And Another Thing
Four football fans in a round-(pub-)table discussion
Our panel, left to right:
David Wilson, accountant, Arsenal
Sandeep Chohan, accountant, Spurs
James Plumer, local government office, West Ham
Les Smith, leisure centre manager, Liverpool
Why do you prefer to watch football on TV?
West Ham I like the atmosphere in a pub. I like being with my
mates, I like watching football with a beer in my hand, and standing
up, which you can’t do anymore. I also like having banter with
opposition fans. I think in this country fans are over-segregated and
the idea of fans of opposing teams being in the same vicinity is the
worst thing in the world. I don’t think live football is fun anymore –
it’s more fun watching it down the pub.
Arsenal I enjoy watching a game in the pub as much as at a live
game. There are often dual screens so you can see what’s going on. You
can drink, I like to smoke and can do that in the pub garden. And if
it’s a bad game, I’ll still enjoy it as I’m with friends. The
atmosphere can be quite intense.
Liverpool I work shifts and I play football at the weekend so
often I can’t actually catch the games. So for me, it’s partly down to
convenience, though just because you’re not at the game, it doesn’t
mean you can’t feel a part of the excitement. I watched us win the
Champions League final against Milan in two different pubs – I left one
at half-time and found another when we were 3-2 down – and the
atmosphere was electric. It was unbelievable.
Tottenham I like watching at home because you get a better
perspective of the game. With things like Sky Plus, you can watch a
controversial incident again – they never show that at the ground. So
when we’re denied a clear penalty at the Emirates, at least I can see
it again if I’m watching at home – and then I can criticise the ref
straight away. You’ll always get to see more of the game at home, where
you can see an incident from six different angles.
Would you travel a long way to the pub to replicate the match-going experience or is it always to the local down the road?
Arsenal I normally go to a local but when it’s a big game I’ll
travel and go to an Arsenal pub as the atmosphere is better. You’re
mimicking a matchday routine by making the journey. Arsenal used to
show their European away matches on a big screen at Highbury. I used to
go but I found it more fun watching in a small pub with 100 fans rather
than a big but empty stadium with 3,000 fans. Fans also sing terrace
songs in the pub now, which is great!
West Ham I didn’t have tickets for our 2006 FA Cup final
against Liverpool, but I went and watched it at a pub in Cardiff. The
atmosphere was as good as I’ve ever seen or heard at any football match.
Liverpool I think pubs are the new stadiums: there are going to
be both sets of fans there, plenty of banter and a great atmosphere.
It’s more about enjoyment now.
West Ham I truly believe that the people on the terraces 10
years ago are now in the pubs. The people who got into football
post-Euro 96 and see it as entertainment rather than passion, they are
now the ones in the grounds.
So what’s your typical viewing ritual at home? Do you have a favourite seat and a commentator of choice?
Arsenal It feels like a nice luxury to watch it at home. There
are always beers ready and I get in the pizzas, and fire off text
messages as soon as the game starts.
Liverpool I’m more likely to watch games at home in midweek
because of work, and then go to the pub for the weekend games. I’m
always in my Liverpool shirt, sitting in the comfortable three-seater
sofa, with the phone off until half-time. I don’t move: the world stops
for me then. And I sometimes turn the sound down and listen to the
Tottenham I’m the opposite: the phone never stops for me, I’m
always texting or phoning friends about the game. The banter is what
makes it for me. And I like to watch a bit of Fanzone too – those guys
shouting for their team are hilarious, especially when someone scores
and they go mad and kiss the badge. I can’t watch it for long, but it
does add to the experience.
West Ham I put the radio on when the game is on ITV. I can’t
stand Clive Tyldesley, I want to break his neck every time I hear him.
He always wants to get that soundbite, it’s as though he’s waiting for
his “They think it’s all over...” moment. He knows what he’s going to
say when a goal is scored and it sounds so unnatural. Other
commentators just shout, ‘Goal!’ when someone scores and that’s the
normal thing to do.
Liverpool I like Andy Gray but Jonathan Pearce is my favourite.
He gets so involved that when I hear him talking about a goal, it’s
like I’m there, and he’s in the middle of the crowd with me.
Arsenal John Motson can be irritating too but Mark Lawrenson just tries to do a one-line joke every five minutes.
Tottenham Lawrenson brings a whole new angle to football
punditry because he’s so unintentionally camp. I can’t take him
seriously. I don’t know if it’s because of the mullet and moustache he
used to have, or because he’s always trying to crack a joke.
Liverpool Those two are trying to be the new Saint and Greavsie and it’s not working at all!
If you don’t watch your team live every week, are your opinions moulded by the media more than match-going fans?
Tottenham I have friends who go to every match and they tell me
I don’t see the whole picture on TV, only where the ball goes, and I
miss all the off-the-ball running. But I think you also miss certain
things live that you can see on TV. There is a 60-minute highlights
programme on Sky featuring every match Spurs play, so I always watch
that and then I make my own opinion.
Liverpool Same here. I have the Liverpool TV channel and I will
watch every game on that before I form an opinion. I see the player
ratings in a paper and I never believe them until I see the games
myself. Steven Gerrard does have bad games occasionally but you would
never think it from his ratings. It’s like they’re all scared to
criticise him because he’s a big player. So I watch the game, even if
it’s a day or two late, and then make my own judgement.
