Monday, March 8, 2010

How To Become A Football Fan

I have been asked on several occasions how I can possibly care about something which doesn't matter over which I have no influence, specifically football. The problem with this question is that it assumes there is some sort of clear and rational reason for it. I guess that there a wad of psychological theories for it written by people who either don't watch sport at all, or who are true tragics, neither one of which I would regard as an objective group. Although I can't answer the question, I can provide some advice on how to get yourself into the fan mindset. It will take at least a year and cost you a portion of your sanity, and I can't honestly say it's worth it, but here's how to do it.

Please note that you can use this guide for other sports, so long as the sport is played in a league (cricket doesn't work as well because everyone in the country supports the same team, and there's no ladder to finish at the top or bottom of) and preferably during winter when you won't have anything better to do.

Don't sweat the rules
Some sports appear to have complicated rules. Explaining the rules of cricket, rugby, or American football to someone can seem a daunting task and if you're going to follow a sport, surely you need a good understanding of the rules? Well, yes, but remember: whatever sport you're watching, seven year olds play it every weekend. Trust me, by the time you've watched three or four games (I mean really watched, see below for details) you'll have ninety percent of the rules down pat, certainly enough to yell at the umpires for making poor decisions.

Get on a bandwagon
The first step is picking a team. You have three choices here, and in the long run it makes no difference which one you use. First off, you can pick a team at random. If you do this, do a bit of research and make sure you pick a team that is going to win more than they lose. This is important because while a long time fan can put up with a year of winning one game in five or six, as a new fan you need to see your team celebrating.

Alternatively, you can pick the team of a friend who is already a fan, this way you get access to stories of terrific and terrible moments of times past and somebody to watch the games with. This is a good option, but it can also be good to have a bit of rivalry with friends, one or two games a year where you can get really tribal about the whole thing.

Finally you can pick a local team if you have one. This is a good choice if you have to or want to go to the pub to watch the game, or if the stadium is nearby. I suppose if you are following something like the Premier League in England, it also reduces your chances of getting headstomped.

Final note: whatever the sport, find out who the Collingwood team is, and don't support them. Nobody wants to meet another Magpies fan.

Watch every game
Once you have decided to become a fan, you have to watch every game, at least for the first season. This means you are committed to a three hour block once a week for six months in which you are busy. Friends going out on Friday night? You're not joining them until eleven if the boys are playing (your team is always "the boys" or "we" or "us", never the actual team name). Someone's having a barbecue on Saturday afternoon? You're busy until three. If something absolutely unavoidable comes up, check the score on your phone every fifteen minutes, make sure people know you're missing out on something you'd rather be doing. Be obnoxious about it. This is absolutely critical, you need to establish in your own mind and those of your friends that you are a football watcher.

Only watch the game
While the game's on, all you are doing is watching the game. Don't check your email, don't browse eBay, don't pay the bills, watch the game. If someone calls, ignore it, you can ring them back at quarter time. If you're going to watch the game with other people, make sure they are either fans of one of the teams playing or general football tragics, the kind who'll watch any game with keen interest. The last thing you need is someone distracting you with a story about this girl at work who sent around a YouTube clip of a cat playing the flute.

Watch the whole game
If your team's up by eighty points with ten minutes to go, you keep watching for the joy of it, for the wrap up after the game where you get to hear the commentators explain why your team is just so damn good. Even more important is to keep watching when your team is down by eighty points with ten minutes to go. Sit through every botched handball, ever bad umpiring decision, every fist pump by an opposing player who scores a goal. You need to wallow in this every now and then in order to properly appreciate the joy of winning. When the final siren blows you can change the channel as fast as you like, but until then it's your team out there stinking it up, and you need to share the misery.

Watch a game in person
Get to a game, preferably one that's going to be well attended. Get a hat and a scarf, or whatever else in team colours you want and make sure you get tickets in the right part of the ground (ie with other supporters of the same team). If you're not familiar with the rules, I'd hold off until you've properly watched at least half a dozen games on television, it can be a bit hectic at the ground. By the time you've gone through the roller coaster of a game with 90,000 other fans you will care a whole lot more about the results in the future, trust me.

Watch a good game
This is a tough one. Some time at least halfway through your first season as a supporter you need to see a good game. Not simply a game in which your team plays well, but a game where you win by a point from a goal scored with ten seconds on the clock. Or a game where you win despite being 10:1 underdogs. The problem, of course, is that you can't schedule these games. Your team might go a whole season without one, they might have three in a row. Whatever the case, this is most likely the game that you will be able to look back on as the answer to the inevitable question "when did you become such a football nut?"

Mission accomplished
I would guess that if you follow the steps above, you will be a genuine fan by the end of two seasons. Once you are a genuine fan, you can be less draconian about the whole process. You'll know which two or three games a season you can afford to miss, you can keep an eye on something else while you're watching the end of a thrashing. Chances are that you won't though. You'll watch a rain soaked game against an ugly team because one of your rookies is making his debut. You'll subscribe to some sort of newsletter or feed so that you hear about who injured their ankle during training. You'll watch the post match of a game you lost because you want to figure out what went wrong. You'll care.


  1. I'm going to print this out and stick it to the wall of my cubicle. Next time Simon asks me to join in on the tipping, I'll point to this and tell him that I have way too much homework to do before I can commit financially.

  2. Being a fan can only hurt your tipping chances. It means you know too much about a single team and then either always tip them or refuse to tip them.

    Tipping and dream team require more of the football tragic approach; reading news from all the clubs, watching at least a few games a week. It's a nasty time sink, trust me.

  3. excellent article. very useful for a little presentation i'm about to give to a bunch of american friends


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