(Note: In this article, I’ll be occasionally referring to soccer as “football”. Drastic, I know. Next I’ll be coming for your second amendment rights.)
The sports teams you root for say a lot about who you are as a person. No one can fault a fan who roots for only local teams, or the team that their parents rooted for. This is the way that fandom should work, after all. You support your local team for so long that it becomes a part of you, so much a part of you that it’s passed on to the next generation. Conversely, there’s a nonsensical wasteland of grey area when it comes to who to root for when your local area doesn’t have a team for a specific sport, or your parents didn’t have a team to pass on to you. Is there an obligation to choose the team that’s geographically closest to you, or are you allowed fandom free agency, welcome to hop upon the bandwagon of whichever team that tickles your fancy? Do you get a free pass if the team closest to you absolutely stinks? Well, the situation gets even murkier when it comes to Americans in search of a European football team to support.
(Sure, fine, whatever, go ahead and support your local MLS team, but please don’t restrict yourself to just that. It’d be such a pity if you limited yourself to only watching high school basketball, you know?)
I was at a party a few years ago, talking to a stranger about sports, because I’m one dimensional and run and hide when people try to talk to me about other things. I don’t remember the guy’s name, so let’s name him Mr. Bandwagon. I encountered Mr. Bandwagon for only 15 minutes of my life, four years ago, but he’s stuck with me because he was a fan of the Yankees, Spurs, Patriots and Rangers (hockey). Mr. Bandwagon was from upstate New York, but his parents weren’t sports fans. He was a Rangers fan because an uncle had taken him to games, but his reasoning behind the fandom of his other three teams was simple: “I grew up in the late nineties and early 2000s.” Mr. Bandwagon was completely unashamed of the fact that he chose his teams solely based off of who was good at the time. Don’t get me wrong, I judged the hell out of him and tried to shame him for his choices, but he stuck to his guns. The guy knew his sports, he wasn’t some common fan who abused talking points and sensationalized small moments. He had clearly been through the conversation many times before, well aware that his choices were likely frowned upon by most die-hard sports fans. He just really didn’t care, and I respected him for that.
Until I brought up soccer.
Mr. Bandwagon was in the same graduating class as me from the University of Yeah I Give A Shit About European Football Now, class of mid-2000s. I asked him who he was a fan of, though I was already certain of the answer.
“Barcelona, of course.”
Barcelona. Of course.
To be fair, he could’ve been a Manchester United fan, a Chelsea fan, or a Real Madrid fan, and the narrative would’ve fit all the same.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the world of European football, let me give you the briefest of brief rundowns:
Major trophies across the top 2 European Leagues, Premier League (England) & La Liga (Spain), since 2004-05 season:
(note: each team plays in multiple competitions within one season. We’re focusing on the main three; the domestic league, domestic cup, and European cup)
1. FC Barcelona: 7 La Liga + 3 Domestic Cups + 4 Champions League = 14 trophies
2. Chelsea: 4 Premier League + 7 Domestic Cups + 1 Champions League = 12 trophies
3. Manchester United: 5 Premier League + 3 Domestic Cups + 1 Champions League = 9 trophies
4. Real Madrid: 3 La Liga + 2 Domestic Cups + 1 Champions League = 6 trophies
I’ve limited the list to these two countries because they’re the top two in the world, and because they are the two leagues most available for Americans to view. The next closest team to the four listed above is Manchester City, with four trophies, and then a bunch of teams tied at three. And, surprise, the above four teams, along with City and Bayern Munich (Germany’s perennial juggernaut), are the richest teams in the world.
Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Chelsea are also the only sports clubs in the world that have over 50 million combined followers on Facebook and Twitter. Over the two social media sites, the four teams have over 331 million followers. That’s more “follow” clicks than the amount of humans in the United States.
Granted, there’s a lot of overlap followers across the two sites, and lord knows how many bots, but even if you cut each of the four teams’ amount of followers in half, Barcelona and Real Madrid would still be numbers 1 and 2, Manchester United would “fall” to 4th, and Chelsea would drop to only 12th place, still ahead of teams like the Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees, and Chicago Bulls.
There’s a big difference between being a fan of the “good team” in American sports versus the “good team” in European football, though. Bandwagon fans of the Cowboys/Yankees/Bulls from the nineties have all been through their own respective ups and downs as a fan, as American sports are designed to create parity through drafts and salary caps, neither of which are present in European soccer. In Europe, a team can rely on its riches for decades, since players are acquired by clubs purchasing them from other clubs. In order for a team to break into the elite group of clubs, they have to be bought by a rich owner (or rich owners) who is willing to spend on the team. The only other way in is to rely on a great player or great manager, but that method is far less reliable, and oftentimes ends with that great player or manager leaving their team for richer pastures.
