Some people say football is all about the supporters, but what of those who don't shackle themselves to one club and just enjoy the game for what it is?
The best game of football I have ever seen wasn’t one you would expect. It didn’t involve Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona, or any top European teams. The match was Portugal vs Cameroon in the under 17s World Cup. Portugal opened the scoring with a goal from inside their own half and dominated the first half, going 5-0 up at the break. On the 70th minute, Cameroon got a goal back. Then they got four more, equalising in the 92nd minute.
The result was enough to take Portugal through as Cameroon had needed a win to overtake the European side, but it didn’t really matter. I had witnessed the quintessential game of two halves, the Portuguese were untouchable in the first half, the Cameroonians rallied and overpowered them in the second. The football played by both sides was quick, incisive and an absolute joy to watch.
“How is this relevant,” you might be thinking. Let me explain, my impatient friends. When that game ended 5-5, I had a something of an epiphany. In a moment of clarity, I realised why I had never been an overly loyal supporter, why I had flitted from team to team without ever really finding footballing fulfilment.
In that moment, I looked back at my childhood as a glory-hunting Manchester United supporter when the only players I knew were Giggs, Cantona and Schmeichel. I remembered the couple of season I spent trying to support Watford, my local club. I even spared a thought to my brief time spent masquerading as a Leeds United fan, which was just an excuse to watch Harry Kewell play. I remembered the good times, like when Cantona beat Liverpool to win the FA cup that time, or when Watford were in the Premiership, or when Leeds got to European semi finals.
In that same moment, though, I remembered the bad times. When United changed out of their grey away strip at half time in the defeat to Southampton, when Watford were relegated the season after promotion, when Harry Kewell moved to Liverpool. Bad times.
My moment of clarity seemed to last forever but when it finally passed, my future as a football fan had become obvious. I was going to become just that, a football fan. I was going to leave behind the constraints of following one club, the ups and downs, the players coming and going, and I was going to start watching football because I like football.
I have an almost unhealthy obsession with Francesco Totti, to me he is God-like genius in a handsome, Roman shell. I’m also a big fan of Sergio Ramos, the Real Madrid full back, having once heard him described as 6 feet of muscle and mayhem.
No longer was I going to be shackled to one group of players, one manager, one stadium, one board, one chairman, one set of fans. I had set myself free. You might accuse me of lacking loyalty, of not having the stomach to take losing. You might be right*, but does not supporting a team make me any less loyal a football fan than I was when I was hopping from club to club without really ever picking one?
I began my new life as a football fan by watching as much football as I possibly could. While still keeping up the Premiership, I branched out to Europe and further afield. I developed an appreciation for Serie A while deciding I had absolutely no time for any Spanish football of any kind. I started watching the MLS, which is more fun that you might expect, and I even watched most of the women’s World Cup this summer.
In my days as a ‘supporter’, I had always felt more of an affinity to certain players than clubs. For example, there was the aforementioned Harry Kewell episode that left me unfortunately, but thankfully only briefly, following Leeds. Since my liberation, I’ve been able to find a group of players who I really enjoy watching and follow them without feeling guilty for doing so when they don’t play for my team.
My absolute favourites are pretty eclectic. I have an almost unhealthy obsession with Francesco Totti, to me he is God-like genius in a handsome, Roman shell. I’m also a big fan of Sergio Ramos, the Real Madrid full back, having once heard him described as 6 feet of muscle and mayhem. Alex Morgan, the USA women’s national team forward is on there, too. A couple of others worth a mention are Mario Balotelli and Ashley Cole. The list isn’t limited to top-flight players, however, as anyone who has ever heard me eulogise about Coventry and Northern Ireland midfielder Sammy Clingan will tell you.
In fact, Clingan is probably the best example of how my decision to give up being a supporter has broadened my horizons. I first saw him playing for Northern Ireland in a qualifying game and really enjoyed the way he played. Last season, I was lucky enough to watch him in the flesh at an almost deserted Ricoh Arena in Coventry. He controlled the midfield brilliantly and even found time to almost break the opposition crossbar in two with a half volley that showed ridiculous technique and ability. Had I stayed a one-club man I would never even have heard of Clingan, let alone seen him play.
So call me disloyal, fickle, whatever you think fits, but when you find yourself down in the dumps because your club have shipped eight goals to Manchester United, (not naming any names), think of me and maybe you’ll start to see things my way.
*You’re definitely not right.
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