My footballing spirit having been honed by experiences of lower league football, the realms in which an aversion to the top-tier football is subconsciously bred into you, and anyone wearing a Premier League shirt at the game looked upon with disdain, I intend to discuss whether the same rule should apply to the World Cup or international competition.
Spotting a Manchester United, Chelsea or Liverpool shirt in the stadium on the lower-league circuit is something that repulses me a little. Even when I see young kids wearing the colours of a big team I question why they don’t possess a Rochdale one.
A possible explanation is that they aren’t regular fans, thus don’t own a shirt, and perhaps feel compelled to wear any kind of football shirt so as to fit in. Should I be grateful that they are at least sampling their local football team, bringing in desperately needed money, and maybe being molded into a future supporter? It’s something of a conundrum, but every time I see it, I’d rather they put on a checked shirt or cover themselves with a hoody.
In the darkness of Leagues 1 and 2, we believe that the stadium belongs to us loyal supporters, and being reminded of the level we’re at by unknowing “part-timers” kinda just makes us angry.
Yet can we apply the same principal to the World Cup? We so often refer to it as a sea of colours, a coming together of people from all over the world, a festival of football where the centre piece is the game itself. And I admit that I enjoyed shirt-spotting, seeing an array of football shirts from all over the globe, and trying to fathom out what club shirts were being paraded about.
On the street, on the beach, between matches, in public places, of course you can wear whatever shirt you want. After all, everybody has the right to be neutral.
Focusing on the matches themselves, Team A vs Team B, you can’t expect everyone to opt for one team or the other. I myself profess to enjoy jogo bonito and talk of how I like beautiful football to prosper and the most deserving team to win. I was neutral on several occasions.
Moving on, let’s talk about where we’re watching the game. At FIFA Fan Fest, a free-for-all area for fans of any team, or any old bar in Copacabana, seeing a stray Netherlands shirt jumping for joy at a Neymar strike at a Brazil game, or clusters of uniformed German supporters at Italy vs England siding one way or the other doesn’t particularly bother me. In fact it reinforces that community aspect of the World Cup, where, I repeat, football wins out.
In the stadium, however, there surges a different phenomenon. At a World Cup in Brazil, the majority of supporters, 80% according to FIFA, were always going to be Brazilian. That’s fine. You get several games where the home nation is in the majority even when it’s not playing. And they have just as much right as the fans of the two teams on the pitch to be there. Their presence is almost that of a third team.
Pausing briefly, to contrast with the original point made about Premier League supporters invading lower league stadiums, the reality is that you’re never going to see the few people with Liverpool shirts singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at Cheltenham vs Torquay. They never really come into the equation. They’re just there.
At the World Cup it’s different. In Brazil I felt that at times they tried to take centre stage and steal the limelight away from the two teams battling it out.
Discarding games like Iran vs Nigeria, or Croatia vs Cameroon, where there is a low traveling contingent, I accept that the Brazilians present in the stadiums helped to generate an atmosphere in a game which needs their noise. But I still ask that they give their voice to the teams on show, even if it’s just shouting the team’s name in Portuguese or applauding attacks and nice passages of play from one, or perhaps both teams. This paragraph as I write it seems to be a poor argument if I’m honest, because I find the logic I am about to apply to other types of matches difficult to attach to clashes above-mentioned.
I’ll get to the point and talk about the game which provoked this blog. Colombia vs Uruguay at the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro. A second-round match between South American rivals which promised to be entertaining despite the absence of Luis Suarez, Colombia in particular having won over new fans with their flamboyant attacking style.
I wanted the spectacle to belong to them. Currently living in Colombia, I naturally donned a yellow shirt with Falcão written on the back (not ideal, I admit) and vociferously backed Colombia throughout, even singing the national anthem which I’d learned for the game, and celebrating jubilantly with Colombians as James fired in two goals. I was supporting one of the teams on the pitch, and noted that French, English and some Brazilians around me were doing the same.
Being a South American neighbour, Colombians traveled in their hordes and were well-represented in the stadiums for all of their matches. At this game, I’d say they might have just outnumbered the Brazilian contingent, and one would be forgiven for thinking the game was taking place in Bogota or Barranquilla such were the noise levels. The Colombians were in command of the stadium, leading the orchestra and feeling at home.
However, what irked me was that the Brazilians suddenly didn’t want to allow the Colombians to revel in their first trip to the quarter-finals. I know that Brazil were lying in wait for Colombia in the next round, but I just hoped they’d save their banter for after the final whistle. It wasn’t that way. Chants of pentacampeão, o campeão voltou, and the sou brasileiro song effectively drowned out the Colombian party.
This wasn’t the only occasion on which such songs deflected attention from the teams playing, which for me seems a little selfish.
So, summarising, I wrote this piece based on how I felt after the Colombia vs Uruguay game, and was made to wonder how much of a right the third party fan has to take centre stage. I don’t deny the Brazilians the right to attend matches, to sport their yellow shirts and make a bit of noise, but I just felt that players, staff and fans of those teams on the pitch deserved a little more respect.