Saturday, July 12, 2008


Isn't there such an interesting distinction between types of fans of sports. I don't mean between half-hearted fans and obsessive ones or even of fans of say, baseball, as opposed to fans of basketball.

The difference in question here is one described very ably by Simon Kuper in Football Against the Enemy: "British fans are unique. In Britain, football itself is almost incidental to fan culture. More than any other supporters in the world, British fans are aware of themselves as fans. They think a lot about their own numbers, their visibility, their group character." This is such an insightful thought. It can be applied directly to almost any other group of fans out there.

Exceptions do exist, such as Duke basketball. Not the greater sphere of Duke fans, but specifically the student sections at the games. Now of course known as the Cameron Crazies, they camp out for big games, they memorize biographical information about their opponents in order to have the best ammunition for insulting them, they sing and chant preselected songs and jeers, and in case someone doesn't know the words, they print out lyrics before the games and pass them around to each other. This is what Kuper is talking about. A group that exists not only to cheer the team (and boo the opponent), which they certainly do, but has many self-interested qualities. Their sole purpose is not to be on television, but they are keenly aware that they always are.

Very rare are these kinds of fans present in the larger sporting world. Perhaps there are more than one would assume, but their actions and relationships with teams and media are of more local flavor. Either way, this is what makes the English Premier League so much more interesting than other European domestic leagues. Yes the play itself is often better and the star power is unsurpassed. But the fans make the games the spectacles they are known to be. The North London Derby, The Old Firm (granted, this is Scottish, but fits into Kuper's British description), and the Manchester Derby are examples of fandom almost to absurdity. Yet Kuper is right to point out that even if the matches weren't to be played, the rivalries between fans and the fans' desires to 'out fan' each other would still exist.

The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is beginning to reach these proportions in the NY-CT-MA area. And some college rivalries are vaguely the same. But often in this country, fans that even profess to hate one another are likely not to practice what they preach. With Duke and UNC for example, those kids claim to hate each other but you can always find Duke kids on Franklin Street and Carolina kids at Durham Bulls games. Were this situation Glasgow, Dukies would get their asses kicked on Franklin and the Bulls would never allow kids from Chapel Hill into the ballgames.

Anyway, it's just interesting to see how fans can be self-aware in terms of their fanhood. It's what makes soccer so great even for those who don't side with one team or the other.

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