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Suffering for our Team

by Dave Gardner
Jul 29, 2014 6:51 PM EDT



Q. When is a fan not a fan?
A. When he supports Manchester United.
It's an old jibe that has long rankled United fans living outside Manchester; the idea that the club's millions of followers around the world only support the club because of its success.
It's certainly true that the fans come from every corner of the globe. As a war correspondent working in Baghdad my Arabic was non-existent but locals often stopped me to ask if I followed Manchester United.
With the globe so much smaller now, the same is probably true of a handful of clubs - Real Madrid, of course, Barcelona, and to a lesser extent Chelsea, Arsenal and the two Milan teams. I would suggest Manchester's noisy neighbors still have a way to go although they may yet buy their way to world domination as may PSG.
The attraction of aligning yourself to such a team is obvious. They tend to have the best players, they are in the best leagues, they contest the finals. But can you really live and die for your team when you only started watching after your daughter started playing AYSO?
We know the effusive crowds at the World Cup games this summer - with the exception of the Brazilians and their close South American neighbors - weren't the biggest soccer fans, they were largely the better off ones.
Soccer has undoubtedly grown in support through the years, but how much has the fervor been diluted by the hospitality suites and sky high prices?
All of which brings me around to a confession I've kept to myself for far too long.
I have been a West Ham United supporter for almost as long as I remember. I grew up near their training ground, I wear a Hammers strip when I play and I even suffer through their games on TV. But notice that I wrote "almost" as long as I remember because there was a time when I wasn't a die-hard West Ham fan.
I supported Arsenal!
There, I've said it. As a young boy I idolized the Gunners. I spent long hours painting my Subbuteo team (do kids play that any more?) in red and white and tried to emulate Charlie George - even copying his rather bizarre hairstyle for a while.
But sadly there's no way back for me. It's one thing supporting Manchester United when you live in Yemen or even Pittsburgh, it's quite another to swap the dour long ball of Big Sam for the enticing prospect of a revival under Louis van Gaal.
So much as I would love to put all my heart behind Alexis Sanchez and co in their suddenly quite realistic shot for the EPL crown, I'll stick to wondering whether Andy Carroll's on the injury list or not for the next game.
It's what real football fans do.
We suffer.