The Beautiful Game has created a lasting influence on millions of people across the world. During the length of the season, people from all around the world tune in, some during odd times, to catch their favorite teams play. So, what is it about soccer that makes someone from a country such as Ghana, UAE or Japan religiously follow soccer teams located far from these countries? It makes sense if a North Londoner religiously follows Arsenal or Spurs but it’s intriguing to notice the large worldwide fan base garnered by the top flights of soccer.
Being a religious Chelsea supporter myself, I still cannot explain my strong affinity towards the club. It has nothing to do with my culture, my family or my experiences. However, I never miss a game, even the League Cup games. If someone were to ask me why I support the club, I wouldn’t have an explanation. All I know is that I am loyal whether they are winning titles or lurking in mediocrity in mid-table. It is easy to follow a club at the top of their game and true fans are tested when the club goes through a rough patch.
Some of the best examples that come to mind are AC Milan’s recent downfall in Italy as well as in Europe plus Liverpool’s loss in reputation as one of Europe’s elites. Fans that are loyal will stick with these clubs during this down period. Others, who are in for the short term, will possibly move on to the likes of Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City in search of immediate glory.
When I first started watching soccer after the 2002 World Cup, most people I came across were either Manchester United or Arsenal fans. Two things to note here is that these are just two clubs and both are English. It mainly owes to the fact that these two teams had dominated the English game during the late 90’s and the early 2000’s, and the young generation of international soccer followers were attracted by this. Also, the English Premier League was the most entertaining league to watch at that time and Asian countries had great broadcast deals in place to broadcast those matches. They still do.
So why did I decide to go with Chelsea? I followed and observed the English game for a year without truly following a club. In the period between Manchester United’s title winning 2002/2003 season and the onset of the new season, I started to notice the massive influx of star players to Chelsea. The concept of a billionaire owner was relatively new at that time and the prospect of promising players such as Makelele, Veron, Crespo, Mutu, Geremi, Cole and others arriving at the club was enticing. With Arsenal and United already having a great following, I wasn’t excited by the idea of supporting them. Also, Liverpool did not impress me enough after their largely inconsistent performances throughout the season.
The gamble paid off and Chelsea’s new owner, Roman Abramovich, helped the Blues to a second place finish in the league and a semi-final finish in the UEFA Champions League, which was not bad for a team used to fifth and sixth place finishes in the league. That cemented my love and loyalty to the club and it has never wavered since. I have been fortunate that Chelsea are now one of the powerhouses of Europe and the best in England at the moment.
The soccer supporting culture has changed greatly today with clubs such as PSG, Dortmund and Atletico Madrid emerging as potential dark horses to challenge the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Chelsea for the top prize in Europe. Fans for these teams have emerged as well, especially among the younger crowd. Although, it is yet to be seen if these fans turn out to be loyal if these clubs were to sink into oblivion in the future, like Milan or Inter today.
However, it is great to see that many of my friends still support Arsenal, United and Liverpool.
With more and more investment in clubs by rich owners, such as the owners of PSG and Manchester City, the dynamic of European soccer competition is starting to change. These two clubs have been able to clinch league titles just on the basis of new players and managers. However, Europe has proven to be tough mainly due to their lack of experience in the competition.
The emergence of these rich clubs has resulted in a new generation of supporters who would never look towards these teams otherwise. One could argue that this is a good thing since it diversifies and expands the fan base as well as brings greater competition to the game, preventing the giants to dominate Europe year after year. But, with every pro comes cons. The cons being unfair financial power and inability of less powerful clubs to emerge as super powers.
Nonetheless, we now have a much larger soccer following, especially in the developing countries, which will continue to grow. In countries such as China, India and USA, the massive young population is addicted to the game and follow it religiously. Another region is the Middle East where European soccer following is huge.
These are great markets to promote the game and have the potential to host major soccer events in the future. The popularity of the game is set to expand for the foreseeable future and I do not expect it to stop anytime soon.
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