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There is little room for tribalism in modern football

1.68K   //    16 Aug 2015, 00:18 IST
It isn't only England's league anymore

Some British football fans have a weird sense of entitlement when it comes to supporting a football club; I suspect this is predominantly the case with the more successful English teams, like Manchester United or Liverpool. There is a belief among supporters native to the cities where the clubs are located that they are somehow... "truer", if you will.

There is certainly an argument to be made that they have a stronger cultural association to these clubs. As an Indian Liverpool fan, therefore, there are some inherent limitations in my ability to fully relate to certain aspects of Liverpool’s culture – like the significance of the Hillsborough Disaster, or the Merseyside rivalry. This does not in any way confer upon Liverpool supporters living in the Merseyside region the right to claim superiority, particularly in an age when football continues to transcend geographical, cultural, and political boundaries every day.

Surprisingly, a section of fans still resorts to territorial tribalism when the only things truly local about the big English clubs today is their history. This is not to say that all tribalism is bad because it isn't. It is good – important, even – to the extent that it promotes values like loyalty. 

“Why don’t you go support your local team?” is a common response these fans use when they see an opinion they don't like. But here's the thing about opinions: everyone has them. Often times they may not be agreeable, but that has little to do with where the person lives and everything to do with the way they think and how you perceive them. If a Manchester United fan from Manchester holds the same opinion as a United fan from China, how does it make sense to use a postcode to ostracize one while justifying the other?

Aside from the fact that they have no business telling others what to do and whom to support, there is a very real possibility that without the global support enjoyed by these clubs, the difference between the elite football clubs and the rest will be reduced to a richer history; but let's face it: in modern football with its short-term-ist thinking, history and tradition are no match, practically, for money and power.

Speaking of money, Liverpool earned £104 million in commercial revenue (including sponsors, merchandise, etc) in 2014. I'm going to err on the side of generosity and say that 40% of that amount came from England. That leaves over £60 million in commercial revenue from overseas fans and sponsors. If you take this out of the equation, Liverpool would've incurred a loss greater than £50 million last year.

Moreover, the increasing popularity of football, particularly the English Premier League, has led to the rapid development of the tourism industry in England.

According to the UK's tourism body Visit Britain, almost a million foreign tourists travel to Britain every year just to watch football. Imagine the hit the British economy would take if these supporters decided to support their local teams instead.

There is also a sense of hypocrisy that accompanies this thinking. That they want certain fans to dissociate themselves from "their" club while craving for the team's Russian, Qatari, and American owners to spend big bucks on the best players (incidentally, from outside England), is testament to the flimsy foundations this argument is built on.

The truth is, football clubs are brands and the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and United are among the more popular ones in the world of sport. Without their global reputation, they'd be nowhere near as strong, financially, and consequently, at football, as they are currently.

What is baffling is that this minority of football supporters is rejecting one of the greatest values the game teaches us: the importance of community. If my local team were to somehow gain worldwide fandom, I (and every other football lover in my city) would proudly embrace the support; not refuse to share my club with the world.

Topics you might be interested in:
Law student; football writer
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