What does being a football fan even mean?


Like millions other around the world, I quite like football (or soccer whichever). The game itself is simply fun to play with a low entry bar (just the ball, everything else can be improvised ala a pair of sandals on your backyard). But I can say that watching football — or more precisely following football, and specifically supporting a football club/team — is a whole different experience. We often associate them together. If you like to play, then you’d likely support and vice versa. But you can dissect them separately by looking at the places where the enjoyment of doing them came from.

I’d say there are three fundamental reasons why we enjoy both playing and watching the sport: the game, the football player, the club. You either like playing the game, idolise a footballer, or because of family, geographical, or cultural connection, you are fully invested in a particular team. Of course, a combination of the three applies. But the dynamics vary depending on whether you are playing or watching. For example, you might like playing football because you love doing the actual kicking and heading the ball — or catching if you’re one of those rare breeds called goalies — while in every other moment, fantasising about being the player you idolise. However, you are unlikely to play the game solely because you support a team, even if you are an actual professional footballer representing that team.

On the other hand, the dynamic is flipped when it comes to watching. It is entirely possible that you watch a football game precisely because and only because you support one of the teams*. A strong narrative surrounding that team is why you pay attention. When such is the case, ‘watching football’ can be compared to television series or if you are watching it at the stadium, stage plays. You have the same suspense and drama. The footballers become the characters and who plays the hero depends on which team you support. But tragically, you would almost never get a happy ending nor a resolving end.

You could say the first dynamic is the romantic view. It is simple. You enjoy playing hence you look up to those who can play well. In this situation, it should not matter where the team is from, or which team a particular player is playing for (you are alright if you are good at it). The second dynamic however, is more complex. Tribalism and schadenfreude become the law of the town. But the romantic view almost by its very definition is not likely. All of this is true for any other sports. Things like historical circumstances and athlete personalities do matter. In this regard, all sports are not and perhaps never have been simply a game, yet a game they are in their most base form.




*The majority of us would associate ourselves to a particular club. There are people who follow/Idolise a particular player rather than a team. But they are few and far between, and often reserved to players who transcend the sport rather than the embodiment of it.