Why it’s acceptable to chop and change your favourite English football team
Your team are your team and you’ll do anything for them. Live a life bound by superstition and secret codes based round notable scorelines and dates – though not so secret as those Rangers fans in Trainspotting 2 discovered when they went in search of their wallets and found bankcards missing and very quickly accounts emptied, with them all to a man having opted for the too-obvious pin number.
On getting married, you might treat your new bride to a honeymoon in the Highlands which – what are the chances? – coincides with your real true loves’ pre-season friendlies against Buckie Thistle and Inverurie Loco Works. Then, on becoming a father, naming your son after favourite players and even entire 1-11 line-ups. How many boys, possibly answering to Joseph, have birth certificates featuring some or indeed all of the Lisbon Lions? Doubtless there will be sons who’ve cursed dads for having taken advantage of an Agnews special offer on Eldorado wine when conducting the naming ceremony – but it could be a whole lot worse, as any kid christened with undue haste after Brattbakk, Biggins or Scheidt would tell you.
Then, for the ultimate expression of devotion, there are those fans who right now are signing up for season tickets but not knowing when they’ll get to see their team play, or even if. This is mental but it’s also magnificent. In some cases it’ll be supporters competing with each other, slapping the dinky leatherette wallets holding the campaign-long memberships on the table to find out who among the uberfans is the uberest. Still, I salute each and every one of you.
But what is the Scottish football nut like when he casts his eye towards the English game? Does he deploy the same unerring, unbendable loyalty to just one club? No he doesn’t. He’s a total tart about it. There are some who, when they advertise themselves on social media, list their English team right next to their Scottish one as if setting it in stone. I just don’t believe it. Why? Because I know of at least one man who outwardly presents an honest persona of strictly-adhered vows while in Scotland but as soon as he – metaphorically – crosses the border, behaves like The Fast Show’s 13th Duke of Wybourne, inset.
Me, with my reputation, left alone at three o’clock in the afternoon in a league of fierce competition, historic names, packed stadia, glamorous players and a smattering high-achieving Scots … are they mad? Shamelessly, I have switched from Liverpool to Leeds United and back again as if the War of the Roses never happened and the Pennines were mere mole-hills. And even now, no older or wiser, I go from behaving like a Wee Free parishioner, believing I would be struck down by lightning if I so much as acknowledged the existence of a Scottish club other than my own, to running off down the road to join a free love cult where the rules are shed with the kaftans and you can bonk – sorry, support – anyone and everyone.
Haven’t we all done this in our football fandom? Been free and easy with our favours, bended with the wind, followed whichever English club were playing best at the time or boasted the most romantic story or featured lots of Scots? I think we all did as the 1960s turned into the 1970s when Bill Shankly came out with his famous quote about every good English team needing three Scots in it – “although any more than three and you’d be asking for trouble”. Nowadays, football is much more tribal and even if Scottish fans are jumping from English team to English team they won’t want to admit it.
You never forget your first love. Well, actually you do. My first love were Manchester United, but how do you get back involved with a global corporation who’ve lost some of their soul, blown lots of their money and are treated as a bucket-list stopover for lazy superstars? It was Man U for me because of Denis Law for patenting the overhead kick. My first replica strip was utilitarian red with a white collar which was handy because when Peter Cormack, inventor of the spring-heeled leap for a back-post header, left Hibs for Nottingham Forest I became interested in them.
But I wanted the sleeves to be white when Arsenal with their tartan triumvirate (George Graham, Bob Wilson, Eddie Kelly) won the double. I supported whoever Brian Clough was managing so returned to Forest later, pretending I’d never been away. Then after Leeds’ domination, followed by Liverpool’s and then Man U’s under Fergie, all of whom I’d enthusiastically backed, there came Blackburn Rovers’ gatecrashing of the elite. Blessed relief! But Rovers were a one-season-stand for me, the same with Leicester City. Chelsea? Never got into them, not even when they had Charlie Cooke. Unlovely stadium, unlovely skinhead fans, unlovely nouveau riche fans, unlovely John Terry. And there was Frank Lampard the other night calling Jurgen Klopp arrogant. Still unlovely.
Liverpool under Klopp have been stirring and swaggering and as irresistible as a swaying Kop singing She Loves You and whenever their brilliant German coach flashes his cartoon gnashers I think to myself that at last I might be settling down and making my support of the Reds from afar official.
Which is stupid given my past history of infidelity and belief that in the great swingers’ party of English football, you can pick up whichever set of keys you like, just as long as they’re attached to an official clubshop fob. For look who’ll be coming over the inconsequential hillside to revive a classic Anfield clash next season … Leeds United. Like an old girlfriend who’s been away “finding herself”, I’ve been pining for their return. Distance has only been lending enchantment. This love has never dimmed.
Me and English teams is like Boris Johnson and children: I’m reluctant to reveal how many I’ve got. But having more than one on the go, or trading them for sexier models, is harmless. And it’s a lot more fun than supporting just the one Scottish team. That’s stressful!
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