How do we choose who to support?

13th April 2014

One of the questions about football fans which has always fascinated me, is why people pick certain teams to support.
There are the usual obvious answers connected to geography, parental choice and success. 
For some reason, when I was growing up, I got more interested in international football than club football so I didn't really have a club affiliation when I was very young.
The first matches I remember watching on TV were from the 1974 World Cup when I was seven, and then Wales qualifying for the quarter finals of the 1976 European Championships.
So the first real connection I had with Welsh club football was through the international team . . . people like Arfon Griffiths at Wrexham along with Peter Sayer at Cardiff City.
So, I'm ashamed to say that my early Welsh club allegiances would have swayed towards the Robins and the Bluebirds.
But then, one fateful day in 1978, I was invited by my sister's boyfriend to a Swans game.
It was a routine1-0 win against Bournemouth in the old Fourth Division in front of a modest Vetch Field crowd. But I was hooked for life.
My story is not an unusual one. Millions of football fans are inspired by their first visit to a football ground.
I remember being on holiday in Norfolk as a young child and driving past an empty Carrow Road. Through one of the open corners of the ground I could see row upon row of pristine green and yellow seats.
Even having caught such a fleeting glimpse of an empty stadium I was very impressed, especially as they were a First Division club and I had seen them on Match of the Day. 
I wonder if I would have grown up as a South Wales-based Norwich City fan had that holiday included a visit to watch the Canaries actually play?
Would a trip to a sparsely populated and dilapidated Vetch to see a Fourth Division match have impressed me more than a visit to a First Division ground to see Norwich playing the likes of Arsenal or Liverpool? 
Perhaps I would have fallen for their opponents? Imagine if they had been playing Newcastle! Norfolk or Tyneside from South Wales every other Saturday - I can't imagine I would have seen them play live very often as a 10-year-old.
Perhaps, as well as falling for the club I first saw live, I was also swayed by the other factor that draws people towards a team - they were my local club.
Although, I have to admit, before I went to see them for the first time, I had hardly ever heard of the Swans, who were then languishing in the bottom division. So, it wasn't as if I had any great geographical loyalty to them or had my head turned by their success. 
And I wasn't following in my dad's footsteps as many fans do. Although he liked football, he wasn't a fan of any team and would even tease me about supporting the lowly Swans when I first started watching them.
Mind you, he always somehow seemed to know the score and the scorers by the time I got home from the game, even in the days long before the internet, Final Score and the like, so there may have been some hidden affection there.
But there's no doubt that first Vetch Field visit sealed the deal for me. Whether it was the character of the old ground, the dazzling all white kit, the watery but delicious vegetable soup, the fact that they won on my first visit, or whatever (it certainly wasn't the North Bank toilets). From that day onwards I was now a Swans fan - whether I liked it or not! Something inside me had clicked.
Now friends of mine at this time were mostly supporting the bigger, more successful clubs like Liverpool, or Leeds United, who seemed to have a massive following locally.
One of my pals appeared to change his clubs almost monthly depending on a dizzying array of reasons based on factors such as league position, cup wins, kit design, and even favourite players' haircuts. I remember he supported West Ham for a while because he liked Frank McAvennie's highlights - and I don't mean the ones on Match of the Day!
And for the three of four weeks he seemed to be supporting this assortment of clubs they had his full and undying devotion . . . until the next one came along.
His attic must have been full of discarded Celtic scarves, Tottenham Hotspur kit bags, West Ham shirts etc as he moved seamlessly from supporting one club to another. 
My mother, on the other hand is a one club woman, based on the only football match she has ever seen live.
If asked, she professes to support Chelsea. This is based on the fact she went to Stamford Bridge once back in the 1950s, when the Blues took on Bolton Wanderers. What poor old Bolton did to upset her I'm not sure.
My wife also says she supports Chelsea. This is down to the fact her favourite rock star Bryan Adams supports the club. Enough said.
But genuine fanatical lifelong allegiances can also be built from such tenuous initial interests in a club. You certainly don't have to have been born in the shadow of the floodlights to love a football club.
I read recently about a football fan who travels 3,500 miles from Boston in the USA to watch Barcelona. The 26-year-old, who grew up in Birkenhead, has been a diehard Barca fan since he was 13 and has seen 97 games in 10 years. He has completely immersed himself in the culture of the club and the city. He's even learned the Catalan language.
I'm sure it's more attractive in all sorts of ways  to travel all that distance to support Barca, than say it would be to watch say Barnsley, but you have to admire his dedication.
The truth is the vast majority of people have no choice who they support, they just do, and it's more rare for someone to change their football team than it is to change their job, home or even their spouse.
Unless of course you were a Frank McAvennie-obsessed former Celtic and Tottenham Hotspur fan in the mid-Eighties!
Never mind, he saw the light in the end, and he's now a dedicated Swans fan. You may even spot him this afternoon - I think he still has the highlights!