Supporter or Fan?

Here is an article that appeared in the Man City game’s edition of Made in Brum. Russell is a regular on the forum, but I’ve known Russ from other forums over the years. He used to be a regular contributor here when J&S was run by Aff. I’m hoping this will be the first of many. πŸ™‚

It’s an important question to some, not so important to others.

Are you a ‘supporter’ or are you a ‘fan’? Are they the same thing? Are they different? Is one ‘better’ than the other?

When I was younger, at school, someone asked me about my favourite team. I replied, “I’m a Blues supporter”. Someone else jumped in and pointed out that I wasn’t a supporter at all; in fact, I was a “Blues fan”.

As I hadn’t so much as a GCSE (‘O’ Level to those old enough to remember our last Wembley visit!) to my name at that point, I have to confess I was a little confused. To my mind then (and to some extent now), I was convinced both were one and the same!

I asked for clarification, as a part of me felt vaguely offended, though I didn’t know why. I was – rather unhelpfully – informed that I could not be a supporter, as I didn’t have a season ticket!

Was it my dad’s fault, for not buying me a season ticket? Was it his fault for not making it clear when he took me at the tender age of eight to see my first match (a one nil victory over Crystal Palace, thanks Archie Gemmill!) that I was only a ‘fan’ and not a ‘supporter’?

Either way, I went to see a Coventry v QPR match with a friend of my mom’s after my first Blues match, the ticket was ‘going begging’ and knew that I had no interest in either team, despite enjoying an end-to-end match that ended up 1-1. So – I knew I wasn’t a Coventry supporter! Certainly, I knew in my youthful mind, that I couldn’t support a London team, coming from Birmingham! Coventry were more local, and would have been mildly more attractive a proposition, but I came away, though I was under no pressure to support Coventry, knowing damned well that I was a Blues fan, or supporter.

Anyway, I found myself spending the next few years going to see occasional Blues matches with my Dad, and even a Blues v Notts Forest FA Cup match (we lost 1-0, if I remember correctly) with an old next-door neighbour (interestingly, he was the first person I ever heard use the w****r word, quite shocking for a ‘respectable neighbour’, and a strangely thrilling ‘secret’ that I somehow knew I shouldn’t tell my parents my neighbour (let’s call him Steve, cos that was his name and I have no intention to protect him anymore!) had said rude words about the referee!).
During this period, I kind of believed myself to be a fan, rather than a supporter. Not that it mattered much as I didn’t have a conversation with anyone that brought the subject up. We’d all by this stage ‘nailed our colours to the mast’ and knew which team we all supported. I went to secondary school in Kings Norton, and the ratio seemed about 50/50. By this time, Villa were in the ascendancy and ‘we’ Blues fans knew ‘our place’. We even lost the Vile centenary friendly at Villa Park (tickets were free to kids, and we all went to witness just how dull a place Vile Park was).

I only really got to challenge my own interpretation of the word ‘fan’ and ‘supporter’ as an adult, when I spent a large chunk of money and time following Blues in the Premiership, first season back. I saw thirteen Cup and League games at home, three friendlies away and one (or two?) away League matches, too.

I didn’t belong to an away travelling club, or have a season ticket. I simply (like on a mobile phone with no contract) played Pay As You Go. I mused one day in a pub how I may well have saved myself some money had I bought a season ticket, and seen more games to boot. The guy I was talking to about it (let’s call him Rich, it’s his name!) went to my secondary school, and it reminded me of the ‘debate’ between the fan and the supporter and so I asked him what he thought about it. He seemed to think the same as me, that the two were mutually linked. How can you be a fan, without being a supporter? And vice versa?

A fan is a fanatic, somebody who is fanatical about something. So – you can be a My Little Pony fanatic (I’m not, before you ask) but it would be hard to describe yourself as a ‘My Little Pony supporter’. Some Villa fans might try, mind you, but I digress. You could describe yourself as an ‘Acorn’s Hospice supporter’ (I am one, before you ask) but it would be strange to describe yourself as an ‘Acorn’s Hospice fanatic’, wouldn’t it?

So maybe they had a point. Perhaps I had to re-examine my ‘support’ or ‘level of fanaticism’?