So, when someone becomes a fan of one of these elite teams, they’re pretty much guaranteed to be rooting for an elite team for years to come. Manchester United, Chelsea, and Real Madrid are all experiencing various degrees of “struggling” right now, but those struggles are only relative to the outrageous levels of success that the clubs usually achieve. Supporters of lesser teams would kill for the issues that these top-notch clubs are going through.
Obviously, you want your team to win every single time they play, but it shows a lack of ambition in a fan when they choose to support one of these teams. When the Cubs inevitably win the World Series, won’t any one of their fans feel far more euphoric than a Yankees fan would feel winning ring number 28? When a team that has never won it all before, like the Los Angeles Clippers or Denver Nuggets, finally wins it all, won’t their fans feel like all the losing seasons over the years were totally worth it? When the Cleveland Browns actually pull their shit togeth—no no, just kidding, let’s stay within the realm of possibility here.
I became a Liverpool fan when I was a senior in high school. A classmate of mine was a fan of theirs, and told me that I should follow the team. At the time, they were a good bet to finish in the top four of the Premier League, make a run in the Champions League, and win a domestic cup every few years. They were one of the richest teams in the world, with the most decorated history of any English club, but they didn’t exactly run over the competition week in and week out. Well, since I became a fan, things have gotten a bit rough. We’re still one of the richest clubs in the world, but that hasn’t exactly gotten us very far. We haven’t won the English league in almost 26 years, we’d be lucky to even make it into the Champions League, and in my 8+ years of being a fan, we’ve won exactly one trophy; the 2012 Football League Cup, literally the least glamorous cup an English team can win. Being a Liverpool fan has been tough, to say the least, but I’d never even dream of switching my allegiances to a team more likely to win a trophy, because I know that one day, if/when we finally win the Premier League, or we once again achieve the status of European powerhouse, everything will be perfect. It will all have been worth it.
So, a couple weeks ago when a friend of mine declared his fandom in favor of Barcelona, I flipped shit. There are hundreds of teams to choose from, why not strive to be just a bit more unique? Even if you limit yourself to teams that get airtime in the United States, you’ve got a good amount of quality to select from outside of those four dominant teams.
So please, for those of you currently studying at or planning on attending the University of Yeah I Give A Shit About European Football Now, think about what sort of fan you want to be. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather you become a fan of one of those four teams than not become a fan at all. It’s always nice to have more fans of the sport, and the more American fans there are, the easier it’ll be to watch the games on TV. But, when it comes down to it, you’ll be respected by other fans more if you choose a different team.
Here are the reasons when it’s okay for an American to become a supporter of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, or Manchester United:
- They were the first team you ever saw LIVE AND IN PERSON and were the reason you fell in love with the sport
- Your relative/friend was a fan of theirs, and that relative/friend got you hooked.
- You’re an unashamed front-runner who just wants to win and doesn’t care much for developing passion for a team.
- You read this whole thing and just want to spite me.
And, for those of you that are looking for a club to support, I’ve made this list for you to consider, only including teams that are either on TV in the US (ESPN, beIN sports, NBC Sports, Fox Sports 1, and GolTV) or through the nifty new streaming site, NGSN. If you want to watch your team every week, you want to go with a team from the Premier League:
I want my team to dominate domestically, and have a chance at Champions League glory:
Bayern Munich (Germany)
Paris Saint-Germain (France)
I want my team to do well domestically, and make regular appearances in the Champions League:
Manchester City (England), Arsenal (England)
Atletico Madrid (Spain)
Borussia Dortmund (Germany), Schalke 04 (Germany)
AS Roma (Italy)
Porto (Portugal), Benfica (Portugal)
CSKA Moscow (Russia), Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia)
Ajax (Netherlands), PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands)
I want my team to have a rich history:
Liverpool (England), Everton (England)
Athletic Bilbao (Spain), Valencia (Spain)
Borussia Mönchengladbach (Germany)
AC Milan (Italy), Internazionale (Italy)
Saint-Étienne (France), Marseille (France)
Sporting CP (Portugal)
Spartak Moscow (Russia)
Fuck it. Let’s get weird:
Leicester City (England), Newcastle United (England), Tottenham Hotspur (England), West Ham United (England)
Malaga (Spain), Villarreal (Spain), Sevilla (Spain)
VfL Wolfsburg (Germany), VfB Stuttgart (Germany), Bayer Leverkusen (Germany)
Fiorentina (Italy), Napoli (Italy), Lazio (Italy)
AS Monaco (France), Bordeaux (France)
Rubin Kazan (Russia)