On the penultimate day of the Premier League season I sat down on the sofa, drink in one hand and feet up ready to watch my Chelsea team take on Newcastle United in a pointless, nothing to play for match at Stamford Bridge. The mood in the stadium seemed a little subdued, and the match proved a perfect opportunity for Chelsea to model their new home shirt for the next season. This game never had the makings of being a thriller, effort levels were low, bodies were drained from the long disapointing season and Newcastle came away with a deserving point.
After the game I studied a few match reports as well as comments on forums from Chelsea fans disapointed with the performance and decided to air a few of my concerns and views in a sensible fashion about the following season, something I feel I am entitled to do through following my team since the earliest of memories and spending a sizeable amount of money each year on attending home and away matches. However some of the responses I (as well as others) were given were quite rude and unreasonable and one even questioned my loyalty to the club questioning whether I was a 'real fan' due to not attending the match. This led me to think and made me pose the question what constitutes a 'real fan'?
I don't feel like I am in any position to answer this question emphatically, nor do I think anyone else can, but what I can do and what I can appreciate is the commitment and sacrifice some fans make for their club, and it is a far cry from some fans who are in it for the glory, have divided loyalties and switch between teams at the off chance of being touched by the hand of success. Being a Chelsea fan from the age of 4 I can appriciate the amount that supporting such a team costs and how it takes over your life in a religious sense more than anything. Having your heart broken by last minute Iniesta strikes, Champions League final penalty misses, derby losses or even title winning successes are enough to make any man cry but what happens after these season defining moments, in my opinion, makes a fan. Personally, the feeling I have after every Chelsea match never differs, it is not affected by the result, the performance or the views of others, it is simply the pride I have for my team. This pride however isn't a measurable trait, which makes it understandably hard for us to understand the loyalty others have towards their clubs.
Having seen Chelsea experience success after success in recent years it has made me feel rather defensive towards others whenever I am asked that million pound question 'why do you support your team'. In response to this question many feel the need to answer with technical reasoning relating, for example, to their great grandfathers neice who went on holiday to Manchester once... (hence them supporting Man United) or a relationship with an ex player who graced the field 25 years prior. All that I know is that I am the only one who is aware of the loyalties I have towards my club and the affect it has on my life, and neither I or nobody else should feel the need to justify the decision to support their team.
Real fans aren't the thugs of the football club, they aren't the people that hurl abuse at the opposing fans with racial slurs and chants relating to disasters relating to the clubs, nor are they the ones who try and spread their beliefs on others and do not accept anything but the views they hold about their team. In my opinion a 'real fan' constitutes fans like me, the ones who will go to as many matches as possible and stay positive in adversity. Ones who show commitment to their team and see their club as part as their identity, and ones who live and breath their club and are always in the know regarding club goings on. See it in comparison with the love you have for your partner, you love them but you shouldn't feel the need to tell others why and how much, make others love them as well or disrespect your friends partners to make yours feel superior. You should be content in knowing yourself the love you have for them and why you love them... the same with your football club.
Being a football fan can be considered as being part of a tribe, it being your religion, it being your love... but there is a fine line between this and extremism, something that isn't a desirable trait of a fan. Win or lose, stick with your club and if your loyalties are ever questioned, you know within yourself how you feel.