In Praise of the Fan From Afar
Who is more passionate? The local fan, born and bred into their club, immersed in its history and mythology, or the fan from afar, the nomadic devotee, the much reviled glory hunter?
Sitting in a pub some years ago I had the dubious pleasure of listening to the “proper” Liverpool fans, the ones who lived in the city, slagging off folk like me who come from far and wide to follow our team. “The atmosphere’s not what it was with all these people coming from away. They’re not real fans; bunch of w*****s.” This was said not just in my hearing but to me; the message was clear.
The funny thing is that in those days (and I’m talking almost forty years ago) not even our ground was full every week and I could buy my ticket at the gate. The last time I was at Anfield (getting a ticket is not quite so simple nowadays) I heard something very similar, only this time it was aimed at supporters who’d travelled thousands of miles from Malaysia and Indonesia. In these cheap air travel and digitally interconnected days, national is the new local, but it’s still about them and us.
It’s a funny thing, but I wince every time I hear those cracks about the queues on the M25 in Surrey as all the United fans try to get home in time for the match. Look around the crowd next time you’re worshipping at the real Red Temple (or far more likely, the next time the Sky or BT director gives you a cutaway of the terraces), and you’ll see many faces from different places. Where once there were only all white, all male and all local supporters, now the origin, ethnicity and gender mix is much more representative of the world in which we live. Pollsters, YouGov, carried out a survey in 2016 which showed LFC and Man U as the least local clubs in the country, in that only 29% of the two teams’ fans actually come from the northwest.
Then there’s the glory hunter thing. “Why don’t you support your local team?”
The funny thing is, quite often fans from away struggle to answer that question. I know I had become a Liverpool supporter by the age of four because I remember, in the early stages of reading, picking my painfully slow way through the match reports in my parents’ newspaper and trying to work out how to pronounce Callaghan, Lawrence and St John. There was no tradition of supporting Liverpool in the family; hell, there was no tradition of supporting anybody in our family. Does the infusion of supporters’ passion from their mother’s milk, passed on through the generations, yay, even unto the Middle Ages, make them more devoted and obsessed? I would argue the opposite. In fact, the further away from L4 you originate, the better fan you are.
For local supporters it’s easy. It’s easy to get tickets because you always know someone who knows someone. Getting to the ground involves rolling out of bed and walking, driving, taking a bus, for maybe half an hour – getting home the same. No three hour sleeps before work the next day. Staying in touch with the latest news doesn’t even require a visit to FOAR or the club website because you’ll hear all you need to know from your mates in the playground or at work. Evening game? No problem. Still home before midnight.
Alternatively, for the faraway fan..
Getting a ticket requires either a wallet the size of Guernsey for the cash demanded by the web scalpers – sorry, ticket resellers – or a bit of good fortune on our oh, so efficient and fair Membership scheme – and if you are a member you’ll know just how totally lacking in frustration and disappointment THAT process is. Travel can involve trips by air and sea or, taking even longer and far less enjoyable, the entire length of the M5 and M6. If trains are to be utilised, there’s the usual happy scheduling happenstance that your last train home will be leaving approximately three minutes before Mo knocks in that injury time winner. When not making the pilgrimage, you give a fortune to people you don’t like to buy loads of television you don’t want, just for an electronic glimpse of your heroes. When you do go, you discover you’re a plastic fan, an altogether lower order of human than those who can boast an Uncle Albert who cleans King Kenny’s windows.
Everyone who’s ever been to a football match knows that the away fans are the real obsessives, the real live-or-die-for-the-shirt hopeless cases who forsake family and friends to follow their team wherever they are playing. That’s us, that is; that’s the people who come from faraway lands or distant corners of the kingdom. We’re away even when we’re at home.
So if you hail from Liverpool and you’re lucky enough to have bumped into Tommy Smith regularly in your local pub or you share a dentist with Rushie, please don’t look down your nose at those of us less fortunate who come from.. well, anywhere else really.
The club’s owners are American, the manager is German and the players come from three continents. Our sponsors (sorry, Corporate partners) include a Canadian lubricant maker, a US bank, a Foreign Exchange dealer from the Bahamas and a purveyor of coconut milk from Thailand. Every summer the club goes to places most of us have never heard of to play in front of hundreds of thousands of overseas supporters for whom the arrival of their heroes is a rare moment to savour.
Football is a global game and Liverpool is a global club. Wherever you come from, whether it’s Bootle or Baghdad, Kirkby or Kent, Maghull or Mauritania, just try to remember:
We are Liverpool; this means more.