SECOND teams. The idea of supporting a second team has come up a few times for me lately and it’s interesting that many fans screw up their face at the very idea, adopting an expression akin to one they’d use if forced to wear a stranger’s underwear (I imagine…).
“How can you have a second team?”
“Why would you go and watch them?”
It’s one of those bizarre unwritten rules of football fandom — billed almost as sporting adultery — that seems to be accepted and never questioned. You’re not allowed to have a second football team. Not a serious one. This isn’t swapping allegiance we’re talking here — it’s additional allegiance. Yet in the wrong company it might still get you a smack in the chops.
While on holiday on the west coast of Ireland last month, I gegged into a conversation centred around which team a man in a pub with a southern accent supported. He was a QPR fan, he said, and one who — much to my quiet delight — hated Liverpool because the Reds pipped his beloved team to the title on the last day of the season in 1976. Sorry about that, mate.
With the QPR association in mind, a Nottingham Forest-supporting drinking partner of this bloke was gleefully questioning why this man seemingly also supported Brighton & Hove Albion. His grin suggested he was blowing him up in front of the lads. Breaking his cover. Doing the reveal. This supposedly die-hard Hoops fan, said the mate, had been spotted in the boozer the night before cheering on the Seagulls in a televised Friday night game.
It was true. And now here he was revealing that not only had he clapped the telly, he’d been a regular at the Goldstone Ground back in the day.
[eyes widen] “So you support TWO clubs?”
“What the f….?” [shakes head]
We’re supposed to do shock here, aren’t we? But the QPR/Albion fan’s explanation, which frankly was more interesting than watching Manchester United’s boring Premier League opener against Tottenham on the pub telly, seemed fair enough to be honest.
His old fella supported QPR. He used to go to watch the games with his dad. Then they moved due to his father’s job. With his dad tied up with work, QPR was too far for him to go alone or with his young mates. So he went to Brighton because it was on the doorstep. He liked it, made some match-going mates and ended up developing a love for the club. But he still wants QPR to win because of the earlier bond; the memories with his dad. And he still hates Liverpool because of 1976.
Based on numerous conversations I’ve had down the years, I can guarantee some would sneer at all that. But what’s so wrong? Is it the ‘real fan’ thing? You can’t be a ‘real fan’ if you support two clubs? Has this bloke failed ‘the test’, whatever that is, by not getting to Loftus Road on his own steam somehow? Riding there on his BMX, perhaps. Thumbing a lift?
Speaking to him (I couldn’t resist chipping in eventually), it was clear he was very much a ‘real fan’. A real fan of football. He loved the game and knew all about it — Premier League, Championship, international football, historical, current…he swung from one topic to the other with the ease of a drunk searching for a 10 to two conquest on the dancefloor. No thinking time, it was automatic.
He’d put in some groundwork, this bloke. And this wasn’t just with the aid of a Sky remote, either. He’d been to grounds up and down the leagues all over the country. He talked about stands and pitches and roads and pubs. Things you’d only know by actually going to the grounds. Things you’d only care about if football was in your blood.
And if you’re a fan, why not? As you may have guessed, this gentleman was of a certain vintage. But despite having a few decades on me, I could empathise. Growing up, my next door neighbour, Paddy, went to Goodison one week and Anfield the next. He had no real affinity to either club — he just liked footie.
I’m not a Paddy, I’ve always been a Red, going to as many games as I feasibly could since I first set foot inside Anfield in 1990. But when aways weren’t an option, I used to follow Knowsley United, a decent non-league side that played a stone’s throw from my house. I even watched them at Goodison Park in an FA Cup tie once (they were well beaten by Carlisle United, sadly).
I also used to go regularly to watch Tranmere Rovers on a Friday night in the 1990s. They had a good side back then — John Aldridge, Pat Nevin, Gary Stevens, Johnny Morrissey, Ian Muir…all playing in front of five-figure crowds at Prenton Park and three times coming close to promotion to the top flight.
I later even went to Wembley to watch them in the League Cup final, albeit then under the guise of ‘working’, only for Leicester City and Matt Elliot to spoil the dream of ‘The Deadly Submarine’.
All this behaviour often drew many a frown and a crossed word from some I encountered but frankly I wasn’t arsed. I liked going to the footie. The occasion of it. The atmosphere. The sights and the sounds. It’s why I watched Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday when I was at university in the Steel City and why I drove to Selby Town to watch a friendly while briefly working in north Yorkshire. I still take the kids to Marine when I can for the same reason and last season I helped to persuade a mate to watch Falkirk while visiting Edinburgh (Hearts and Hibs weren’t playing that day).
Now it might just be perception, I don’t have any figures to hand, but there seems to be less of all this now. It feels like more wave away the teams lower down the food chain. Influenced by the proliferation of matches on the box and clever marketing, second teams tend to be Real Madrid or Barcelona. A Bundesliga team or Real Ovideo or FC St Pauli. Away from the Spanish giants, names, pre-Sky and pre-internet, that would mean little to nothing.
It must be disheartening for those in League One, League Two and in non league, who work hard to keep clubs alive and viable but media consumption and exposure to the game is probably the key.
When I try to trace back my affinity to other clubs beyond the Reds, I put much of it down to religiously reading The Football Echo and the Liverpool Echo’s sport pages in the case of Tranmere Rovers and proximity in the case of Knowsley United.
Liverpool were always my first love, but I enjoyed reading of the exploits of Eric Nixon, Jim Steel and Johnny King. It was amazing to me as a young football fan that my dad had gone to school with Ray Mathias, a real-life player, coach and manager.
I remember when Tranmere avoided dropping out of the league with a last-day win against Exeter then later when it felt like they were playing at Wembley every five minutes.
It might sound quaint now, but less was more in terms of learning about the clubs on my doorstep. Without the internet as a tap to stream endless Liverpool into my life, I read about the other teams Merseyside had to offer — Tranmere, the non league teams, and even the amateur reports.
Time was, I could probably name you Tranmere’s squad and the manager of every non-league team locally. So when a non-league team, Kirkby Town — renamed Knowsley United — was parachuted into a disused rugby club ground – Huyton RLFC – I was always going to see what was happening. I was glad I did. Knowsley had a good side — Joey Barton senior, Dave Siddell, Jimmy Bell. They played in red and were rising up the pyramid faster than Wimbledon at one point before the plug was pulled on the ground. It was hard not to get sucked in.
In the same circumstance, would kids now do the same? Would I have done the same? With the options of video clips galore, live games every night on the telly from the world over and social media, perhaps not. Packaged football reports and results are less likely to fall into the lap of a potential fan. The Football Echo has long gone. A generation of fans don’t go near newspapers.
Maybe then we should do more to get kids into going to actual football, whatever the level. Let them step out of the razzmatazz and generated drama of top-flight football on TV and the internet and instead enjoy the whack of a well-struck ball close up minus the mutterings of shouty stats regurgitators. Let them experience pace, strength, finishing, heading and tackling in front of their own eyes rather than those words simply being categories on Football Manager.
Maybe we should forget the “banter” and the “rules”, and say to anyone who will listen that it’s alright to watch another team now and again. With Premier League ticket prices another barrier, it could be the only way some experience the sport live.
Support a second club. It’s allowed.
PS: After this Saturday’s game away to Welling, Tranmere Rovers play Chester at home (September 12) and Southport away (September 15).
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo