Why do people support football clubs? I don’t mean those minor clubs that a husband or son may play for. I mean Premiership clubs, those hotbeds of loutish behaviour, whose players don’t even come from the same country let alone the same city as the one they play for.
I’ve held myself apart from all of it for most of my life, with occasional lapses such as when my local team, Southampton, won the FA Cup in 1976. It’s not been difficult to stay apart from it, as I have little interest in the game itself. So like, I suspect, a good many other ‘supporters’, any affiliation I might claim would be mere tribalism. Though maybe I shouldn’t say ‘mere’. In an increasingly dislocated world, the need to belong becomes ever more important.
My local team is Southampton (Saints), but in recent times I have tended to prefer Liverpool, a city I sailed from in my early working life as a seagoing radio officer.
But Southampton has arguably superior claims on my support. My daughter and three of my grandchildren were born in Southampton. And my oldest granddaughter has a part-time, match-day job at St Mary’s, Southampton’s ground.
So my feeble support has drifted back from Liverpool to Southampton. By good luck rather than anything, I chose a good season for the change. As I write, once-mighty Liverpool languish wretchedly in eleventh place in the Premiership, while Southampton are, amazingly, in second place. Who can remember the last match they lost?
Actually, something interesting is happening at Southampton. The club has lost two consecutive managers who looked as if their departure might have serious implications for the club (even though, in the manner of the professional game, one of them was sacked by the club). They’ve also recently lost some of their best players, mainly to Liverpool. Yet the team continues to flourish. It begins to look as if it’s not the managers that keep Southampton where they are but the players themselves. And that’s a nice thought.
Footnote: Do you know why Southampton FC is known as Saints? It’s because the club’s origins lie in a team formed in 1885 called Southampton St Mary’s FC. The team had associations with St Mary’s, the great mother church of the town (it was not then a city).