Tuesday, May 27, 2008

‘Our’ Team?

Manchester United won the Champions League for the 3rd time last week. Half a dozen of my friends have changed their gtalk status messages to "We are the Champions" or something similar. When the last season of English Premier League was in progress, I couldn't drop in on my friends' house without getting embroiled in heated debates about which team was the best. One particular house had 2 ManU[1] fans and 2 Chelsea fans. I'd add fuel to the fire by claiming to be an Arsenal fan (I'm not, actually - but I love a good argument once in a while). Once, while staying in a hotel in Hyderabad, another ManU fan started hollering in his room at 2 am when his team lost. This woke up the entire hotel staff and brought them scrambling to his room.

It was surprising how people could feel such loyalty towards a football team in Manchester or Barcelona (of all the places in the world)- cities which they've never seen in their lives and whose people they have no connection with. With the advent of the IPL, I have found that I have started sharing many of the sentiments that possessed these guys while the EPL season was on (but with an intensity many orders of magnitude lesser). At the beginning of the IPL, I decided to put my weight behind the Chennai Super Kings while my other three flatmates decided to support three different teams - Kolkata Knight Riders, Mumbai Indians and Kings XI Punjab.

So why support any team at all? I think that supporting a team is a bit like betting - you choose to 'invest' a lot of emotions while supporting your team in the hope that you will get good returns. The exhilaration that you feel when your team wins cannot be compared to the mere pleasure of watching a good game that dispassionate observer of the game would get. The flipside is that you'll feel equally (if not more) downcast if your team were to lose. The more emotion you put in, the more you get back. Supporting a team gives you a 'kick' out of the game that neutral observers will not get. This includes being able to tell your friend "my team kicked your team's ass" and sink him deeper into misery.

A lot of people don't have any real choice when it comes to supporting teams - people who have lived in Kolkata all their life and/or love the city and the game will not think twice before enrolling in the KKR Fan Club. This is the same reason why I support India in international matches. But others like me - the floaters, who don't have obvious IPL teams to support - support teams out of choice based on different reasons.

The 'betting factor' explains the choice of teams for a lot of the floaters. There is a natural tendency to go for the strongest horse in the race. Teams like ManU, Chelsea and Real Madrid are the strongest teams in their league and are more likely to privide good return on (emotional) investment. Among my two dozen EPL-follower friends I can't find even one who supports a Fulham or a Newcastle Utd. Like a friend who was born and brought up in London remarked, "I could support Fulham[2], but then I'd be living in perpetual misery". When I think about my choice of IPL team objectively, I have to admit that the biggest reason for supporting Chennai was that I thought it would be the strongest team (who doesn't like to end up on the winning side?). If I was really smart and had the ability to predict that Rajasthan Royals would emerge as the team to beat, I'd have supported them. To me, it doesn't make much difference - the RR team is as alien to me as the CSK.

Another factor in the choice of teams is cultural affinity. In the absence of teams from their cities and towns, many people would have chosen to side with teams from cities which they felt most affinity for. This certainly was one of my considerations in choosing to support CSK - I could argue that I've been living in Chennai for nearly 2 years and being a south Indian, Chennai is 'my' metro. So till they have a 'Trivandrum Kalip Payyans' team in the IPL, I'll be supporting CSK – provided, of course, that CSK field the strongest team in the competition.

For the EPL fans in India, though, I don't think there is much cultural affinity involved. Another factor comes into play here – their favourite players. Many of these players support ManU because a couple of their favourite players like Rooney and C. Ronaldo play for them. I know I liked Arsenal mainly because of the presence of Thierry Henry in their lineup and stopped following the team after he left for Barcelona. Similarly, many of the people I know support Mumbai Indians just because of the presence of Sachin Tendulkar and a lot of people from Jharkhand would be supporting CSK just because of the presence of Dhoni in the Chennai team.

The IPL is a hit. I was sceptical about whether IPL would be able to create city-based loyalties. The creation of the IPL teams was so artificial and inorganic that I was doubtful whether this would happen, especially with so few of the local players making it to the playing XI. But now I'm convinced that no matter how artificial the teams are, people just want to support some team or the other to be able to enjoy the game better. Since there is no team from Trivandrum, I support the Super Kings; since there isn't much football worth mentioning happening in India, all the football fans will root for Manchester United and Real Madrid and villages throughout north Kerala will erupt in a war-like frenzy when Germany plays Portugal in Euro-'08.

[1] A close friend and Manchester United devotee tells me that I'm supposed to write 'Man Utd' and say 'Man United' (not 'ManU' and 'Man You' respectively as many non-believers tend to) while abbreviating the club's name. But what the heck - remember I'm a Gunners fan ;)

[2] Fulham is one of the many football clubs based in London that he could support, the other prominent Premiership teams being Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham Utd. Ironically, many of his friends from London are supporters of Manchester United!


g-man said...

wow...i didn't start supporting them because other people were or because they were the top. i had no idea if they were at the top, but i switched on star sports and saw a match, back in 1996. i have supported manchester united since that day. you're right, its basically putting all your emotions out for the team, but its amazing if at the end we get the silverware. if we don't, we'll come back next season :)

united for ever!

RONY said...

My friends in Mumbai and Blore had a tough time during IPL when CSK was on a winning streak :-) After that i 'stopped' watching.

About EPL, we have a tough time with Unni - and u know he is 'normally eccentric'. I support Liverpool (you will never walk alone!). But our house is anti ManU (or 'anti Unni' to be precise) though i like Rooney.

