Since the last English soccer game I attended, Fulham at Bolton, was in some ways quite a bummer, I spent the time making notes on the various characters one encounters in the stands at a match.
And so, my (mostly) American friends, allow me to introduce you to the many faces of the English soccer fan.
But first: That word soccer really annoys them, and they love making fun of us Yanks for using it, as well as how we say it in our American accents: “Sah-kerrrr.” At this point I always like to point out that they made up the damned word, and they used it for decades. It’s not our fault! For all I know, they only moved away from it when we started using it!
Anyway, to the seats …
The Coach is usually the man (always a man) you’ll hear the most, barking instructions at the players who, of course, can’t hear and wouldn’t listen, anyway. He always wants them to run faster, go forward, pass to the open man, cut off every opposition run, intercept every opposition pass, win every ball in the air, win every second ball, switch it, close down every opposing player, drive them all wider, and do more vague things like “do him,” “get into him,” “get wider,” and, above all, “fucking move!”
He summarizes all of this thusly: Do the simple thing, lads!
I have actually calculated that for The Coach’s instructions to be followed, one would have to replace whichever 11 players he is “cheering” for with the 14 greatest footballers in history.
Signature Phrase: “For fuck’s sake!”
The Song Starter, also male, is considerably younger – rarely above 30. No matter the weather, he will be wearing jeans somehow both saggy and tight, a short-sleeved shirt, and (often) some product in his hair. He arrives on the scene mostly to make noise, which he might refer to as “havin’ a go.” Above all, he seems to despise silence and desire to be heard, and also to instigate noise.
He is a leader among the 20Somethings With Product in Their Hair (see below).
If something has just happened – “something” being defined as an event on the pitch or the arrival of a silent moment – he will call out the first few words to a song or chant. This will be indistinguishable as English, until it’s picked up by the other 20somethings. The extent to which it spreads into the rest of the crowd beyond his immediate vicinity determines how much scorn he heaps upon these wankers sitting farther away.
Signature Phrase: Some sort of grunt.
The 20Something Male With Product in His Hair exists in a swarm around the Song Starter. They are utterly indistinguishable as individuals to any human above the age of 32. They travel in small bands and packs, from three to seven, wearing jeans that are simultaneously tight and baggy, and they speak very quickly with accents beyond the comprehension of anyone not native to the United Kingdom. They drink, though not terribly heavily; they sing, though not particularly strongly; they pay attention to the game, though not in terribly great detail. In all ways, they move very, very fast – in a blur, really.
The main purposes of the 20Something Male With Product in His Hair are to fill the seats and amplify whatever the Song Starter, as well as the various pack leaders among their numbers, are up to. Their goal, to the extent to which they are individuated, seems to be only to get better at their purposes by observing each other and the pack leaders.
Signature Phrase: Whatever someone else just said.
He looks at his phone often and probably has a blog. He doesn’t appear to drink, eat, move around, or even be alive – aside from the fact that his eyes are open and aimed generally towards the pitch. One assumes he is there to watch the game, and is thus aware of it, but one can’t be sure, for the Brooder mostly appears to simply Brood.
Signature Phrase: N/A
The 30Something With a Club Shirt On is, in some ways, the saddest of the characters. He is, of course, a “graduate” of sorts from the ranks of the 20Somethings With Product in Their Hair, but he has lost his youth, his crew, and his thin-ness. He is now alone and a bit too old to really be with the boys, though he stands with or near them. But he is also too rowdy to sit with the Pensioners and Middle-Aged Randos (see below).
This character seems to be living in the past, unable or unwilling to step into the future, his identity tied up with the club to an extent that should really make everyone just a bit uncomfortable, his gut hanging out just a bit. Most people seem to try not to notice, much less engage, him.
He is, not surprisingly, the heaviest drinker among the characters.
Signature Phrase: “Eh, ya fuckin’ wankahs,” directed at the other team’s fans.
The Single Female is a certain version of the Brooder, though of course she is female, and therefore less … brooding. She sits alone, thereby attracting the attention of various males, though none of them approach.
One assumes she supports the club, because she is known to stand and clap when something positive happens, but she doesn’t exactly sing. She pays less attention to her phone than the Brooder and more attention to the game, it would appear, than the 20Somethings. She is probably in her 30s, and it is unclear whether she enjoys the game or the male surroundings more.
Your author is determined to investigate the motivations and desires of the Single Female; stay tuned here for more detailed reports.
Signature Phrase: “Yay.”
The Date, as in the real world, is a combination of young-ish male and female. (I recognize, of course, it could be two males or two females, but these would be lost in a pack of 20Somethings) On rare occasions, the male part of The Date is actually a 20Something With Product in His Hair, but even then, the couple sits apart from the pack – either so she might be safer or he might be less likely to discourage her interest by calling someone on the pitch a useless cunt.
Occasionally, one can spot the male part of The Date gazing longingly at the 20Something pack. Part of him would rather be in the pack, another part in her – thus the conflict. The female, meanwhile, is better dressed than the average female in the stands, and if she’s a Fulham fan, there’s an excellent chance she’s very attractive – and utterly disinterested in the game.
