Real Fans?

It’s a welcome return for Paul Balm who asks What is a Real Fan?

There’s one subject in all of sport that winds me up more than any other. It rears it’s ugly head every now and then (particularly when a team isn’t doing well) and as soon as it does the same old arguments start back and forth. I normally steer well clear of these “debates” but its Monday lunchtime, it’s too cold to go for a walk and I’ve already done two and a half miles already according to my pedometer, I’m sat at a computer so what better way to spend my lunch break than by making the whole thing worse!

I’m talking about real fans. Or rather the constant discussion of what makes a real fan and the headlong sprint for the moral high ground that claiming to be one almost always entails.

A lot of the time it seems to be more about people saying what a real fan isn’t rather than what one is. Take a look at some of the reactions to the Panthers getting booed off the other week at the end of the second period against Fife. “Disgusting”, “You should always back your team”, “Real fans don’t boo” were some of the comments made. Now, and I don’t want to get too far into this argument or we’ll be here all day, I’m not entirely sure I agree with any of those statements. There’s an old adage that says “You pays your money you takes your choice” and that’s as true today as it ever was. The people booing pay the same amount to get into the game as everyone else, is their opinion any less relevant because they didn’t like what they’d just seen and chose to let the team know it? Is it better or worse than clapping and cheering a team off the ice when they’ve played that poorly? I’d say it was better. I don’t boo as that’s a personal preference but I’ll not applaud something that’s not worth applauding. Surely to praise someone for something as poor as we witnessed last Sunday is completely counterproductive but like I said you pays your money you takes your choice.

It’s that last statement that I have a problem with “Real fans don’t boo”. Who says they don’t? The person who made the statement? (well obviously but stay with me). What right have they to say what real fans do or don’t do? There’s a very decent argument to be made for the fact that real fans do boo. They boo because they care, they feel short changed by what they’re seeing and they want to let the team know. Sometimes it works. Look at what Andy Bohmbach said about how he felt the team reacted to the boos. This isn’t about the booing it’s about how you react to the booing but I’m digressing like I knew I would.

So what is a real fan? You’re not catching me out that easily. It’s probably easier to say what a real fan isn’t.

A real fan isn’t someone who goes to every game

A real fan isn’t someone who boos players but on the other hand

A real fan isn’t someone who cheers players regardless

A real fan won’t necessarily spend every pound they have in the club shop

A real fan isn’t at every shirt auction or meet the player night

None of that means, though, that if you go to every game, spend every pound you’ve got in the club shop or at every auction that you’re not a real fan. Nor does it mean that anyone who can only get to a couple of games a season, boos longest and loudest, doesn’t own a game worn shirt and thinks most of the stuff in the shop is rubbish can’t be a real fan either.

Confusing isn’t it. It’s confusing because there is no hard or fast rule about what makes a real fan and that’s what most people understand. Thinking about it maybe it isn’t the arguments about who is a real fan that irritate me so much. I think it’s more the idea that someone can reach such a black and white conclusion about what a real fan is. No one thing makes you a real fan nor does the opposite make you whatever the opposite of a real fan is (fake fan? Unreal fan?).

A real fan is a combination of all those things and more or less. You could be all of those things and be considered a real fan but by the same token none of them and it would be the same. Being a real fan has more to do about caring for the club, no matter how you do it, rather than what you necessarily do. If they’re in your heart, if you care what happens to the club then you could be called a real fan. You might show it in different ways but they may be the only ways that you can show it. You might want to go to every game but your job makes it difficult, you still want to be there, to know what is happening. Of course, having said all that it all depends on if such a thing really exists.

When I say does a real fan actually exist it isn’t to deride anyone who goes to every game etc it’s more to question the whole concept of a real fan. I’m not sure it does exist as anything more than a phrase people use to try and prove a point, remember “Real fans don’t boo”? As a statement that has far more to to with that person’s perception than anything else and maybe that’s where the phrase should be left, in the imaginations of those people who feel the need to use it.

Would I say I was a real fan? I have no idea but probably not. On the one hand there’s stuff that make me think I might be – I get wound up at some of the things the team does or doesn’t do, how many balls the league has in its bag and stuff I see on the ice. But then again there’s any number of matches I don’t care about missing, I’m still undecided about Wednesday, I can probably afford it but I don’t know if I can be bothered. I don’t have a desperate urge to go to every game in Scotland (probably why I’ve never seen us lose north of the border) which is a good thing because I definitely can’t afford that, but the very fact that I added the bit in the brackets must mean something right? I don’t know.

That last sentence sums the whole thing up for me – I don’t know what a real fan is the same as everyone else, it’s just a phrase that people will trot out when they want to get themselves a bit of moral high ground in comparison to others they disagree with.

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