The Culture of “Supporting Your Team” is Fading Away

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By Jonathan Carroll

Growing up I had no choice as to what teams I would follow when it came to Gaelic football and football. My father was and still is an avid Meath man when it comes to gaelic. I remember fondly the days standing on the Canal End in Croke Park watching Sean Boylan’s men rake in Leinster titles and Sam Maguires. I remember my father being passionate. Cursing of course but passionate. I like to use Tommy Tiernan’s analogy of how the Irish are so loose with the rougher side of the English language. Being Irish we are not supposed to speak English, but seeing as we were colonized we have no option. In order for our bodies to process this unnatural mix, we litter our conversations with curses as a protest to English occupation of our vocabulary. This of course is a light hearted joke from Tiernan but one that holds true.

Modern sporting events are expensive to attend. Many articles have addressed this issue, my issue is with people labeling themselves “supporters” of a certain team and then acting in a way that contradicts this. My father had me hooked on Liverpool from a young age. The connection between Liverpool and Ireland is strong to put it mildly. Tony Evans describes it in detail in his article “Get your Scouse in Order“, and how exactly “Scouse” came to be. From the mass migration to the docklands of Merseyside and on, the Irish have made Liverpool their home throughout the course of history. The term “Scouse” can be traced back to the Irish influence in the north west of England.

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How the eighties (Liverpool & Meath) and the nineties (Meath) must have been a great time for my father and the teams he followed. Liverpool won the league in 1979-80, 1981-82, 1982-83, 1983-84, 1985-86, 1987-88, 1989-90. The European Cup in 1980-81, 1983-84 and the FA Cup in 1985-86, 1988-89. Meath won the Sam Maguire in 1987,88 and 1996, 1999 and the Leinster crown in 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1996, 1999. To say that was a successful period in a gross understatement.

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Whenever attending Meath matches I would listen on the walk to the Canal End as my father would tell me how Mick Lyons is the best full back in the country and how “smart” Brian Stafford is with the ball. My father loved to work and he also loved to watch Meath footballers reign supreme over Leinster and Ireland. Mixed in there were also some lean years, a tough period for a largely successful team. Yes, both Meath and Liverpool have quite common circumstances at the moment. The optimism and the unwavering support for his teams never died during the tough times though. He never stopped getting behind his team when the season rolled around even when it was quite obvious that the team of that year would not be up to par to challenge for Sam. Frustrations during games were common, supporters get angry at key refereeing decisions. Curses were used towards opposition players in the heat of battle A personal favorite of mine was hearing Vinny Murphy described as a “pup” multiple times over the course of the many Meath-Dublin games I attended. Every supporter goes through the in game rollercoaster of emotions. If Meath failed to come out victorious my father was frustrated even annoyed but he would acknowledge the other team as the better side and also recognize that Meath weren’t up to speed that day or season.

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I attached to Liverpool very early on. The stories of Stevie Highway causing havoc on the wing and David Fairclough doing likewise off the bench, Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish made this Liverpool team seem untouchable. For large parts of the eighties they were. I remember being devastated after Michael Thomas’s infamous last minute winner for Arsenal at Anfield in 1989. I was eight years old and my reaction was more of disappointment than anger of any sort. The years that followed included being tortured by Graeme Souness, wanting Roy Evans to succeed and getting back on the trophy trail with Gerrard Houllier.  The Souness years were especially hard. The anger and frustration started to set in and my parents would remind that theres always next season. They were right but I didn’t want to hear it.

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Today in the instantaneous society that we live in there is no room for patience among supporters, whether it is football of any sort. I have been to Anfield quite a few times, my first coming in 1994 when my mother, the brave soul, brought me to see Liverpool take on Crystal Palace. It was a dour 0-0 draw but I didn’t care. I got to see Anfield, the players in the flesh, the city of Liverpool. I was delighted. The Scouse humor made that day a memorable one even though the game wasn’t. Since the implosion of social media everyone has an opinion. Everyone is an expert. Fantasy football is a mutli-million dollar industry. The everyday guy on the street legitimately feels like he should have an input as to how his team should play , who should manage them and what the clubs policies should be. Theres a difference between having a genuine concern about your club and trying to run it from your twitter account.

