One of the quirks of living in Ireland is our fascination with following English football teams. Many people that are ardent football supporters and fanatical fans of English football teams will often refer to a team like Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal using words such as "we" "us" and "our". Their identity and relationship with a club from a different country is real and many frequently travel to England to support their team. Often, the same people display no interest in domestic football in Ireland and do not even follow their local team.
While I am not guilty of ignoring the domestic game, I do refer to an English team using words such as "we" and "our". Around 1986 I started to follow Liverpool and have continued to do so ever since. The connection I feel is real and is something that I suspect I will have my entire life.
And I am not alone. As a child of the 1980s and 1990s most people I knew supported an English team. In the 1980s Liverpool were the most popular choice - for obvious reasons. As the 1990s progressed Manchester United fans started to emerge in greater numbers. Again, like Liverpool of the 1980s, success is probably the driving force behind this but I wonder if there is also an element of path dependence?
In 1968 Manchester United won the European Cup. If a 10 year old had started to support the Red Devils in 1968, by the early 1990s they would have been in their mid-30s and possibly have children of their own. Did they "pass" their fandom onto the next generation? I am already guilty of this. Liverpool's success in 2019 and 2020 has made this much easier but I suspect it might have happened anyway.
This makes me wonder what jerseys we are likely to see in Ireland in the years ahead? If the 1980s generation were predominantly Liverpool supporters due to the club's success, we could see many more young Liverpool fans during the 2020s. The 2030s would then see the next generation of Manchester United fans.
And my observations last week support this somewhat. I was at U6 training last weekend. The jerseys on display included Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea (x2), Manchester City and Inter Milan. The first two are easy to explain. Liverpool and Arsenal were big in the 1980s and remain popular. There was no Manchester United jersey. Maybe a lack of recent success is driving this or the age profile of the current fanbase.
Chelsea and Man City are interesting. Growing up I didn't know a single Chelsea supporter and just one Man City fan. I did know fans of Liverpool, Man United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Celtic. I even knew some Newcastle, Blackburn and Norwich City supporters. The clubs that are followed reflect the times were live in.
There are now lots of Chelsea and Man City fans in Ireland. Many are younger supporters of the game, particularly in the case of Man City. If path dependence is working here, Ireland might see a second wave of Man City and Chelsea fans sometime in the 2040s and 2050s. This would mean Liverpool in the 20s, United in the 30s, Chelsea in the 40s and City by the 50s.