton and all other local players, still friendly with some of them today.

    1. Tony, I’m not disagreeing with you. I think my perception of reality was skewed. I believe you, no worries.

      Your Dad played for PNE? What position? What was his name, and did you get a chance to see him play?

      The Gaffer

  11. What is the purpose of this piece? Players have always been ‘pally’ with each other unless you’re Roy Keane and enjoy breaking a fellow pro’s leg and finishing his career. A more interesting piece would be about fans tenous relationship with opposing players. Especially from the lower divisions where fans have more access to players.

    I remember many years ago witnessing at my team – Brentford – a large vocal mob gathered outside the opposition’s dressing room after their player had cynically broken the leg of our star. This was in the days of one or two policemen at a lower division ground and the player realising one foot outside the door meant he would be set upon, was smuggled out of another exit onto their coach. Upon discovering this the angry mob chased the coach and pelted it with bricks. For his own safety he was dropped for the return fixture.

    I was also there for the Brentford v Millwall hand grenade incident. But that’s another story.

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