Last evening, myself and a friend were discussing the current Premier League title race. The two of us have both independently formed the view that Leicester City (amazingly) could now win the Premier League title. We came to this conclusion by a process of elimination of who can stop them? Liverpool or Chelsea? Certainly not. Man United Probably not. Arsenal or Tottenham can’t be trusted, with the former traditionally capitulating at this point in the season, while the latter having no recent experience of even challenging for the title. So that leaves just Manchester City, who enter a period of huge uncertainty now that Manuel Pellegrini is set to leave this summer.
We joked that some children growing up around Ireland could now end up becoming Leicester City fans on the back of one excellent season. This brought us to the more philosophical conversation as how one becomes a supporter of a particular club in the first place.
In the Irish context, this is very interesting as the vast majority of football fans with an interest in the English Premier League have no natural affiliation to any club. Therefore, it’s simply a matter of choice.
I have been a Liverpool supporter for as long as I can remember. In fact, I have no memory of my conscious decision to become a Reds supporter. I assume I picked Liverpool because of their success in the mid-1980s. Many people of my age in Ireland would have made an identical choice. In many ways this is what makes football so wonderful. As other things I believed in as a child fade or are proven wrong, football is my one constant.
A nice break occurs at the start of the Premier League in 1992. Two years earlier Manchester United won the FA Cup. While many people in Ireland born between 1970 and 1985 support Liverpool, less are probably fans of the Merseyside club if born post-1985. Many of these wear a different ‘red jersey’ with people aged between 15 and 30 more likely to be Manchester United fans. In recent years, from talking to friends that work in underage soccer and schools, a growing number of Chelsea and Manchester City fans are emerging. These are added to the mix of the always popular Arsenal and Tottenham.
This is not a new phenomenon. I recall attending primary school with a Blackburn supporter (won the EPL in 1995) Newcastle fan (almost won the league in the late 1990s) and even a Norwich City fan (played in the UEFA Cup 1993, beating the mighty Bayern Munich). I played street-league soccer in the late 1980s at home both with and against West Ham, Everton, Stoke City, Leeds United fans, and even a Sheffield Wednesday fan.
I wonder is this still the case today? The number of clubs kids now support seems to be shrinking. The concentration ratio appears to have shot up. This could be a consequence of the emerging 'big clubs' and the dominance of the likes of Man Utd, Chelsea, Aresenal, etc. That said, Leicester’s amazing run this season may see the emergence of a new Irish supporter, especially those young enough not to be aligned to any club.
As I said, I think they can win the league this year, but potential fans beware. It might be short-run gain but long-run pain. Something a Liverpool fan like me knows all too well!