Sensitive, modern, football fan

Football is simply a pastime, a sport. Yet, to many who follow a football team it is a passion that is central not only to their life, but also defines them.

The tribal loyalty it invokes has in the past given witness to scenes of horrific hooligan violence, but now has developed into something else – a hybrid of those old days of masculine working class defiance, and the open ways of thinking that have come since.

In 70s and 80s, to follow football was a gritty affair. Muddy pitches, tough tackling players, and fans stuffed in to terraces like cattle. The disaster at Hillsborough was appalling, but to many who look back at that time, not shocking that it happened. Really, it was surprising that something like that had not happened earlier.

To be a fan was certainly tied together with hooligan violence. This is something born out of the 60s. Young men who were struggling to find their own identity turned to the sub-culture of football. To wear your teams colours meant to belong to something, to something with it’s own rules.

These young men harked back to a time when masculinity was more clearly defined, to help them define their own masculinity for themselves. The problem is, this past was fictional.

It reminds me of how Islamic State want to set up a state according to Sharia law, to have a society run by rules as they believe was the case in the past. Sharia law has been adhered to in different ways over the centuries, but no state has ever existed that is ruled in the way they believe. It is an idealised fiction, not reality.

Not that I’m trying to say tribalism or belonging to a sub-culture is necessarily a bad thing. We all have a want to belong. Being part of a sub culture has it’s own rules, and also rewards, definitions of success.

We are all member of different sub-cultures – there is not just one mainstream mass that some of us are separate to. A few examples of sub-cultures I am a member of – I’m a stand up comedian, improvisor, writer, Socialist, Bournemouth fan, Anime geek, etc.

Every group I’ve listed has many members, but is there anyone who is a member of all the same groups as me? No. That’s what makes me an individual. Makes any of us individuals.

With football, my age is a factor. I was born in 1982, which means hooliganism and police brutality towards fans was around when I was a child, but had almost completely disappeared by the time I grew up and started having an interest in the sport.
The advent of the Premier league tried to promote the idea of visiting football as being suitable for everyone, including women and children. This vision was successful. Visiting a football ground rarely has any threat of violence attached to it. The methods of policing games have improved dramatically, and the grounds themselves are safe.

But the old ways of being a football fan still exist. The tribal rivalry, singing songs attacking your opponents and rivals. Am I separate to this? No.

I love singing at matches, being part of a crowd. When I started going to watch Bournemouth it was in the old stadium. There was a stand with all seating, but in the home end it was old fashioned terracing – stood up on concrete steps. And I loved it.

Even now that Bournemouth are in the Premier league, when watching them away I try and stand whenever possible. I know having all seating in stadiums have made them safer, but it’s just a better atmosphere when stood up. I don’t want to go back to the bad old days of football fans being crammed in and treated like scum, but nor do I want to sit down passively with a prawn sandwich and a latte.

As a football fan, I’m stood in the middle of the old and the new.

For the new, I hate all bigotry and despise any display of racism, homophobia and sexism in the game, from players or fans. I don’t want to be involved in any inter-fan violence either.

For the old I want to get involved and get behind the team. I want to be part of a group, to stand up and chant and feel the sheer excitement of watching my team play.

I’m glad to say I rarely see hate speech in grounds. The worst group of fans I’ve found watching football has been Aston Villa. As always, I’m sure the majority are fine, but some of the lads that are in the end by the away fans are horrible little shits.

Playing them in the cup two years ago they kept chanting “fatty, what’s the score?” No idea who this was directed to, until I saw stewards leading a woman away who was overweight. The fans jeered her and, in fairness, she wasn’t shy in sticking up for herself and gave some abuse back.

But what a despicable state of affairs. A group of young mean decided to target and abuse one single woman because she stood out from the norm in some way. This isn’t “banter”, it’s bullying. Aston Villa fans have had to put up with a lot of crap at their football club, and they have my sympathy. But for these guys, I’m happy to see their team get relegated.

There is room for modernity in the game. You don’t have to conform to some old fashioned hack vision of masculinity to be involved.

I think a great example of this is Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe. He isn’t the kind of manager to scream at his players to motivate them. Instead, he is a good modern coach. He believes in helping the players to get the most out of themselves, to do the best they can do individually, and to build a team ethic around that.

This is the reason why Bournemouth have survived their first year in the Premier League, and have done so in style, playing some beautiful attacking football.

The most striking image from the entire last Premier League season to me has been this:

This is from the Bournemouth v Manchester United game from earlier in the season, showing manger Eddie Howe with his arm around Bournemouth midfielder Harry Arter.

Just days before the game Harry went through the tragedy of losing his daughter during child birth. Despite this heart break, he felt, after talking with his partner and family, that he should play the game. Eddie Howe assessed the situation and decided he would start him.

Arter didn’t just get through the game ok, he played fantastic. He pushed himself as hard as possible, it was a superb performance. Towards the end of the game his temper starts to flare up a little. One late challenge leads to a yellow card, and you can see him reacting emotionally.

Eddie Howe call for him to come over to the touch line, and his team mates rally around him to get him over to his manager. Eddie then has a few words with him, but more importantly, wraps his arm around him. His player is hurting, and Eddie Howe is giving him a hug, showing him love.

In what is basically just a pastime, a hobby, to have the best in real human emotion shine through is truly beautiful to behold. Bournemouth beat the most famous team in world football 2-1 that day. Harry Arter did the best he could do for himself, his team, and for the fans. Eddie Howe repaid that effort by showing genuine care and affection for one of his players.

There’s no doubt – it can be a beautiful game.