You can join a ‘Jesus Jones’ (remember them? Random (but great!) group choice) fan club, but can you ‘support’ a rock group? In some ways, yes, but I would never have classed myself as a Jesus Jones supporter.

I have always been a Labour supporter, but not always a Labour fanatic, so therein lies the difference, I guess. Support is something done for a group/organisation that is in need of assistance of some kind. Whether it’s funds, votes, or the liberal sprinkling of expletives during on-the-terrace chanting. Fanaticism is something reserved for groups/organisations that you look up to, enjoy ‘following’. Actually, there’s another description to throw into the mix. Am I a Blues follower?

The suggestions that I am a ‘follower’ are correct in that I ‘follow’ their results, even when I’m not at the match. It used to be the Sports Argus, and the ‘vide-printer’ on the BBC, then the teletext service, the radio, and now the Internet.
It isn’t the most natural of labels to flow off the tongue, though is it? Sounds positively German! “Hello, Hans, who ist deine favourit fuBball team?” “Ja, Ich am a Birmingham City follower.” (Yes, I have a barely remembered German GCSE/’O’Level but don’t bother telling me off about how incorrect it is, I already know!).

So fan or supporter it must be. “I support Birmingham City” and “I’m a Blues fan” fairly trip off the tongue.

The assertion the guy was making, in stating that I wasn’t a Birmingham City supporter, suggested that – as I had no season ticket – I wasn’t supporting the team.
As I didn’t ‘support’ any other team, and knew I didn’t want to, you can see why I was a tad miffed at the suggestion, though I could kind of see where he was coming from.

Try telling me you ‘support’ Macmillan Nurses, by ‘watching out for them in the Press’ or giving 50p at a sale once, and I guess I’d point out just how thin that support was stretched.

Do you really have to sign a standing order away to support a charity though? Surely someone who runs the London Marathon in support of Macmillan has done enough for a lifetime, or do Macmillan write them a congratulatory, but cautionary “Well done, but you’ll need to do it again, next year…and the next…and the next, and so on”?
I don’t think so. Support is surely about doing whatever is within your means? When I was a child, my Dad couldn’t afford/didn’t have the time, to take me to every home match. It tended to be a birthday treat for each of us until I was earning my own salary, then it was whenever we could afford it, or whenever a glamorous or ‘cheap’ match was on.

The season I saw over ten matches, without owning a season ticket made me feel I was more than justified in calling myself a ‘supporter’. The club had plenty of my hard-earned cash, from ticket sales, food sales, official coach money, and merchandise sales (my extensive collection of Blues shirts now comes in all kinds of lovely Blue colours. Red and White Blue, Black Blue, Blue and White Blue, Red Blue and even Blue Blue!)
Surely that season, at least, made me feel like I had FINANCIALLY as well as PHYSICALLY supported the club. I had always MENTALLY supported them, too.

It wasn’t until I had a son of my own, that I bought a season ticket. I bought him one too (well it came for free with mine!) and a part of me smugly looked back on the previous ‘accusation’ and laughed in his face, I was DEFINITELY a supporter now, not just a fan.

But that was the trouble. The ‘supporters’ around me were no longer so ‘fanatic’. Call it whatever you like, but the noise that accompanied our recent second leg defeat of West Ham, has been conspicuous in its absence of late, for many varied reasons. That fanaticism has been stamped out of the ‘fanatic’ by a succession of years of Birmingham failure to achieve potential under Trevor Francis, failure to invest adequately under the ‘old Board’ and failure to keep the groundswell of our working class support with high ticket prices. This is gradually coming down, but some fear the fan base has changed permanently. Perhaps the West Ham game (and to a different degree, doing the Wenger against Arsenal last year) mark a slight tide-change in the right direction?

I have spent a lot more time than I probably should for my eyes’ sake, on the Internet forums (fora? Latin anyone?) where the ‘trend’ is to be critical and negative. Sure, there’s the odd positive soul (me!) on there but the majority of things that ‘stick out’ are gripes, whinges, moans, and such. Carson Yeung is too secretive, Michel is a waste of money, Zigic is a waste of time, it’s disgusting that we’re letting Michel and Zigic go, Hleb is awful, Hleb is our only classy player and MUST start…you get the picture.

