Monday, 23 August 2010

Football rivalries: not in front of the children!

I'm not from Preston, so I never understood why I must "hate" Blackpool FC . In this house, hating Blackpool is not good for marital / family harmony, as my husband is from Blackpool and Monkey has been to Wembley with him. Nor does my husband "hate" PNE either. It generates a bit of banter, but that's it. We are reunited in a greater dislike of another Lancashire (Burnley) but truly, I don't "hate" them.

Football rivalries are usually logical. They're local - look across the city or down the road, find the nearest team and there you go. Instant hatred. Hence , in Lancashire, there's Burnley and Blackburn "hating" in one corner and Preston and Blackpool in the other, even tho Preston and Blackburn are closest together. There is rivalry but not in an "all-police-leave-cancelled-and-away-supporters-must-arrive-on-coaches" way.

Rivalries also develop through "familiarity breeds contempt"- you don't play your rivals as you're in different divisions so the next local team you play regularly does instead. Hence my dislike of Burnley although Francis Stanley Ternent has a lot to answer for (Look him up if you must; try a recording of his voice .... *winces*).

Some are less easy to fathom. One of my regular readers won't like this, but I could cheerfully never attend a match involving Gillingham ever again. For many years, whenever PNE changed division, Gillingham came with us. Matches involving the teams were turgid affairs and Gillingham were responsible for my two worst football moments. The first was a play-off semi final defeat at Priestfield in 1999 where I shouted myself hoarse in frustration for 90 minutes. The second was the first game of the 2001-2002 season - you know, the one where hope springs eternal. We got thrashed 5-0. I left at 4-0, and I got sunburn for good measure. In the UK, many such rivalries are rooted in the bad days of hooliganism.

In Spain, they have their own word for the passion generated by rivalries. Morbo. It doesn't translate into English well, although Phil Ball in his brilliant book "Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football" tries. The rivalries to beat all rivalries in Spain is between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid; huge rivals as well as two of the biggest teams in the world. The basis of their rivalry goes way beyond football - FC Barcelona is often seen as the flagship of the Catalan people who want independence from Spain, whereas Real is seen to represent the Spanish state and, in Franco's days, the Generalisimo's team. God help anyone that leaves one club for the other. The last one that did, Luis Figo, had half a pig's head (how?) and several mobile phones (why?) thrown at him at the Nou Camp when the teams met for the first time after his transfer.

I guess these rivalries make football interesting for the neutral and important for the passionate fan. But I have a problem with them. It is that these rivalries foster incredible hatred. "Hate" is a word I try not to use these days now that I have small children with pin-sharp selective hearing and an ability to copy more finely honed than Xerox. As an adult, you can use the word to other adults and know it won't get taken the wrong way. As a mother with children learning the ways of the world, hate is too emotive a term. I may not be perfect at it, but I try not to say it. It doesn't stop them using the word from time to time - Monkey, in his mock teenager stroppy moments when tired after school, has been known to shout "I hate you" at me from the back of the car when I have dared to refuse his myriad demands. He gets reminded that you say "I don't like you" - and then I tell him I don't like him much sometimes, but everyone has moments like that.

I'm sure many parents do the same sort of thing. I'm sure parents who are football fans do too. But when it comes to rivalries in football, people often seem to lose their sense of proportion. It seems like children of some fans are raised to "hate" their rivals. They learn to hate someone because of the team they support or the town (or country - let it not be forgotten that many England fans still hate Germany, some of which stems back to a war won 65 years ago) where they were born or reside. It's localised xenophobia, as random as hating someone because of the colour of their skin, the religion they follow or their sexuality, all of which are illegal. Surely, this is no better? But it goes on, all over the world, all the time. We think the days of mindless football violence have gone but only last August, there was mass violence at the first match between West Ham and Millwall for 5 years and a supporter got stabbed. Why is that right? And don't think our kids don't see it. They do. Children can be subjected to bad language and hatred at any game as Julia bemoaned in her post last week. The picture on her post says it all - a small child, making an obscene gesture clearly aimed at rival supporters, dressed in a replica kit.

The FA's Respect campaign aims to address all unacceptable behaviour, on and off the pitch, at all levels of the game and the hatred that these rivalries stir up is part of the football culture that is unpalatable to most (I hope!). It deserves to succeed so our children can enjoy the game that many of us love without encountering unnecessary hatred like this.

Football is, by its very nature, a tribal and passionate game, whether it is played at the local park or at Wembley. Let's keep the passion, lose the hatred and hope our children enjoy healthy rivalries in football that are tolerant and yes, respectful.

(The link to Morbo on Amazon is not an affiliate link; I just think the book is a brilliant read.)


  1. I know, the rivalry can get a bit too serious can't it? I was brought up a Liverpool supporter, my OH is a Man Utd supporter so you can imagine the banter that causes! I have been to Old Trafford to watch a few games though so it's all good :)

  2. I find it incomprehensible that a game can generate such bad feeling. Is it just football? I've been to rugby matches and cricket matches where the rival fans get on great. Those games conjure feelings of passion and tribalism, but rarely if ever does it become frothing-mouthed and bilious, or even violent.

  3. I have to say that in all my years of watching football, I've only ever been scared at football matches twice. Once was at Hillsborough in 1989 for obvious reasons.

    The other was when I was in our local rivals ground. Being a Liverpool supporter, in the 1980's Everton were our big rivals both locally and success related. In the most non descript competition ever (so non descript they couldn't even play the two legged final in the same season as the rest of the games) we were 3-1 up after the Anfield tie. I was in a sparsley populated section of the Everton supporters area for the second leg (Liverpool had sold their allocation). By the time we were 3-1 up again (6-2 on aggregate) the majority of everton fans had called it a day and I let myself have a little smile when we scored again. That is when I got "The Look" and a punch came my way. Lucky for me, another Liverpool fan celebrated even more than I did and took the punch instead of me.

    I did rferee a Primary School game once between two schools that were seperated by a thin strip of grass. I can tell you that the only way to referee those type of games is to ensure that both sets of parents hate you equally. Then you know you've been fair.

  4. Thanks for your comment. I think in my times as a fan attending matches, I've never really felt scared apart from walking away from St Andrew's. I've even walked around Burnley in a PNE top and been fine, but that might be cos I is a girl. :)

  5. That is always nice to hear. In the wrong circles tho, it can generate a strange reaction. I am always careful who I mention to that my husband is from Blackpool and supports them. It has caused (small) problems in the past.

    Thanks for your comment.

  6. Yep, agree with you there (although cricket can get a bit political at times.... India vs Pakistan might be fun). I don't know why it is but it seems to happen everywhere. Italy has a big problem with hooliganism and violence at matches for instance.

    I find it incomprehensible too and prefer to have a basis for not liking something or someone. Like the player that ALWAYS scores goals against us, no matter who he plays for. But still, that's not a hatred thing.

    Thanks for your comment.

  7. Thank you for the links! I'm so sorry 'our' team has given you those memories. You are quite right that football does create such passion. Children should be able to become passionate in their own right & support who they want to. They will always follow the household but it is good when they have oneof their own as well!

  8. No worries Julia, and thanks for your comment.

    Monkey has yet to fully decide on a team. We'd both rather he didn't just choose Man U because they win everything but he's a very competitive child.

  9. veryboredincatalunya25 August 2010 at 12:09

    Rivalry in sport is part and parcel, but you should maybe promote banter rather than hatred. I too have seen far too many really young children making obscene gestures (that they shouldn't know) at rival fans, in my case Derby County.

    Football is definitely worse than any other sport for it though.


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