Explaining sporting allegiance

[Disclaimer – the sentiments expressed here speak a lot about Football, but could easily apply to any sport…]

Why do supporters of teams across all sports support the teams they do? It’s rarely simply the team in question being a hometown team as people often work or live far from where they grew up. Young kids first taking an interest in a sport may take to following whoever is the most successful side of the time. Family bias may also shape their decisions – my son is a prime example (sorry son!), me having wrapped him in a Spurs scarf the day he was born.

I wanted to write this on my blog, as supporting a team and being a fan (whatever the sport), is about passion…a fervent love of the team, where you feel its ups and downs and follow results and news with avid interest. People can fail to understand why you support your chosen team and criticise you, as it doesn’t fall into their perceptions of where your sporting allegiances ought to lie. That can cause a great deal of frustration…especially if you genuinely struggle with anger management like I do.

As a young lad, my dad was a Bristol City fan. When I was of primary school age, a time when many a UK schoolboys football allegiance is founded in the playground, we lived in South Africa due to my dad’s job. A young white boy growing up in apartheid-era South Africa was all about rugby and cricket, the latter being the first sport I ever truly felt a passion for (not that I was any good at it), and the former a sport I played until my late 40s. My dad spoke often of Bristol City however, and Sunday mornings were spent looking at the English football results in the Sunday papers and recording the league positions on the cardboard league ladders from Shoot Magazine!

I didn’t really take an interest in watching football until the 1981 FA cup final, Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester City. My dad was watching with a keen interest as a former and much-venerated Bristol City player, Gerry Gow, was playing for Manchester City. After the first game was a draw, I watched the replay as well. In contrast to his performance in the original game, where he was substituted, Tottenham Hotspur’s Ricky Villa was quite simply astounding. His dribble into the opposition box past many dumfounded Manchester City players to shoot and score remains my favourite goal of all time, and I was entranced. At that moment in May 1981, ten-year-old Simon became a Tottenham Hotspur fan.

When we came back to the UK in 1982, I went to Bristol City matches with my dad (and when older, on my own or with friends) and followed their fortunes. They were my local and hometown side and friends / my dad were fans. When I moved to London as a student in late 1989 however, my first purchase was a Tottenham Hotspur season ticket. Watching Gascoigne, Lineker et al on a Saturday afternoon from the North Stand (upper) White Hart Lane was wonderful. After the 1990/91 season however, my attendance became very sporadic as I’d returned to Bristol post-university. It wasn’t until the 1996/97 & 1997/98 seasons that I went again in fact, when my wife and I moved to London for work. But Spurs remain my team, and always will be. Fast forward to the present day, and both my son and I are Bristol City season ticket holders. They are our local team, I have ties for family reasons too, but we both remain Spurs fans and go when we can.

Contrast that however, to Rugby. I used to go and watch the Natal Sharks at Kings Park in Durban in South Africa, but heard tales of Bristol from family members. When we returned to the UK, we lived a short 15 min walk up Filton Avenue from the Memorial Stadium, Bristol Rugby’s traditional home. Other young boys spent their pocket money on sweets, computer magazines and such…I spent mine on walking down the road and standing on the terrace behind the goalposts with a bunch of total strangers singing “Briiiiiistol” as loud as I could on a Saturday afternoon, cheering on the team. My mum and older sister used to find that amusing as 12, 13, or 14 year old me wandered off down the road shortly after lunchtime on a Saturday. It was only when I moved schools at 14 and regularly had games myself on a Saturday that I couldn’t do so regularly…but I still went whenever I could. I am proud to say that there has not been a single season since 1982/83 that I have not attended at least 2 or 3 Bristol Rugby matches, even whilst living in London & the South East 1989-92 & 1996-2004.

Bristol (and Gloucestershire Cricket) is a home town team allegiance I’ve stuck with through thick and thin. Through relegation, promotion, moving stadiums (now owned by the same owner as Bristol City FC, the renamed “Bristol Bears” play at Ashton Gate stadium) I have followed them. Whilst I still have a hankering for the Navy & Blue hooped kit from days of old, they are now and always will be my team. A contrast to how I arrived at my football allegiance to be sure, but nonetheless sincere and passionate.

To those that raise an eyebrow and / or call me a “plastic fan” when I tell them I’m a Spurs fan, because they see me attending matches at my local side Bristol City…to people who refer to Bristol Bears rugby as Bristol City RFC simply because they share an owner and a stadium, and choose to support rivals as a result I say this:

“Kiss my fat hairy ass, and go fuck yourself with a cactus”.

Up the Spurs! C’mon Bris!