International fandom: There's something missing

Shinji Kagawa Fans

In case you hadn't heard, two Premier League managers resigned on 8th May.

As I was bombarded with a salvo of 'insightful' interviews of Manchester United fans through every possible medium, one particular interview caught my eye for several reasons.

It was sent to me by a friend in the US from a local TV website. The interviews had clearly been filmed for an international press agency: the interviewer was English and interviewees were filmed in different places around the world.

As I saw a fan in Singapore give his opinion, I suddenly realised what I was witnessing. It was a far cry from the typical British TV interview on a Wednesday afternoon in the grey, near-deserted streets outside a stadium. No, these interviews were done in busy shopping centres from Dubai to Delhi. Not a single person was quizzed in Manchester, not even in Guildford for that matter!

Refreshing as it was to see such a wide geographical range of views, it made me wonder how much these people actually knew about the club whose future they had such strong opinions.

We often hear of the importance of the ‘Asian Market’ for football clubs, especially when they are trying to justify the transfer fee and wages of their latest signing. It’s fair to say this international fandom comes from, and is fuelled by, live television coverage of matches.

The extent of it really hit me when I saw an official Manchester United shop in a shopping centre in Thailand. Nowadays there's no need to go to Old Trafford and queue in the rain for a programme and an MUFC satin cushion – you can get your Robin van Persie poster and a team golf shirt in a Bangkok boutique.

It really is quite a strange feeling to spend half a day on a plane, walk round a city’s streets with radically different smells, noises and buildings, and when you turn the corner you see someone in a red football shirt with ‘Rooney’ on the back and Chelsea players endorsing a beer brand on the side of a skyscraper.

While it would be patronising to try to define what makes a ‘real’ fan, it does make you wonder if it’s all a little superficial. I imagine there weren’t many Manchester City shirts available in Kuala Lumpur five years ago.

All in all, the experience has amounted to an unusual feeling. For once, I actually feel quite lucky about the team I support. It has fans all over the world, but as the team has been rubbish for years, it’s usually a long-standing link that ties supporters to the club. It’s fair to say that, wherever we may be, most of us know the pies are rubbish, the programme is over-priced and the central midfielder couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat.

International fandom is great, but it really only means something when there is a culture behind it.

image: © wuestenigel

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