It’s hard to feel ANY of the ‘negative’ folk saying these things are ‘fanatical’ about Blues. After all, how many ‘Beatles fans’ laid into the imperfections to be found on the Sergeant Pepper album (were there any?)?
Not many! If you’re a fan, you’re a fan. Not a critic. Tell that to the whingers, though, and they (I’m not saying they’re wrong, by the way) say ‘I’m a fan/supporter (they tend to use either or both!) and have every right to complain.’ Usually followed by an interesting claim that they ‘pay their wages’ ‘own the club’ or ‘are the club’.

I must confess, for a while, before I had the prohibitively expensive but beautifully rewarding job of being the dad of two children, I toyed with the idea of buying Birmingham City shares. I don’t think I’d be allowed to have them anymore; did Mr Yeung buy every last one off us Brummies? It doesn’t matter, but that would have been another key to my being ‘fanatic’ about Blues, or would it have been another nudge in the ‘support’ direction?

What has brought me to consider all this? I hear you ask. Well, the club has just announced it’s ticketing policy for the Carling Cup Final. True fans/supporters are the ones (rightly) being offered ‘first dibs’ on tickets.

The ‘down side’ to this is that people who couldn’t afford a season ticket this year are ‘penalised’. Even if they paid for every home league game separately, which I had pretty much done in seasons gone by. Even if they now live in Ireland (my Dad) or Australia (erstwhile MIB article writer Aff). Tough, I hear some of you cry. And I agree with you. It is tough.

But can I class myself as a ‘bigger’ supporter than my own Dad? He has undoubtedly seen more matches than me, only prevented by living in Ireland for the last three years. He has spent more money than me, over the years, and without him, I wouldn’t (presumably) have been ABLE to support or WANTED to be a fanatic.

No one can ‘rest on their laurels’ though, and this isn’t a petition for my Dad to receive a free ticket (though feel free to send me some!). It just puts things into perspective. A fan from Australia was famously flying over to watch both legs of the semi final. Huge commitment, financial, chronological, commitment. Fanaticism and great support of the club.

But this fan is way down the list of priority for Cup Final tickets. This article isn’t to criticise this system, either. Some system must be arrived at, and the Club has seemingly made it as fair as it can. Open the floodgates to one and all, and thirty thousand #fans# come out of the woodwork to buy Wembley day out tickets, who had no interest in the club before that time. And some of those would buy them with the explicit intention of selling them to some rich buyer on Ebay for a few hundred. No, better that the ‘true’ fans, the ‘true’ supporters have them.

That is simple. Or is it? I have already read how people are worried their mom/dad/children won’t be able to qualify for tickets, as they didn’t buy their own tickets to the Carling Cup rounds. It becomes readily obvious, then, that the loyalty that matters to the club is the financial loyalty. Sure you could have watched every game on Sky, followed every last second on the radio, but if you didn’t buy the tickets, you aren’t ‘factored in’. Again, this is fine, but it’s interesting to see the distinction.

I’m not 100% sure on the criteria needed to be met to class as a ‘Gold member’ or ‘White member’ (no white supremacist or Austin Powers jokes, please!) but they seem to have been set ‘above’ season ticket holders. By most people’s definitions, the season ticket holder is the ‘lifeblood of the club’, yet it seems corporate box executives (I’m guessing the silver and blue members are these) get to trump even that! The problem with this – as I see it – is I’ve met MANY people who were guests in these boxes, who have NO interest in Blues, per se. Point in question – Manchester United match at Saint Andrews will have more ‘visitors’ in the boxes than the Wigan match. The fact remains, though, that these ‘Gold members’ etc, must surely bring more revenue (support!) into the club, and so I have to accept they are probably more ‘deserving’ of the ticket allocation they’ve received.

I guess what I really wanted to come out of this article, is that we can all call ourselves whatever we want. I wasn’t pleased when someone tried to tell me I wasn’t a supporter. I know plenty of people who don’t appear to be ‘fanatical’ fans, yet are obviously offering up their support. The club would seem to prefer financial support to physical support (hence the lack of free tickets that would guarantee a full house of physical support), but with the club being a business, this is something I’m happy to accept.