West Ham I watch every game live on an Arabic TV channel in the
pub. I find fans that watch the game live often get it wrong too, and
follow each other. An example would be Carlton Cole, who gets booed
every time he plays, and he’s not that bad, while Dean Ashton gets
cheered and he’s not that good. If you weren’t seeing the games either
live or on TV, you might be influenced by the match reports, but then
the crowd does have an influence even when you’re there.
Arsenal You can be misled if you don’t see the whole game in
full because the media do have their own agenda. Personally I use the
Arseblog website – that keeps me up to date with what people are saying
and what the gossip is, because that’s one thing you miss by not going
to the stadium.
Do other fans treat you as a second-class fan because you don’t go to matches?
Arsenal It is quite contentious as the amount of games you go to
is still seen as an indicator of how big a fan you are. You’re
definitely not seen as a true fan if you don’t go so often, so I think
there still is a stigma.
Liverpool I get it in the neck from my brother and my other
mates, they say I’m not a fan as I don’t go to games. But as far as I’m
concerned, I am a true fan. Liverpool are the only team I’ve ever
supported, even when they were going through bad times, and that will
never change. But I’m having to justify myself less than I used to
Tottenham It’s getting to the stage where the
wealthy fans want their living-room experience transported to the
stadium, and the real fans are at the pub. But in 10 years, the guy in
the pub will say to the guy in the corporate seat, “You’re not a true
supporter because you go to the stadium.”
Do you feel like a true fan of your team, as much of a fan as one who goes to games?
Liverpool It doesn’t mean you’re not a fan just because you
don’t go to the match. If you want to lock yourself away when you lose,
you are a fan. If what your team does on the pitch affects you and
affects your mentality, you’re a true fan. It’s about someone who has
that connection with the club.
West Ham I know I’m a true
West Ham fan and people whose opinions I care about know I’m a true
West Ham fan. Everyone has a different definition of a true fan. My
view of a true fan is someone who knows what West Ham is about: we
don’t win trophies but we play football a certain way, and we don’t
slag off players for being crap as long as they put in the effort.
Arsenal The credit check of a fan’s credentials will never
change. You always check out someone’s knowledge of the club and I’m
more on the receiving end of that. I accept I don’t go to many games.
I’ve chosen to have an intermittent relationship with the stadium and
that’s my decision. Supporting your team is a constant emotional
journey and you don’t have to be in the stadium to be on that journey.
I have a mate who follows Arsenal and goes to matches home and away and
in Europe as well, and he’ll get told he doesn’t go to reserve games so
he’s not a true fan. So everyone has their own criteria: you can’t
change other people’s opinions, so if I choose not to go, I will never
be a true fan in their eyes. But I know I’m a true fan – that’s all
Liverpool If you believe in yourself that you’re supporting the team, then that’s enough to be a true fan.
Tottenham Only you know whether you are a true fan: if you have
that feeling of winning which can make your weekend, but if you lose,
you cannot shake off the feeling, for me, that’s what being a fan is
The big clubs are sold out every week but attendances are down at other
clubs in the Premier League, except for games against the big clubs.
Are more people following your example?
Liverpool Big clubs will always have big followings, but if people are staying away at the smaller clubs, then it’s more noticeable.
Tottenham When Middlesbrough were doing well in Europe, the fans
weren’t happy with what they were seeing, so they stayed away. That’s
different to what’s happening at Chelsea, where their Champions League
group games are half-empty because of arrogance, as though they’re not
interested in playing the smaller European teams.
The clubs not filling the stadiums tend to be in the north of the
country and the problem is that in London people have more money and
can afford £40 for a ticket. But if Blackburn, Wigan or Middlesbrough
charge that, they can’t afford it. Wigan can’t win either way: they get
slagged off for not having fans but if after years of lower-division
football, they had 25,000 fans there every week, they’d all be called
Where will you be watching your games in five years?
I think it will be legal for clubs to sell every game they play to a TV
company. All the big clubs will have their channel which will show
their own games. And I will keep on watching every game live in the
pub, like I do now. I can’t see myself going back to Upton Park.
Liverpool I think technology is changing the way we watch the
games. You can already get goal reports on your phone and soon you’ll
be able to watch the whole game on your phone. The movement away from
the stadium and into the pubs and at home will continue.
Tottenham I agree, but there’s always an element that you think
you have to go the ground at least once a year so you can say you’ve
been. You can’t have five years of never going to your own ground or
checking out the new hot-dog stand that everyone’s talking about.
Arsenal Yup, I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t go to the ground occasionally, but I’d still rather watch a big game in the pub.
I also think that if England play in the European Championships next
summer, people will watch games at home then. You can control the
atmosphere more and have the people around that you have chosen
West Ham That’s a good point. I always watch
England games at home, particularly during a big tournament. If you go
to the pub during the summer and there’s a World Cup or Euro on, it’s
full of idiots who don’t watch football and they wind you up and say
stupid things. But watching England games at home, you know who’s
shouting in your ear and you decide whose opinions you have to listen
And what would be your ideal football-watching experience?
Liverpool For me, it would be like in the advert: have a nice
flat overlooking the stadium, so I can watch the game live but also
turn around to watch TV for the replays. I can eat food and go to the
loo whenever I want, and straight after the game I’m at home.
I would like the Borussia Dortmund experience: their stadium has a
terrace behind the goal, it’s safe for 25,000 fans to stand there and
they pay £10 to get in. For me, that would be great. It shouldn’t be
too comfortable watching your team.
Tottenham I don’t think the seats need to be first-class airline
standard, but if each seat in the stadium had a little screen where you
can watch any replay from any angle you want, then I would go!
Interviews: December 2007
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