In defence of the ‘modern football fan’

The dreary battle between the new and old breeds of football fan rages on...



The setting: a Premier League ground on matchday.

In one of the pricier, centrally located seats sits a young person, oversize headphones wrapped tightly around his head, the most recently de rigeur Kazakh trance-folk tune clearly audible over the din of the surrounding crowd.

This youth complains bitterly via social media when the towering English centre-backs on display inexplicably choose the hoof in place of the drag-back turn.

Generally, he only ever draws his attention away from the glowing touch-screen of his generic tablet device long enough to snap a picture of the action unfolding in front of him.

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Around the 53-minute mark, having become bored of the match, the young person gives up watching entirely and proceeds to spend the remainder of the second-half putting the final touches to a beat poem comparing the footwork of Paulo Henrique Ganso to the pre-defection pliés of Rudolf Nureyev.

Those who enjoy the tabloid-style branding of football fans would designate this fictitious individual a “football hipster”.

The same type of objector may even claim that people like this are ruining the utopian, wonderfully pure world of football fandom that others worked so hard to build.

Despite a general broadening of horizons, among many supporters there is still a worrying mistrust of anything but conformity to ideals purveyed by the do-it-our-way brigade, those sanctimonious conservatives who look down on others from the crumbling pedestal of Luddism.

How easily the “plastic” accusation is aimed at those who don’t support their local club. How facile it is to dismiss a Boca Juniors fan born-and-bred in Peckham as a charlatan, a traitorous cretin who would be better served by knowing his place and pitching up at the local Ryman League punt-fest with a plate of chips in one hand and a clacker in the other.

But there’s an inherent absurdity to this hatred of the “new breed” of fan. Agreed, many of those at whom such hysterical ire is aimed don’t necessarily have the same intrinsic, fiery local pride and sense of attachment to a team that until recently was the hallmark of “proper” support – but so what?

Small-time tribalism doesn’t appeal to every fan, and why should it?

The game and its ephemera are what most modern fans are attracted to, not mindless insularity.

Have we forgotten that for most of the past forty years, football fans were portrayed inaccurately by wider society as beer-swigging, shop-looting thugs? Is that a stereotype we want to revisit?

Some would argue that fan misdeeds of the past forced football’s administrators into creating a sterile environment in which to watch the game, and that those who complain loudest about the “plastics” are the ones who brought them into the stadium in the first place.

So, although newer fans were given footballing prosperity by their antecedents – all-seater stadia, attacking football played on excellent surfaces, and near-universal coverage – that does not mean they were given perfection. Far from it, in fact.

There’s a delusion that everything was better in the past, but it wasn’t.

Wanting the old ways to remain is fine, even admirable, but it’s not okay to dictate to others how they should follow the game.

Movements like Against Modern Football are great up to a point – and have definite relevance in light of the ongoing commercialisation of the game – but when they are hijacked by regressives who begin to proscribe others for their choices, that’s when activism starts to look more like atavism.

There’s a place for everyone. You don’t have to enjoy the company of the pastel hoody-clad, iPad-toting youth beside you in the ground or the pub, you just have to accept that they have as much right to be part of the crowd as you.

Whatever the man at the non-league ground on a Wednesday evening says, there’s no such thing as a “real” fan. There are just those who like football and those who don’t.

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What do you think?