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Monday, December 3, 2012

In Search Of The Lost Fans

For the real football fan there has to be uncertainty. Those pre-match butterflies. Fear. Call it what you want. That is what differentiates us from the “new fans” who only follow a winning club, or those who declare a love for the game without any affection for a particular club (these are on the increase – I can them Spectacle-ists). Without defeats or draws, I think real fans would stop going. Without uncertainty, the game becomes a mere procession, and then….why bother to turn up and support and sing, make an emotional investment, when everything is already said and done to 99% probability?  

When a competition can only be won by one of the participants, it isn’t a competition any more”. This isn’t a phrase from some philosopher or writer; this just came into my mind on Saturday evening while I observed FC Barcelona dish out yet another thumping to less fortunate opposition. And I say less fortunate, because the distance between Barcelona and Real Madrid and the rest increases each year. I know that Real Madrid aren’t on top form right now but, does anyone really doubt that they will end up either first or second and a considerable distance clear of third?

Barcelona’s 5 – 1 win isn’t that important. What is, worryingly, even for Barcelona, were the empty seats. Canal+’s commentator said around 30,000 free seats at the Nou Camp. I know that people will complain about prices, cold weather or whatever, but I think the problem may be that the football on offer, so admired by many, is turning the real fan away.

Real fans support their teams. So much indeed, that if you cut them they bleed whatever colour they follow. It takes us a week to get over a defeat. But we do understand other club’s real fans. We enjoy our team’s goals and our victories, but we do have a point where we suffer others fans defeats and misfortunes. We have been there. When our team is winning by 3 or 4 goals, we still sing, of course, but we don’t have the thirst for utter destruction I see in the newer fans. I say this as I can see they are approaching sadism. On Saturday I watch wide eyed as Barcelona’s fans booed Alex Song for a missed pass when 4 – 1 up. Or berated the referee for not giving them a soft midfield foul while winning 5 – 1.

These fans seem to want to see a rival destroyed, and that is what they consider a spectacle. That’s fine, but if that is what we want, it needs to be available to all, not just for the privileged few. Like in the NFL or NBA, where the wow factor, the spectacle, is demanded. But there, those in control recognize that seeing humiliation every week isn’t good, so they make sure the weak get a fair crack. The last team gets first pick of the draft, or they exchange that right for proven players they may want. Balance. Uncertainty. Competition.

I consider myself a real fan. I prefer the possibility of a draw or a defeat, but I belong to an ever declining minority. In Spain it is complicated. The sports press are so partial to 2 teams, that they ignore or brush aside all others, making the 2 ever more powerful. These 2 dominate the nominations for the “Bal√≥n d’or”, but the third and fourth placed teams cannot compete financially against the 15th placed team in the Premier league, or the 11th placed team in the Bundesleague.

I think we need to be aware of the damage this does to the rest of the league. Abroad people are more like real fans than the spectacle-ists. We have to recognize that football fans abroad, although enjoying Madrid and Barcelona goals, don’t like to see destruction, but do enjoy a tight game. Or said another way, competition. When you compare how much the Premier league and other foreign leagues bring in from outside their own borders, La Liga’s selling power is ridiculously low. The thrashings may sell in countries with a similar demand (no offence), where everyone supports a winning side, like Morocco or Saudi Arabia. But who suffers when La Liga misses out? Yes, the weak. The Madrid and Barcelona snowball just grows and grows.

Real Fans are turned off as the competition……isn’t really a competition any more.

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