Signature Phrase: Unknown, as it is whispered between them
The Middle-Aged Randos are, one might assume, simply older versions of the 20Somethings With Product in Their Hair. And they probably used to be in that lot; however, they have gone through an important transition since those days, a transition known as Life. In their 20s, they were doing as pack animals do. Now, in their 40s and 50s, and almost always traveling in pairs, they really just want to meet at the pub, catch a game, cuss, fart, drink perhaps a pint too much, check out and analyze the Single Female and the female part of The Date, and just basically Get The Fuck Away for an afternoon and be a fucking dude again, for fuck’s sake.
Signature Phrase: A sort of resigned groan.
The Pensioner has been attending games since The Old Days, and if you want to believe in Santa Claus and/or Elves, simply ask him about those Old Days and wait for him to smile. The Pensioner twinkles. He was a lad when you could stand on the terraces for 10 pence, when the players wore work boots and wool socks, the ball weight 5 stone, and giants strode the Earth. In the United States, this would be the guy at Yankee Stadium who saw Babe Ruth play.
The Pensioner is often attended, almost bodyguard-style, by admiring Middle-Aged Randos, perhaps their sons, and he actually exists in two versions: Happy and Bitter. The Happy version always has a twinkle in his eye, has supported the team through thick and thin, came here with his dad and now comes with his grandkids, and just loves this club; he probably wants his ashes scatted on the pitch. The Bitter Pensioner is usually a former Coach and would love to explain how today’s players are soft, overpaid wankers, and how money (and foreigners, if he’s been drinking) has ruined the sport.
It is worth noting that in The Old Days, there were also Bitter Pensioners in the stands, boring everyone with stories of the 19th Century.
Signature Phrase: “I was here the day …”
The Mum is actually my favorite character to observe, for like the Pensioner, she exists in two forms, and I love watching to see which she is. Sweet Mum is there with a family, and whether she really gives a crap about the game or not is unclear and irrelevant; she is there because the family is there. She loves her kids, loves family time, and spends most of the game asking the kids if they’re having fun, pointing out the “cute” mascot/animal on the pitch that everyone else thinks is a fucking wanker, and keeping an eye on her husband, who without fail is either a 30Something With a Club Shirt On, a Brooder, or a uniquely unhappy Middle-Aged Rando.
Bitter Mum … I love Bitter Mum. What is utterly beyond awesome about Bitter Mum is that she looks and acts exactly like Sweet Mom, harping on the kids, keeping the Dad in check, pointing out the mascot, appearing to pay no attention to the game whatsoever, and then, from nowhere, will turn to her husband or a nearby Pensioner or Middle-Aged Rando and scream something like, “Why doesn’t our fucking back line fucking push them up the pitch!?!?!” At my next game, I want to sit next to a Bitter Mum.
Signature Phrase: “Look, dear, it’s a tiger …. Oh, watch the fucking game, line-o!”
The Kid … well, your heart kind of breaks, doesn’t it? We all used to be the The Kid, and maybe the Kid breaks our heart because part of us still longs for the days when concrete, cigarettes, unwashed men and stale beer were the smells of pure magic – and now we know it’s just awful. The Kid is still in us, somewhere, yet we grieve him.
But now, when we look at The Kid, we think the poor bastard will grow up thinking this load of shite on the pitch and in the stands is, in fact, the Good Old Days. And when we look back at the changes (aka the fucking up) the game has seen during our lives, then project that into The Kid’s future, we think that poor Kid is going to grow up in a world utterly without meaning or inspiration.
Also, The Kid, should she or he take any interest in all this nonsense, will by necessity have to go through all the stages listed above, none of them happy, and even then might wind up as a Bitter Pensioner that no one wants to listen to. And really, if that’s the case, what’s the fucking point?
Signature Phrase: “Daddy, why is everyone so upset?”
The Tourist must be included here, because they are showing up everywhere, and after all, this is being written by one. (In truth, I am something of a cross between the Tourist and the Brooder, and, of course, I have a blog.) The Tourist might be American (cough), Japanese, Indonesian, Dutch … anywhere, really. Just not English – which explains why they are happy to be here.
They also exist in two forms: The Adopted Fan and the Groundhopper. The Groundhpper heard – not from an English person, mind you – that this English football thing is fun, and they were told – probably by an English TV person – that the English league is the best in the world. So they are getting to all the grounds they can. English people respond to them at clubs like Leeds by saying, “Why the fuck would you come here,” and at clubs like Chelsea like “Jesus, this isn’t even a fucking English club any more!”
The Adopted Fan often went through some twisted intellectual process in the last 10 years or so and wound up as a “fan” of this team whose songs and players they don’t really know. They chose the team because their country has been represented among the players, or their family came from there eight generations ago, or because they saw them on TV one time. English fans generally respond to them as above, with either “Why the fuck do you support this lot” or “Could you please at least learn the fucking songs?”
Either way, the Tourists are sweet, naive, detached, taking selfies, not entirely sure who the visiting team is, speaking a bizarre language that the locals wish would shut the fuck up, holding up their just-bought scarves for photos after the game, and think that this is all just grand … which only proves they are (A) fucking idiots and (B) welcome back any time! We are, after all, just happy to be at the game.
Signature Phrase: “I can’t believe we’re actually here … Why is everybody so upset?”