The latest research into the fans of rival football teams indicates what I’ve long suspected – adversity has a surprisingly powerful bonding effect
I once wrote a book that sought to explore exactly what goes on between the ears of football fans. It was called We Don’t Know What We’re Doing and will now cost you anything up to 5op to buy. I spoke to fellow West Brom fans who had never missed a game for 30 years and then just gave up and never went again; there were others who never thought about going until they were in their 40s and then went every week without fail, home and away. One young woman had been watching our team for her whole life without ever seeing us concede a goal. This she achieved by shutting her eyes tightly whenever the opposition looked close to scoring.
At the time, around 2003, I couldn’t find a great deal of academic research into psychological aspects of football fandom. Something I did come across was the work of Dr Sandy Wolfson at Northumbria University. She had done lots of interesting stuff on football’s contribution to social cohesion, pointing out that a match was a rare place where a bin man and a high court judge could be in each other’s company on the same level. She had also looked at how fans viewed their counterparts at other clubs as inferior in every aspect bar one: they considered themselves more passionate, funny, loyal and knowledgeable than fans of rival teams but, hilariously, not better-looking. Many years on, this still tickles me.