"Alright lads - on three..."

Oh god. This is a bit of a pet peeve for me, it’s not really a heated debate as such but it’s something that grinds on me and when you realise what I’m talking about, it’ll probably grind on you to. In fact it’s something that should be argued, because it’s usually the opening for ridiculous statements in football debates that no one ever really thinks to question. We all have a mate (or mates) that usually flare up debates and love to attack rival fans, I live in the North East and there is a mixture of Newcastle and Sunderland fans all about – we never agree on anything. And pretty much every debate that occurs includes at some point the opening line of “your fans…”. Meaning of course that fans are generalised into one group, one way of thinking, feeling and support.

You’ve heard all the stereotypes – Man Utd fans are all from Croydon, Millwall fans are all hooligans, Wigan fans are crap because they “can’t” fill their stadium, Newcastle fans are deluded, Chelsea fans are band-Waggoner’s, fans of Italian teams go around stabbing everybody, Liverpool fans will knick your car stereo etc. I know a lot of the time these jibes are made all in banter and with a bit of fun, but you’d be surprised how many people believe these things and it often leaves people making ridiculous assumptions on people based on what club they support.

I got into one of these arguments not too long ago, someone I know who is a Sunderland fan challenged me, he said that “Newcastle fans are crap, all the atmosphere is gone and you think you’re still a big club – but you’re not! Sunderland are the biggest team in the North East now.” At first I was debating all these points until all of a sudden I just started thinking to myself “hang on a second, this guy has just generalised all fans of my team into one voice and one mould – that can’t be right. I’m not the same as everyone else who supports this club”. And then it really started to get to me, looking on Internet stories regarding Newcastle there are people from other clubs who are saying things like “beat Villa 6-0 and they’re back to being deluded thinking they will get into Europe now – thick Geordie so and so’s”. Apparantly all of us Toon fans have invented telekenisis.

Why it bugs me is that I know that isn’t me. I’m not deluded, there are some Newcastle fans that are a bit over optimistic but those supporters exist in pretty every club. I was at the game against Villa and I left the stadium in a jubilant mood – the reason most Newcastle fans were in this jubilant mood was because we’d just beaten a team that challenges at the top of the table by 6 goals! Wouldn’t you be happy if your team did that? There are people that think we will go down and that is fair, we just came up and I know we’re in for a tough ride this season, but when you’re fighting relegation you have to be optimistic for your team’s chances at the start of the season – nothing wrong with that really. When I go to St. James I see people around me making a lot of noise, but there’s also people who won’t make much noise in the match, but that is fair. And yeah, I know that my team has just come back up and we’re not going to stomp our boot down and storm into Europe – I’d love us to get 17th place and anything above that is a bonus!

A lot of fans will believe everything they hear, when a pundit opens their mouth or someone with influence, they’ll go along with it because people model themselves on others; if you read or hear something that is influencing then you’re going to take that on as your own opinion most likely. The media in England are really bad for this sort of thing, the amount of social control they have is scary. Stereotypes are important for the human mind, they help generalise information so that we have to do as little cognitive processing as possible, we can retrieve this information as freely as we blink and you’d be surprised how quickly you form an opinion on someone based on the information you’re given when speaking to them. What football team you support can also play an impact on what people think of you, I introduced one of my mates to another when I was at University and one of them was a Man Utd fan from London. The encounter didn’t last long, but my other mate didn’t really feel he was a real football supporter just because of he was a Londoner supporting Man Utd. He had taken a well known footballing norm and applied it freely without much thought or questioning.

But what about you? Do you want to be known as someone who goes along with the crowd? When you think about it, do you agree with everything your fellow supporters say? I know I don’t, I’m a person who likes to take time to form my own opinion and I believe that everyone has a right to support their club in whatever way they chose and they are free to have their opinion. I know a lad who lives me that supports Man Utd and he won’t have a bad word said against them – he is quite biased in his support but that is how he chooses to support his team and it doesn’t really bother me as long as I know I have my own way of expressing my support. With this in mind, it has made me into a person that won’t use the argument opener “your fans…” and I won’t criticize a body of fans just because of a general consensus made by the world of football. Yeah some clubs don’t fill their stadium, but does that mean that the people who do go are all terrible fans too? Do they deserve that label? Of course they don’t. Just because Sky Sports asks a (very) select sample of supporters their opinion on club matters, does that mean everyone else holds those opinions? No it doesn’t. Stereotypes are always going to exist, but I’ve always wondered how easy it would be to break most of them down, in my mind all fans are different and I don’t want one thing I hear to form the opinion on the next supporter. Why should the opinion of the majority effect that of the minority?