Football and Fans

You can almost always tell when a person started following football by the team he supports. Sure, there are periods of ambiguity, where a new fan has an array of different teams to chose from, all performing at an equally inspiring level. But such periods are few and far between. I've to qualify this statement by stating that I'm only referring fans who are roughly within my age group, and who live outside the UK (so as not to have any local loyalties).

Arsenal
I'll start off with Arsenal. Most of the fiercely loyal supporters of Arsenal began supporting the club around the 1997-98 season, when Arsenal did the double of the Premier League and the FA Cup. On the way they displayed the kind of scintillating flowing football, oozing class and panache the likes of which had never been seen in England. It was the time when Arsene Wenger's efforts at building the club had borne fruit. A middle of the table club, and an obscure manager had combined to form one of the most enduring partnerships in European football. It marked a period of unprecedented success for Arsenal, and the names of Bergkamp, Viera, Adams and Seaman were on their way to becoming legends. The core of the Arsenal 'Invincibles' was being forged, and the distinctive footballing style that has become an Arsenal trademark since then, was being crafted. An intense rivalry developed with ManU over the next few seasons, and for a time, these were the only two clubs that mattered. ManU, admittedly, won more titles, but for me (as with all Arsenal fans), the manner of winning is more important than just the result, and in that respect, Arsenal has never been second to anyone.

The second phase which won many new fans for Arsenal was the the unparalleled season of 2003-04. Arsenal went undefeated for 49 consecutive games, which included every game of the 03-04 season, a feat that came closer to perfection than any team before or since. By now, the likes of Henry, Pires, Ljunberg and Co., handpicked from obscurity by Wenger, were at the peak of their careers, to form the only team in history to be truly unbeatable.


Manchester United
ManU fans are a bit difficult to place in time. And yes, there is a grudging compliment in there. ManU have undoubtedly been the most consistently successful club since the inception of the Premier League (in 1992) and have enjoyed multiple periods of dominance since then. In my age group, most of the ManU fans have (understandably) started supporting the club since the 1999 treble winning season. It was truly a golden generation that had come of age at ManU, with the likes of Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, Keane in what was arguably the best midfield in the world at the time. I still remember the bend and accuracy of Beckham's crosses, the mesmerizing runs by Giggs, the long shooting of Scholes, the bone crunching tackles of Keane, the pacy striking duo of Yorke and Cole and the injury-time heroics of supersub Solksjaer. The reason I remember all this is because ManU managed to beat Arsenal by a single point that season; and it was the start of another treble by them, a treble of Premiership titles (with Arsenal being runners-up in each of those seasons).

The most recent followers of football are also overwhelmingly ManU fans as the team was the most successful team in Europe last season. But, personally, I think that apart from Ronaldo (assuming he sticks to the team), no one else in the current crop has any potential of becoming a ManU legend. Even Ronaldo has shown a disloyal streak, and no one will be surprised if he packs up and leaves.

The clinical consistency of ManU, with an ability to scrape out a win even on their worst day, is the singular reason for their long spell of dominance of the English league. They owe ALL their success to Ferguson, and I think such over-dependence on one man will be their undoing in the future

Liverpool
All the Liv'pool fans of my age group started following football in the 2004-05 season. Liverpool staged the most dramatic comeback in any major football final, being down 3-0 at half-time against Milan in the Champions League final, to level scores and finally win on penalties. I remember feeling sorry for the them at half-time; such was the ease with which Milan toyed with their defence, with Shevchenko in unstoppable form. Gerrard then took matters into his own hands in a memorable second half, and the whole world knows what happened next. Liverpool have retained that tenacious streak and though their football often seems to have the randomness of a pinball, no one can argue with their record in cup competitions. Sometimes I feel their strategy is to bore the other team enough to make them lose focus, and then make their lethal strike. They prey on their opponent's weaknesses (either complacency, or a moment's lack of concentration) and make them pay the ultimate price.

Even with all their Cup competition exploits, the team, however, has never won the Premier League title with the current season being their first sustained title challenge. Though they claim otherwise, I don't think even the most ardent Liverpool fans expect to win the league any time soon. Liv'pool fans try to make for that by stating that they are historically the most successful club in England. I find it ridiculous that one should support a club for its achievements before one even started following it.

Chelsea
Chelsea fans are the new kids on the block, seduced by the huge amounts of Abramovich's fortune splashed around in the transfer markets to buy the biggest names in world football. Under Mourinho, the team won back-to-back titles, starting in the 04-05 season. But that achievement is largely overshadowed when one consider's the manner of most of their wins (ugly 1-0 draws) and the incredibly huge sums of money spent on acquiring the squad. Now that Mourinho has been sacked, it remains to be seen if this bunch of overpaid burnt out has-beens still have the desire to win at the top level.

I didn't need to google 'Chelsea history' to write this, simply because the club has no history! I do, however, remember the vision of Zola and the elegance of Tore Andre Flo, when they were at their peak at the club.

