Recently, I’ve begun to understand the difference between being a “fan” of a football club, and a “supporter”. I am a Liverpool fan. A pretty committed Liverpool fan, and have been since my childhood in Northern Ireland. This has led to accusations in the past, on various LFC-related internet forums and message boards, that I am a “glory hunter”. A “day tripper”. A person with no real affiliation to the city of Liverpool, who follows the team because they’re an historically successful side. Why didn’t I, a lad from County Down follow, say, Ipswich? Or Sunderland? Or even Sampdoria or Genk or any other team, for that matter? I had just as much to do with any of those teams as Liverpool as a 9 or 10 year old, given that all I’d be doing was waiting to see scores on ceefax, and then watching Match of the Day highlights.
My reasoning was always that I only “supported” Liverpool because my older brother did. And, in fairness, he probably *was* glory hunting, given that when he started getting into football it was the late 80s and Liverpool FC were still in their pomp, or at least at the back end of it. When I started putting posters up and getting upset if we lost, however, there wasn’t much glory to be had. King Kenny Dalglish had left the club in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster, and the Reds were in relative disarray under Graeme Souness. He didn’t last long, and neither did many of his signings. The first real “glory” I remember experiencing as a Liverpool fan was a heady 2-1 victory over Bolton Wanderers in the Coca-Cola Cup final in 1995. After that, 2001 was hugely successful, 2005 and 2006 had some proper highs but, if I’m being honest, there hasn’t been a huge amount of glory to speak of. So I’m pretty comfortable in feeling like I’ve earned my stripes as a fan, and have a huge emotional stake in how the rest of the season pans out for the Reds in 2019.
But can I really call myself a “supporter” of Liverpool Football Club? Possibly not, y’know. Fair enough, I throw money at Sky TV (to my great shame) to get Premier League coverage- which Liverpool gets a cut from, of course- and I go to a game at Anfield every other year or so, but does that qualify me as a “supporter”? Do I feel like the weight of my support is felt by the players, the staff, the people on the Kop? Probably not, if I’m honest.
Being a season ticket holder at Tooting & Mitcham for the past season, and having renewed for the season ahead, I have begun to understand what “support” is. That it is different to being a “fan”. The club has had more money off me in 18 months than Liverpool FC have had off me in 25 years. Gate money, pints at the bar, the odd bit of merch that I try to haggle Hackbridge Harry to knock a few quid off. Possibly more importantly, I’m in the ground, lending my voice to the ever-increasing cacophony on the Bog End, doing my level best to encourage the young lads to play their game, celebrating their successes with them, digging out the referee (within the bounds of taste and decency). And when I’m in the ground, I more often than not have someone in there with me, someone I’m trying to infect with the bug of attending live football at non-league level. Fresh blood. And they’re putting money in, buying their pints, lending their voice. This is support. Actual support.
And it goes behind the match day, too. Increasingly, the good people who support Tooting & Mitcham are being called upon to do more for the club. There are schemes in the offing to get more money into the coffers, starting with the hugely successful race night we had at the club in early April. A handful of people put in a lot of effort, many more people buy their tickets and totes on the night, and all of a sudden, the club has more than £1500 to add to the budget. We are being encouraged to sign up to the members club, being encouraged to lend a skill to the operation, whatever that might be. Doing the match day announcements, helping at the shop, even helping choose the set list for what gets played out the PA system ahead of kick-off. Do you know of any business who might be able to help with sponsorship? Hand them this form. Can you tweet about the upcoming fixtures, can you write a blog post, can you put up posters, can you bring your friends…..? This is support.
It sounds crude, but it seems to me that what “support” boils down to, as far as supporting a football club goes, is the same as what “support” is from one human being to another. Money, to a certain extent, and- absolutely *crucially*- time. £10 and 90 odd minutes on a match day. Whatever you might be able to afford beyond that. An hour on a blogpost. £5 on a strip of raffle tickets. 30 minutes selling scarves. 10 seconds screaming at the ‘keeper to keep his head up, that mistakes happen, to go again.
At the recent fans forum, another brilliant move from a newly invigorated group of invested people within the club, I asked the question of some of the senior players and management- “when you’re playing, or on the touch line, how aware are you of what’s going on in the stands?” Our club captain, Peter Wedgeworth’s response was a straightforward reminder of what support needs to be.
“We hear everything.”
That’s something I can’t imagine I’ll ever hear personally from Jordan Henderson.
Be a fan of whoever you like.