The English FA are on song. Firstly, they have successfully coped with the sudden resignation of Fabio Capello. And secondly, the new man at the hot seat hasn’t done poorly. England have won a few games but haven’t quite played to their potential. Sure, the English media will point out that results matter and nothing else. But England as a footballing unit have to change quite a bit.
Their lackluster performance against France didn’t help them, but does bring out two sides in a football fan.
Purists, on one hand will argue that England had no intention to play football whatsoever. Optimists and England fans will argue that they were rock-solid at the back and that was the game plan. Interestingly, the optimists and England fans outnumber the purists and neutrals by a very hefty margin.
Because the neutrals are now mostly England fans. Don’t get me wrong, these fans aren’t English, British or even European for that matter. Somehow, in the past few years England’s fan base has increased dramatically, even though their performances and the nation’s talent pool in general has taken a serious hit.
What has caused this surge in the fan base? New stars? Not really. Gerrard, Lampard, Terry and Rooney have been around for a long time now. Performances? I highly doubt it. England were poor in the last World Cup and did not qualify for the Euros in 2008. Their current side are being touted the most weakened English squad for many decades.
So why this sudden shift ? The Premier League may give you some answers.
The Premier League in England is the most viewed in the world, especially in Asia and the Middle East. Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea all boast of a large fan base in these countries, United and Liverpool ruling the roost. England have Chelsea’s Lampard and Terry, Liverpool’s Gerrard, Downing, Henderson and Carroll, Man United’s Rooney, Welbeck, Young and Jones and Arsenal’s Wilshere, Chamberlain and Walcott.
The loyalty to their clubs somehow translates into this English team and a United fan suddenly wants to watch England play, because United’s best player is on the field. The same goes for Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal fans. Moreover, compared to the other European Leagues, fans have a more in depth knowledge of the Premier League stars and gives them this weird English connection.
No geographical or ancestral loyalty what so ever, but club loyalty eventually translates to a national loyalty.
Yes, it’s also true that many fans supporting England cannot boast of a great respective national side or their country isn’t participating in the Euros. India, for example has seen a sudden up surge in the rise of England fans.
A colonial connect, perhaps? Maybe. But blogs and social networking websites online are suddenly filled with Pakistanis, Afghans, Arabs, Indians, Sri Lankans and the South East Asian nationals commenting on England’s every stride, and posting comments like “We played badly” or “We need to improve” . “We” implying, that they consider themselves part of the England fan base already.
Other reasons may include Spain’s dominance and their ability to bore people to death, and the general hatred of Real Madrid and Barcelona. Going by the celebrations online whenever Barcelona or Real lose, I think it’s a safe assumption. The Germans have never been popular anyways, be it Bayern Munchen or the Bundesliga. I can safely say that most neutrals were gunning for Chelsea instead of Bayern in this year’s Champions League finals, since Chelsea were the only surviving English representative, thus earning their support. And who were these fans? Singaporeans, Malaysians, Indonesians etc: none of them Chelsea fans, none of them English, but all avid lovers of the Premier League.
Other factors include the language essentially. Italian, French, German and Spanish Leagues do not have in depth analysis in English, obviously. But the Premier League have pundits and commentators that have become household names amongst fans alike. This appeals to most fans around the world and strengthens the English connection.
A Premier League fan follows almost every game on matchday, whether it involves his club or not probably due to the league’s unpredictability as even a relegation battle gives you the most enthralling games.
La Liga enthusiasts on the other hand are either fans or Real Marid or Barcelona only. Already being very few in number, these fans watch substandard pundits argue on television, not because Spain lack quality in that area, but because networks telecasting in Asia have pundits of their own, who, quite frankly are poor. Fans follow only the Big Two’s games. A Getafe vs Villareal match would hardly interest any as compared to a Newcastle vs Stoke City game, which also generates a buzz amongst Premier League lovers.
Another factor could be the “underdog” status. Barring the 2006 World Cup where England started as favorites, every other tournament seeds England as an underdog and deservedly so. It’s always been the case of being strong on paper and weak on the pitch. Everybody loves an underdog, therefore everyone loves England.
Well, the benefactors at the end of it all are the Three Lions of course. They have thousands of additional fans praying for their victory, something they didn’t have a few years ago. More fans means more expectations. And hopefully England will stop parking the bus and start playing some decent stuff. It’s not just the British Isles anymore, there are a whole bunch of people out there to butter up.