Fan: (noun) – A person who has a strong interest in or admiration for a particular person or thing.
Supporter: (noun) – A person who is actively interested in and wishes success for a particular sports team.
Supporting a team or being a fan of a team is supposed to be an enjoyable experience, you go through the highs and lows of that team, you experience good times and bad times and as supporters supposed to get something positive out of the experience. Owners come and go, managers change every couple of years, players don’t last long there and move on, but the fans are the constant ones.
What is it that we support? Is it the team? Is it the badge? Is it the match day experience? Is it the location and the identity? Or is it something else?
Quite often people will support their local team, but is that because it is easier, does it just make more sense to go to the ground a few miles from home, or is it pride in where you come from? Most folk will support their team from a young age, and just stick with that team because that’s what most folk do. So choosing which team at an early age can sculpt which way your emotions will go each weekend for a long, long time. Why should we keep going along if it isn’t working for us?
Imagine a scenario that a poorly performing club is doing not great on the pitch, they have expectations of the local people to support the club but aren’t good at motivating floating supporters or wavering fans. Those people need a reason to want to go. They want to know that their support and their money is being appreciated, and that they are getting value for money.
Those supporters who are losing faith in the club and aren’t feeling the same affiliation with the side need to have a pull from the club to encourage them to go. Imagine if you found out that a season ticket to go and watch that side was more expensive than buying one for the league champions up the road. Would you feel motivated to splash your hard earned on the club then?
Supporting a club due to a decision made decades previously is one thing, but the club themselves need to offer you some encouragement to keep going, to keep supporting and to keep you there. This isn’t all about performances on the pitch, it is atmosphere, it is attitude, spirit, customer service, and a passion for looking after those people coming through the turnstiles. If that isn’t there, then I don’t feel the motivation to be part of that.
Imagine another scenario where another poorly performing club is doing not great on the pitch, they have a chairman / owner who is disinterested and is actively trying to get rid of the club. The players that are there are not of the right standard for the league they play in. You support a side because you have some hope that they will be able to compete and challenge in games and have some chance of winning on a fairly frequent basis, but in context of the league itself.
A lot of those supporters who don’t see a quality product on the pitch, don’t feel that likelihood of a win in a lot of games they go to, wonder where the next points are coming from, and can’t see where the changes are likely to come from to get back to winning ways.
I don’t see much change coming from a club who have been in decline for the last four or five years and have done precious little to stop that rot. The responsibility of managing a club comes from the top, and if the interest isn’t there, then supporters are going to re-evaluate their choices.
I have been a supporter of Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and Aston Villa for a long time. They are two clubs that are frequently under performing on the pitch, there is little to get excited about with forthcoming fixtures and seasons – facing the likely relegation prospect each year, and you can only go so long following teams where you don’t feel a sense of optimism and excitement. I no longer live near Aston Villa’s ground so it is not as accessible on a regular basis, but I do not feel the draw to go and watch a game there as that excitement and enjoyment has been whittled down to an interest rather than a passion where it has been in the past. I do still live near Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ ground but do not feel the inclination to go and watch them. A once passionate supporter with a key interest in all goings on has been reduced to having half an eye on results with no expectation of a victory or any sense of anticipation.
Supporting a team is more than just wishing success for them, it is more than just being from an area, it is more than enjoyment of a matchday environment, it is about hope and anticipation, it is about expectation and atmosphere, it is about clubs wanting you to be there to be part of something special and not just income to the club.
Being a fan is more than admiring a team, it is about being part of the wider team, the experience and feeling that the players on the pitch and the backroom staff are doing it for those in the ground too.
A club has a responsibility to its fans and supporters. They have a responsibility to do their very best to maximise the experiences of people who are paying money to them. There are so many different options for people nowadays and if one club isn’t being what the supporter expects, there are other options where those expectations can and will be met. A decision as a child to follow a side is one thing, but when you are repeatedly not benefitting from the experiences you have to question whether that relationship is still the right choice for you. I am not sure that it is for me right now.
Update (7/8/16) to original article written (28/11/15)
Aston Villa were relegated at the end of the 2015/16 Premier League season. They had two different managers since the article was written until the end of the season. The owner has sold the club to a new owner. Aston Villa start 2016/17 in the Championship (English Football League). The new manager has been brought in and is working with the owner to get the fans onside, to bring in experienced hard-working players and to try and build a new start.
This is exciting to see for fans, and what is really good is that the club are trying to work with the fans to write a new chapter for the club as they look to bounce back into the Premier League in the first couple of years.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats replaced their coach after just five games of the 2016 Super League season. The departing coach blamed cost cutting at the club and he felt he didn’t want to be part of the club any more. The new coach that was brought in changed something in the coaching and playing side of things, as they went on to have their best league season for a long time. They finished in 8th place out of 12 and until injuries hit the squad had a fantastic season and even reached the Semi Finals of the Challenge Cup too.
When I went to a game earlier this year, there were still problems off the pitch though. Stewards couldn’t point me to the right area where our seats were, and were thoroughly unhelpful to us. Getting things right on the pitch is one thing, but it is not the only thing. Treating your customers well and providing good customer service and stewardship is an important factor too. Fans realise that their team won’t win every game, but they should expect to be treated well by staff and stewards at the ground on matchdays.