Flares have made a welcome come back

Translate that across to each sport and we find ourselves in a mess. Don’t get me wrong, shitty attitudes have always been a problem but now people have a platform with social media. The bad apples will always get noticed. I recently attended the New York Giants at the Philadelphia Eagles NFL game. I was expecting a lot of abuse for my visiting Giants and they did receive a few boos but nothing too harsh. I also escaped but I think my physical size may have had something to do with that. Thank goodness for good genes I guess. The Eagles Fans turned on their own players, coaches, whoever could be a target was a target for the underperforming home team. The guy sitting next to me left after the first quarter. From what I could tell he was a season ticket holder. Boos reigned down during the fourth quarter. Michael Vick received a lot of abuse even though he pulled his hamstring. Not much he can do there. The point is these “fans” or “supporters”, whatever you want to call them, they are of a lesser quality than years past. Not all, just some. As I mentioned the negative minority will always get more attention than the positive majority.

The ESPN analyst for college game day, Kirk Herbstreit recently tweeted about a former Oregon University football player who returned to his alma mater to watch a game with the fans. The former player was amazed by the amount of criticism the home team players received, he decided to speak up. The four year starter was shouted down by a bunch of people who told him that they knew more about the game and the team than he did. Here is an excerpt from the article on John Canzano’s blog:

“What I described is a business, I know. It’s how it works, and it is something we understand as athletes entering the system, as (expletive) up as it is. For many people entering that system, it’s better than what life has to offer elsewhere. So they take it. But having been on the outside now, to witness this disgusting display of “support”, I know that I want no (expletive) part of it”.

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What has happened to attending a game, getting behind your team and making it uncomfortable for the opposition. What happened to making so much noise that the opposition cant communicate to each other? What happened to supporting your team even though they’re getting hammered 5-0. Thats what supporters are supposed to do right?  Instead, its a series of angry tweets, Facebook posts or talking out your rear end after a few pints. Abusing Steven Gerrard at home in your living room or booing your team at the final whistle inside the stadium isn’t exactly covering yourself in glory. These opinions and attitudes then make it onto social platforms and get a larger audience. The effort put into singing Scouser songs at Old Trafford every second weekend might be better used to support the eleven players on the pitch. This goes for every set of supporters that sing idiotic songs about tragic events in a clubs history. The Emirates, Anfield and Stamford Bridge have all been quiet at times this season. The lack of crowd involvement is astounding. I’m not sure whats worse, the deafening silence at times or the chant from the away support that “________ is a library”.

During the boot room years Liverpool FC had a policy when it came to managers. If they were under performing they would stand by that person until seasons end and review where the club stood. It was the respectable thing to do. No quick decisions. The Kop didn’t boo. That has gone and Brendan Rodgers finds himself the scapegoat for those who do not want John Henry in charge of Liverpool. Its easy to want the Americans out. If theres one person who should get the brunt of the anger and frustration as to where Liverpool currently lie its Graeme Souness and how he set the club back ten years.

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Before Sky came along and flooded football with their TV money, I was getting up on a Sunday morning to listen t BBC Radio 5 Live commentary of that weekends Liverpool game. My fathers work van could only get the signal for 5 Live so I would sit and shiver as I listened to John Barnes and Neil Ruddock go through many ups and downs as part of a Liverpool team in the nineties. Of course I would have loved to attend every Liverpool home game but lack of money didn’t allow at the time.

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People want to be satisfied immediately, if it doesnt happen then theres very little loyalty. American sports are worse than the soccer or gaelic culture in England or Ireland. There are so many teams in the US that people now support multiple teams in different sports and think its okay. Pick one team. Preferably your home town team if possible and support them. My father emigrated to the US, lived in the Bronx, brought home New York Giants pencils. I clung onto that as my NFL team. Of course the selfishness of the players and the emergence of big money in sports could be linked to the deterioration of supporters attitudes. Theres no loyalty in pro sports. Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher are the exception, not the rule. Many sports are worldwide because of TV money but the overall impact has yet to be fully assessed. Has it made sports more enjoyable or are there too many negatives as a result?

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Liverpool and Meath are going through barren spells for the big prize they chase, the League title and the Sam Maguire cup. Being there when times were tough will make the moment all the sweeter when they do end their pursuit of silverware. My father supported Liverpool, I inherited that and I have gone through the good and the bad, mainly the bad. Thats what being a supporter is all about. Its about the journey.

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