Despite the act of kicking being one of mankind’s most naturally occurring functions, the contemporary history of football dates only as far back as 1863. However, in the 150+ years that have followed, football has developed into arguably the most popular sport in existence, with more than half of Earth’s population ‘fans’ of the beautiful game.
A ‘fan’ of football could literally be anyone. There are no set rules on how to be a football fan; you don’t have to like playing or even watching the sport, you might not know the rules. But as long as there are aspects of the game that someone enjoys, who’s to say they aren’t football fans?
However, when it comes to being a fan of a football club, the rules are slightly different. In this day and age, telling someone you support a team isn’t always as black and white as telling someone you like football.
Let’s take West Ham United for example. You might consider a West Ham fan as anyone who takes an interest in the club, regularly attends matches, keeps up to date with club news, owns a club shirt, or knows the club’s chants. However, with the ever increasing need to separate football fans from true fans, it seems that these days it is not good enough to tick only one or two of the above.
Fans who can’t/don’t attend games are often referred to as armchair fans, whilst not knowing certain players/chants can be seen as lazy supporting. Sometimes, a person’s opinion can be completely disregarded if they aren’t seen as a true fan – no matter what the reason might be. One thing’s for sure, there is undoubtedly an increasing need to justify who counts as a ‘true’ fan.
Traditionally, football fans supported teams that resided near where they were born, or inherited from their families. However, this is no longer the case at all, with football fans more diverse than ever and team’s being supported by fans around the globe.
But can these really be defined as ‘true fans’? If someone doesn’t go to every game, how can they understand the culture of the club? If someone hasn’t been there through either thick or thin, how do we know where their loyalties stand?
Betway’s documentary, Over Land and Sea, attempts to find out. They tell the story of Pan, a West Ham fan who was born and lives in Shanghai, China. Pan explains how he became a West Ham fan, why he chose them over more successful and local sides, who his favourite player is, what the Hammers mean to him and the lengths he goes to follow his club.
From watching this documentary, it seems obvious that anyone can be a true fan. Someone who yearns for the team to achieve success, and supports the team passionately through thick and thin, is a true fan.