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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

Concern As Football Supporter Defections Reach New High

Football supporters’ clubs have expressed concern about the ease with which fans now switch club allegiances.

‘It’s changing the face of football,’ lamented George “Kicker” Boot, the supporters’ club chairman of, bottom of League Two, Stockport County. ‘I’ve been involved with “the Hatters” for fifty years, through good times and bad,’ he explained. ‘These days there’s no club loyalty. We’ve only got eight supporters left, including me, and if we get relegated this season, most of them will go.’

Professor of Football Studies at London University, Dr Ivor Ball, attributes this attitude amongst fans to the changing composition of football clubs. ‘Clubs no longer have any local players, and quite often managers and owners come from other countries,’ he told Footballers Weekly magazine. ‘This lack of local connections has removed a key motivation for local people to support their local teams. Society has also changed,’ explained Dr Ball. ‘People are much more individualistic, self-centred and short-term in their thinking. They are much less inclined towards long-term loyalty, preferring to associate with “winners” in the here and now.’

A recent survey by Footballers Weekly magazine highlighted that most Conference League clubs and many League Two clubs have no supporters at all. The magazine’s article noted that, ‘…even relatives of players have changed their allegiances to more successful clubs, and many lower-league players covertly support teams other than their own.’

‘It’s the big, successful clubs that now draw the supporters, regardless of location,’ confirmed Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United. ‘United has an international fan-base. We know that eighty-three percent of our supporters can’t even locate Manchester on a map! Alarmingly,’ he continued, ‘many hundreds of those live in Manchester, and Wayne actually plays for us.’

The ease with which fan loyalties can change, even in the Premier League, was dramatically illustrated during the 2010/11 season in a game between West Ham and Liverpool.

West Ham took a 1-0 lead early in the first half, at which point most of the Liverpool supporters changed their allegiance to follow West Ham. Some had even brought West Ham shirts with them, in addition to sporting Liverpool strip, so they would be properly dressed if they chose to review their team commitment.

The fortunes of Liverpool then rallied, and by late in the first half “the Reds” had gained a 2-1 advantage. Nearly all the fans in the stadium were thereafter cheering for Liverpool. Two further lead reversals in the second half produced similar realignments of loyalties.

During periods when the score was level, there was silence and some signs of confusion in the stands.

A spokesperson for the Police Federation of England and Wales, Inspector Buster Nickem, said that Forces were delighted by this development in the behaviour of football fans. ‘It has almost eliminated crowd violence and trouble after matches,’ Inspector Nickem confirmed. ‘When one team is ahead or has won, then all supporters are on the same side and engaged in good natured celebration. When the match is drawn,’ he added, ‘supporters have frequently switched loyalties to completely different teams and, with so many to choose from, they seldom form a gang in support of one club.’

Research undertaken by Dr Gael Kick of the British Psychological Society has offered further explanation of this phenomenon. ‘We live in a stressful society,’ noted Dr Kick in an article published in the British Psychological Journal. ‘People cannot cope with the additional stress and uncertainty of whether their chosen football club might achieve some level of success. After all,’ she wrote, ‘for some clubs this might take years and for some it may never happen at all. People feel psychologically much better,’ Dr Kick concluded, 'when their team wins, and what better way to achieve that than to support the team that is winning or has already won?’

The above trend has led to fears that within the next five years, all football fans will support just one club - although the specific club might change on a daily, hourly or even minute-by-minute basis.

The chairman of the England Supporters Club, Ivor Gotnothingbettertodo, has observed the effect on international football. ‘There’s a major split in the England Supporters Club,’ he conceded. ‘On current form, during the 2014 Word Cup about half our fans will be cheering for Spain and the other half for Brazil.'