Karthik said...

There was a farewall match for Oliver Kahn (Bayern Munich vs Mohan Bagan). Bayern won 3-0.

Did Kunz watch it???


mathew said...

Living abroad I have noticed factors that affect club loyalty:-

1) major factor is place of birth..i.e. if you are from Bremen you spport Bremen irrespective of their perfomance

2)loyalty based on win capability factor is quite low here.

3)Polticial ideology..seriously..some clubs are left leaning and they are popular based on that. for.e.g. St Pauli..third division clubs here but extrememly popular for being left leaning and being anti-sexist(hence popular with girls)

4)Kult following
few clubs thrive on that!!

talking of indian fans it is entirely different ballgame. ;-P

Philip said...

g-man: You saw a wonderful game of football and fell in love with the team playing it. Subconsciously, you went for a team with the ability to win the silverware. I'm fairly sure that you wouldn't have stayed on with MUFC if their game had deteriorated over the years.

ro(o)ny: You always liked Rooney :)
I'm sure you guys haven't given Unni enough freedom to express himself after the ManUtd win.

karthik: lol
Did Dada play in that match? If not Kunz wouldn't have watched it, but I'll check with him anyway :D

mathew: Hmm...I didn't know about political beliefs affecting club loyalty although I'd heard of religious beliefs affecting it (especially in Ireland where they have one team for the Protestants and another for the Catholics or something like that)

g-man said...

they didn't win that game dude :) i just loved the way they played though. yea, i stuck with united through their rough patch as well

Anonymous said...

worldwide sports is bigger business than the film industry put together.

i feel sorry for the so called passionate fans who are nothing more than victims of marketing. its sorry to see people fight endless on whos better man u or arsenal when almost all of them wont be able to find Manchester in the UK map.

its a sad desperate attempt to be cool. wear those 100 bucks ronaldo tshirts you get on the road.

i'd say save your emotions for the people around you not for some sports whore who can be traded from one team to the other!

Emaan said...

not that iknow much of football, my dad's big freak..
will tell him about ur blog.. he did watch the match, and will surely have something to say.
nice post though

The Transmitter said...

Excellent post. You just sampled my thoughts and put it in a very logical way!! Kudos.
Talking about loyalties it's really interesting what and why we support at various levels. Barring obvious ones like Team India, some of the teams you support even you don't know why. In IPL I'm KKR supporter (bong after all). In EPL it's Chelsea (dunno why!!) and in La Liga it's Barca (Messi).
And talking about Germany-Portugal in Euro'08, you should visit Kolkata in World Cup season... The city gets divided between Brazil and Argentina fans... And I'm for Argentina. :)

Philip said...

anon: Not only do I not agree with you, I also feel sorry for you.

emaan: Thank you :)

Karthik said...

@philip: religion based support is the very reason you have two teams for manchester - man united and man city!

one is catholic and the other is protestant

silverine said...

I have to agree with Anon! :) I am in marketing and I know where a sport mans loyalty ultimately lies.

"Our Team" is a very apt title for this post!! I was planning on writing a post on the loyalties for European Clubs that seem to be the fashion trend among guys these days! Then realized that I could never do justice to such a post since I do not know much about football! But you have summed it up quite well here.

Philip said...

the transmitter: Thank you :)
I've heard about the football crazy Kolkatans...not been fortunate enough to experience the thrill, though.

karthik: Thanks for the info. Didn't know that.

1) A footballer is a professional who plays for his employer (the club). His loyalty to his club is as high or as low as the loyalty we show to the companies we work for.

2) A player's loyalty has nothing to do with why we enjoy the game. I didn't enjoy watching Arsenal because Henry played for them for nearly a decade...I enjoyed it because of the way he played during those years which brought joy to millions.

3) A person's support for a European football club is only as fashionable as your liking for Hollywood beefcakes and many other people's liking for American or British music bands and Hollywood movies.

4) A majority of the people cheer for teams mostly out of their love (or at least a liking) for the game. However, I don't think I'll be able to explain 'love for the game' to people like anon.

Mathew (NvK) said...

I thought you would have spent a little more time bashing the people supporting all these European clubs. I really got tired of the "Glory, glory, ManU" status messages. The guys who support these teams are the same wannabes with their rock t-shirts. One guy's message was about how he was reliving the golden days of Cantona's ManU stint, except he would have been old enough to watch Cartoon Network at that time.

On an unrelated note, I don't think there can be a Thiruvanthooram Kalip Payyans, seeing as we don't have a proper cricket stadium. Kochi Kochunnikals, anyone? Too bad all the Mallu actresses have moved on to the Tamil/Telugu industry. Who do we get a as brand ambassador?

Philip said...

mathew(NvK): I agree that a lot of guys take their enthusiasm overboard. Those are the guys who put such insane stuff on their status messages - and they are too 'fundamentalist' for my tastes.

But wannabes are everywhere - people who sport ubuntu stickers on their laptops when they don't know what a motherboard is, and talk about Fellini and Bergman without having seen a single movie by them.

scorpiogenius said...

Good clinical observations dude..

I dont know much about IPL but many factors ride a teams followers in THE premier league. Man U have cult like following because of the historically rich sporting culture the team possess. Even the name inculcates a charming aura in any sports lover's mind. Even if Rooney or Ron leave Man U for Chelsea or Real Madrid, Man U loyals (including me) will remain Man U loyals.

If not someone from India must play for another team in Premier League:), which is next to impossible.