So I had a run-in, as we all will at some point, with an opposing fan. Let me be the first to say that I am not a saint. I don’t pretend that I always take the nobler path, especially when Arsenal is involved. There’s a Spurs fan at my local pub who always yells, “Stand up if you hate Arsenal” on repeat, every time he enters the bar. He’s fully kitted out, scarf and all, every matchday and leads the other Spursians in chants. At first I found him quite annoying. Deep down though, I respect his commitment and passion. He’s wrong for picking Spurs but he cares deeply and feels the exact same emotions I do about the sport I love. That is awesome and we need more of that.
Spurs fans and Arsenal fans have a very different relationship in Cincinnati than they would in North London. I haven’t seen a single fistfight between us (there’s still time) and not any huge verbal confrontations either. We are more bound by our love of soccer (understanding how weird the rest of the country thinks that passion is) and US Soccer than we are divided by the Red or White jerseys we wear on matchday. In fact one of the first times I went to Rhinehaus was on my wedding day for the North London Derby (to quote Joe Biden, this match is “a big f*in deal”). I didn’t know anyone so I happened to sit at a table with Spurs fans who couldn’t have been nicer, especially considering we won (Thanks for the wedding gift, Arsene!). Do you realize how awkward it could have potentially been for me, an Arsenal fan, to be sitting with my friend, a Chelsea fan, at a table of Spurs fans?
Back to present day, I was having a bit of a back and forth with Jason (@cincyspurs) over the fact that the penalty given to Spurs was soft (he literally hooks his arm around the defender and pulls him down onto himself), and Kane shouldn’t have gotten another goal because it was off-target and took a massive deflection to go in. A guy next to him chimed in. I can’t remember exactly what he said. Something crapping on Arsenal or whatnot. I was a bit taken aback as I didn’t know this guy and, as he wasn’t wearing any kind of identifying livery, I didn’t know how to properly insult him back. Jason identified him as a City fan.
At this point my mind is racing. I must be honest, I have a deep disdain for City and Chelsea fans on moral and ideological grounds. While I dislike Liverpool fans from personal experience (not you Curt. You’re cool.) and I don’t think I’ve ever really seen a real United fan at the pub, City and Chelsea fans always feel the bandwagony type. They’re also probably fans of UK Basketball, the New England Patriots, New York Yankees, Miami Heat, and so on. I imagine they say to themselves, “I’d like to pick a team and the deciding factor should be that we only win” (which totally makes sense but also speaks to the kind of person we’re dealing with).
To explain City and Chelsea, imagine a multi-billionaire bought the Toledo Mudhens and then spent and wasted so much money buying players and managers that in a couple years they’d won the World Series. Manchester City were in the equivalent of Triple A Baseball in 2002. Before being bought by a Russian Oil billionaire, Chelsea had won the league once in their 110 year history and that was 70 years ago.
So I made a poor decision and insulted this City guy’s fan-ness. He supports the team that had won the title two out of the last three years, didn’t even show up early to watch his team’s game (don’t remember seeing him when I walked in), and wasn’t even wearing so much as a sky blue t-shirt with “Agwero” scratched on the back in Sharpie (to be fair, 90 dollars is a lot to spend on a jersey and perhaps he’s just a poor bastard). Based on all of these factors, I assumed he wasn’t a real supporter and had just chosen last year’s winner to be a “fan” of. He retorted with something to effect of he couldn’t detect my London accent to justify my own fandom (which is a bit too clever for him to have thought up on the spot by the look of him). So I walked away because why waste time with this guy, the Arsenal is playing. Just so you guys know, I totally had a host of clever retorts on deck but I chose to be the better man. I asked myself, “What Would Wenger Do?” (probably complain that I was bantering with the handbrake on)
Football fans have a term for that guy and guys like him. They’re called plastics. I’ve used that term before but I intensely dislike it. Why? Because we’re all plastics (although you could get into an argument over who is more plastic and so on), except for Jason (@cincytolondon), who is the Godfather of the Cincinnati Gooners and has been supporting Arsenal since 1886. I’ve been told that he literally gave 6 pence in the Royal Oak in Woolwich to found the club and mentioned to Wenger that, “That Thierry fellow at Juventus looks a decently player.” It’s very tough to imply another person isn’t a fan because they have less knowledge than you, less experience watching matches than you, or less disposable money to buy branded stuff than you.
That brings us to idea of narrative. Every EPL fan you run into has a crafted narrative ( aka justification) for why they picked the team they did because none us grew up in Islington or Tottenham or Anfield. I think this is a poor aspect of our football culture that we feel the need to explain ourselves. I’m no communications major so I can’t really break down the reason why this is, but I think it has something to do with our collective uncomfortableness with the sport, specifically how we choose our allegiances. At the beginning, and maybe for much longer than that, identifying as a fan of a team across the ocean that you’ve never seen in person can feel a bit inauthentic.
In America it’s relatively easy to pick a team. You live in Cincinnati, then you should support the Reds and Bengals (unless you want to be that guy who supports that Steelers or Browns). In the EPL everyone gets to choose for themselves (which one could argue is more authentic than being a fan simply cause your dad was or you happen to be born in a certain team’s territory). This does make me wonder why you would pick a club with a recent history of racism (here, here, and here), but everyone gets to choose a team that speaks to them. Should anyone really care that you “met some random City fans in Europe who converted you and it was definitely before the club got its money”? I don’t think so. Doesn’t really matter.
For transparency’s sake my personal reasons narrative that I tell is:
- Had a friend from London in school growing up who was an Arsenal fan
- They play beautiful, attacking football similar in style to other teams I liked
- They were French and continental (my girlfriend was a French major, loved Europe and I’ve been to France a couple of times)
- Henry, Fabregas, Wenger, Pires, Vieira, Freddie, RVP, and so on but really Henry, Fabregas, & Wenger
- They were good but weren’t the best (I’m not a bandwagonner)
- The club has a legacy of doing the right thing (class, diversity, and so on)
- My dad was an artillery officer, so I always thought cannons were cool
- I’ve had other reasons, but this isn’t an exhaustive list
Is this enough to justify me? Definitely not to the average London-based Arsenal fan but since the 08-09 season I’ve watched almost every Arsenal game. I think this makes me a fan but I’m not anywhere near my friend Jason who watched Arsenal since the 80s. I mean that is seriously impressive. Do you realize how tough it would be to be a fan before satellite tv?
So if someone has just started watching soccer, we should try to be supportive because we’ve all been noobs at some point. It’s tough for new people and they often feel the need to lash out to justify their own fandom. I get it. I’ve probably done it ( I know I’ve done it). With some reservations (I don’t think someone is a fan if they enjoy crapping on other teams more than they love their own team. just my opinion), if a person cheers for their team when they score and is sad when they lose, then they’re a fan. For the most part I think we are supportive. We’re all plastics and that’s fine.