There are two very different types of football fan which clash.
The first type is a thinker. They are intellectuals. They base their opinions on reason and evidence. They listen to Football Weekly, read Zonal Marking and Run of Play. They follow Iain Macintosh and Swiss Ramble on Twitter. They have read Brilliant Orange and Inverting the Pyramid many times. They stream the Argentine Apertura at 2am on their laptops.
They run a blog, named after a particular football concept, and have often asked people to ‘please retweet’ a new article to ‘nudge it over the 200 views mark’. They have read bits of Kant and Hume and have subsequently written articles making tenuous links between these thinkers and Chile’s use of three at the back at the World Cup. And they just can’t wait to tell you about how good Iker Muniain will be – and how much they know about him.
The second type of football fan is a passionate supporter of a particular team. Their love for football resolves around this team’s fortunes, and if that team didn’t exist, perhaps they wouldn’t like football. They often form opinions from Match of the Day highlights. They have a ‘twibbon’ in the bottom corner of their Twitter profile picture of their club crest. They abuse journalists on Twitter who dare to suggest they didn’t deserve to win a particular game. Many of them are suspicious of anything other than 4-4-2. They abuse the other teams’ players mindlessly and have got frostbite standing in the freezing cold at Ewood Park.
They shout horrific abuse at the referee for not giving them a throw-in despite them being wrong. They go through an emotional rollercoaster every game. They feel a numbing sickness every time their team are defending a lead. They suffer the inevitable lows but they also cherish the unforgettable highs. They hate every game but keep coming back for more.
I’m sure you can think of many people who are either both of these types combined or who are neither. They are two extremes, and most people combine the two types to some degree.
The worst excesses of tribalism (type two) are ugly – abuse of players, hooliganism and biased, dogmatic opinions. This leads to the ugly side of type one – a certain snobbishness and sense of superiority over type twos and their decision to follow just one team so closely. The first type can also produce an ugly sanctimony on Twitter, a sort of smugness at being so honest and so insightful, by being so sure of knowing what’s objectively true.
Which would you rather be? John Stuart Mill said that “It is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied” and so being a type 1 could well find you more meaning and fulfilment through a better quality of achievement – better debate, better writing and more intelligence.
But the type two is not always a ‘fool’. As a type two you are stretching your emotional capacities to the limit – and this is no bad thing. I could spend a weekend in a room reading Inverting the Pyramid, and I know for certain that it would be average to moderately enjoyable. Or, I could spend a weekend travelling many miles to see my beloved team scrap it out up north. T might be an unforgettable win, or it might be a miserable waste of time and money.
You run a risk supporting a team. This takes courage and bravery, to open yourself up to the vulnerability of being depressed. You are staking your happiness on a game between 22 strangers you have no control over – something psychologically very unhealthy.
There is nothing else like the pleasure I receive from being a type two – nor is there anything like the anger and disappointment it entails too. No amount of critical acclaim or intelligent analysis could ever match the feeling of when my team holds out for a 1-0 scrappy away win (not to say that the former two things are particularly in reach). You take a gamble spending time as a type two, while being a type one is analogous to putting your money in a very secure bank.
So while tribalism is often seen as inferior and sniffed at by the Twitter intelligentsia – this is because supporters of clubs go to Twitter to vent and act like idiots towards the voices of reason. It isn’t because there is anything particularly worse about being a type two – or at least it shouldn’t be.
What are the moments I remember? Is it when I told my friends about the new tactical trend wot I read on Zonal Marking? Is it when I wrote a piece on the importance of football as a mechanism for economic growth in Togo in the late 1990s? No. It’s when I was in the front row to see Younes Kaboul hit a late winner at my rivals’ home ground and I stood on a chair to soak in the ecstasy of 3,000 fellow fans and the silence of 57,000 others.
So save some room for tribalism in your life, in between retweeting Andy Brassell and using logic to demean Jamie Redknapp.
You can follow Tom Goulding on Twitter here.