I’m hoping you’ll all be happy to accept that we’re all fans AND supporters in equal measure. You may see yourself as more one than the other, and this may even change over time, but you should all recognise the individual’s decision to give themselves their own label.

“Once a Blue, always a Blue” seems to remove the need for either label, and again – that’s fine by me. Here’s my problem, though.

To my knowledge, the capacity of Wembley Stadium is 100,000. Perhaps give or take 10,000 after the rebuild. Blues and Arsenal have been offered (again to my knowledge) 62,000 tickets. I’d estimate 28,000-38,000 tickets have been/will be offered to people who can neither claim to be fans OR supporters of Birmingham City OR Arsenal.
Some of these tickets will be fine. I imagine Liam Ridgewell’s family will be supporters of a London club, Stephen Carr’s of a Manchester or Liverpool club (my Dad can attest to the Irish fan base!), but the majority of these tickets will have zero connection to Birmingham City. Not even to Arsenal. Some may have no connection to football at all.

While I can see the ‘logic’ of giving ‘first dibs’ to Platinum, Diamond and Zircon supporters, before “Season Ticket and Eleven cup match stubs”, etc, before to ex-pats, and non-season ticket holders, but not having a space at the back of the ‘reduced visibility’ stand for my Dad so some guy from Carling’s nephew (a Chelsea fan) can sit down and play his DS grates a little. Maybe a lot.

I may myself have to face the possibility of not having a ticket, if my category comes one step after tickets sell out. Having waited my whole life to see us play at Wembley it would be a damned shame to have to do so from my armchair, especially when armchair viewing is criticised for ‘killing the game’. There must be a better way, surely? Maybe an FA-wide ‘stamp’ scheme, that ”guarantees’ you a ticket if your chosen club goes through to the final and you have the requisite, and pre-determined number of ‘stamps’ rewarded for each live game attendance? Surely that would get people’s butts off the armchair, and reward those willing to show their support and fanaticism on the terraces?
Food for thought. My greetings to all my fellow fans…and all my fellow supporters, here at Saint Andrews on a Wednesday night.

I hope I get to see you all again at Wembley!

Keep Right On!

Russell Dempsey

Discuss this post, and other items, in the Joys and Sorrows Forum.


6 Comments on Supporter or Fan?

  1. the only point i feel need to pick up on is the gold, blue members etc, these are not corporate holders these are all season ticket holders, the allocation of a card is dependent on how many away games the season ticket holder went to last year. good article though

  2. Working with alot of plastic man u and liverpool fans i’ve often pointed out to them that they are fans not supporters.To my mind you can only be classed as a supporter if you actually attend games and support your team.Interesting read though !

  3. cheers guys. Whopper, i stand corrected, though i do wonder what category the executive box owners came under, as they can’t really just have been lumped under season ticket holder, can they? Unless they were allocated separately along with players and the board? I’ll be fanatically supporting at Wembley on Sunday πŸ™‚

  4. Good article Russell , one little gripe though , I can be quite often critical of the team/tactics/transfer acquisitions etc, and I’ve been known to be more than a little cynical about certain aspects of the team at times ! But it’s basically because I care so much , I love to be proved wrong by the targets of my wrath , and a decent display on Sunday afternoon would put a smile on my face for a long long time , regardless of the actual result. I was born in 1956 so I’ve waited my whole life for this occasion , my parents , uncles and old family friends have all gone to the Great Stadium In The Sky without seeing us pull something of this magnitude off , but before I get too misty eyed , and to get back to my original point. If McLeish plays certain players in certain roles , and I don’t like it , or agree , then I will criticise him , but my support and fanaticsm will still survive far beyond February 27th 2011.

  5. I’m sorry you thought it was dull, not sure the editing criticism is fair though. The article is written in a particular way that there isn’t necessarily a clear distinction between the two.

    Anyway, you are most welcome to write an article for the site if you would like to do so – just let me know via the contact page. πŸ™‚


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