Image description: Football fans on a coach.
There is a hierarchy of fandom in football. Not all fans are created equal. People like to talk about ‘the fans’ as a united group. Many teams, most famously Liverpool, spout ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, but that is not the case. There is a complex internal dynamic.
At the top of the hierarchy are the super fans.
These people go to every game, home or away, no matter where or when. There will always be that one venue that holds a special place in their memory. It is often an ungodly place at an ungodly time many moons ago when they watched their team lose.
Next down from the ‘super fans’ are home season ticket holders. These people form the core base of any club’s support. These are the fans who strike a respectable balance between structuring their existence around football whilst leaving enough flexibility for life to take its course. Home season ticket holders’ level of away support will vary but their dedication to their club is impenetrable.
Below the home season ticket holder is the casual fan. The casual fan will go to as many football games as their job, partner and financial situation will allow. They will be part of the members’ scheme and source tickets from their mates who are season ticket holders.
Casual fans are the most earnest of all football supporters, who are deserving of any spares.
The next category of fans is where football fandom categories become more derogatory. ‘Plastics’ get their name from when Chelsea gave out plastic flags to wave at home games to create an atmosphere. They are the target demographic for half-and-half scarves. For larger clubs, it gives the impression that their fans are tourists and not authentic enough. For smaller clubs, it gives the impression that the fans are only there to watch the other team.
Plastic fans are associated with glory hunters, but they have the small consolation that they have at least been to a game.
Below the plastic fan is the armchair supporter. They do not even enjoy the privilege of being in the stadium. The armchair supporter, as the name suggests, watches their team from the comfort of their own home. There is also an implied criticism that armchair supporters are glory hunters. Armchair supporters do not have to go through the hassle of travelling the length and breadth of the country.
Instead, their only challenge is that they must switch onto the right channel at the right time.
This is an arduous, sweat-inducing task when you have almost one-thousand channels on the Sky Box, Netflix, Amazon Prime and catch-up TV.
At the bottom of the pyramid of football fandom is Football Twitter, or FT. Their accounts tend to be homages to an individual footballer with names such as @Milnerology. Some of them even support a player like Messi and Ronaldo rather than a club. They are the antithesis of football. They sully the discourse of football with replies of ‘Ratio’ rather than anything resembling a reasoned debate. Moreover, their anonymity gives them freedom to fill social media with racist, misogynistic abuse without fear of repercussion.
Football fandom can be a cliquey phenomenon.
There are defined groups, but they often do not map very well onto the realities of supporting football clubs. The dedication of overseas fans or those without the financial means to hunt for streams of their teams is to be commended. That must not detract away from the ‘super fans’, who it is easy to criticise, but they are the lifeblood of football.
Football Twitter marks a dangerous turn in football fandom. It is a murky cesspit of vitriol. However, if football fans are to gatekeep the beautiful game, they must understand what draws predominantly teenage lads into this community. The dynamics of Football Twitter must be appreciated if we are to stop the tragic flow of abuse that is directed at innocent players.