Future Predictions
I will refrain from making any predictions, due the fact that as an Arsenal fan, I cannot lay claim to objectivity. What I can say is that I do wish Arsenal reach the Champions League final this season, and mount a serious title challenge for the Premiership title next season. It would be exciting to watch this young team, that has been in the 'rebuilding' phase for far too long, to finally deliver to its undeniable potential.


Note: Most of this post states standard arguments for/against a club. This being my first post on football, I've intentionally stayed within the boundaries of the most common themes for discussion.

Comments

  1. Ok... having read the last bit where you said that you're an Arsenal fan... I can now continue to follow your blog with ease... hope we win tonight.

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  2. Oh and I started following in 97/98.... since moving to the UK....it was the club my parents followed so I naturally fell inline and grew to love and learn about the game...my twin the exception of the entire family chose to follow ManU

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  3. Great work dude, I became a Liv'pool exactly after the game you mentioned :)

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  4. First of all,

    it is preferably Manchester United or Man United or United instead of ManU, if you are writing a neutral article... And if you are not, well you can abuse better than this I suppose..

    Anyway, I agree with some of your observations but United and Liverpool have a lil bit older history than you choose to see

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  5. @DDS: We didn't win, but it was a decent performance. And if both ManU and Arsenal go through, you and your twin will be in for a classic semifinal!

    @Munnu: You are not the only one, I'm sure..

    @Ajith: I (and most ppl I know) call them 'man you', and that is how 'ManU' is meant to be read. I don't think that would qualify as abuse.

    And as I've written, these generalizations are applicable for people roughly in my age group. And I only care about a club's 'history' that I was a part of (around the last 10-15 years). Somehow, reading the wikipedia article on a club's history doesn't exactly inspire passion in me.

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  6. Yes, I agree with you that a new football fan is most likely to support a club which is winning trophies at that moment but there are many other reasons as well. As for me, I closely started watching football from 04-05 but it was not Istanbul that prompted me to become a Liverpool fan. My likeness towards Owen(who had left by then :P), my brother(who was my biggest enemy back then) being a United fan, the atmosphere at Anfield were some of the reasons which made me a Liverpool fan.

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  7. @Ajith

    ManU is abusive????? ROTFL!!

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  8. i started following football from 2005 back then it's mourinho's charm which attracted me...and coming to the money spent i think u got ur facts wrong as chelsea and manu have almost spent equal sums post mourinho's arrival to date...i surely can understand ur envy when it comes to money....anyway nice analysis

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  9. @Anfield: Good you hadn't followed football from the late 90s like me. You would've never even considered supporting Liverpool if you had.

    @Sripada: Chelsea had a sudden and huge cash influx when Abramovich took over. Since then, they've gradually tapered off their spending, especially after Mourinho was sacked. In fact, it was mostly due to Chelsea's antic of paying out astronomical sums for mediocre players that led to the entire European transfer market spiraling out of control. ManU, which has always spent more than most, had to spend even more after Abramovich, just to keep up. So, though both the clubs have spent an almost equal amount, more blame lies with Chelsea.

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  10. Man United 99 season n you left out Peter Schmeichel!!! Blasphemy!!!

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  11. @Divinite: Oh yeah, that guy.. :P
    And its not really blasphemy because I'm not a devotee..

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  12. Hey..I think the guy's name was Pete Schmeichel and not Peter... even I remember a few things about football! And mate, no mention of Real Madrid?! I thought everybody liked Raul and Zidane!!

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  13. If not Liverpool then I might have become a Leeds fans. A definite NO to Arsenal and ManU.

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  14. If someone is curious about what the fuss is all about and wants to attempt to try to seek answers by following it since 2009, which club should he/she support? ;)

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  15. @Farah: Lol.. How could you not get that 'Pete' must be short for 'Peter'?
    And yes, Raul, Zidane, Beckham, Figo, Roberto Carlos made Real everyone's favorite for a while. But the team regularly underperformed, and is currently so weak, that not many people would still support it. Also, few follow Spanish football as passionately in India as the Premier League.

    @Anfield: Too bad your choice of team was based on your desire to have a different choice from others. If you had just picked the team that played the best football, you would've made a different choice. :P

    @eternalmonotony: I'll be biased and say that that someone should follow Arsenal. But, honestly, one should watch several matches to find out which team's style one likes best. To do that one must like to watch football in the first place.

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  16. Okay so I've forgotten everything about football by now... U and I haven't watched a game in ages! Apologies to the person who mentioned him!

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  17. I don't think United is a one man team. Sure, Ronaldo is important - but for as long as I've supported them (since about 94), there's always been a core of good players - never just one big star we rely on.

    In that period, mostly, i think the goals were spread around. It was only Van Nistlerooy and now Ronaldo who were the really high scorers. Other than that, it was always a team effort, wasn't it?

    And if Ronaldo leaves, it's no disaster - we have an abundance of young talent in waiting, both in midfield and up front.

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  18. @Dreamlife: Oops! I think I've been misunderstood here. I meant ManU is completely defined by Alex Ferguson and that his leaving the club (it will happen eventually) will leave a huge void in the team.

    And I agree with the rest of your comment.

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