Well we are back from London, but that does not mean that our blogs are done so I hope that a lot of people are still up for reading some. Today, I have something very special for you all. Chuck Culpepper, journalist for the LA Times and author of Bloody Confused was able to answer a few questions for me. His book I recommend for anyone who has read our blogs and has had an interest. He writes it as he has his own experience following English football.
The first question I presented was what made these fans so passionate about this sport. His response was as follows: “I have asked this many times and the usual answer concerns that it’s embedded in the bloodstream from so many generations. I’m not sure if this answers it completely, but it helps. A good many of these clubs formed in the late 19th century, so were in fifth and sixth generations supporting the same club. What baffles me somewhat is that this also is true of American baseball clubs, but you don’t see anything to match the passion in England. Boston might come closest. In England, though, it’s in the family for so long that it’s a way of life. It’s almost part of a person’s biological makeup, as if their little platelets carried the symbol and colors of the club involved”. This is something that we have discovered on our travel. History is so much a part of these clubs, and the history these clubs have is passed on in each family.
Next, being in school in Alabama, I had to ask about how the Alabama-Auburn rivalry compared to the passion the football fanatics showed in England. This is what he had to say, “I did mention Alabama and Auburn as that rivalry tends to come the closest to England while absolutely not matching it. Yankees-Red Sox and Florida-Florida State also come to mind. Rangers-Islanders, at one time. (I did an informal poll in 2004 outside Yankee Stadium before a playoff game with the Red Sox, and I asked fans which they would choose for the next three years: two New York titles and one Boston, or zero for both. Zero for both won by a mile.) Alabama-Auburn is similar to England in that there’s such consuming contempt for the other side. The wish that the other side will flop comes with a fervency almost equal to the wish that one’s own side will thrive. Still, what has taken place with, say, Liverpool and Manchester United, or Aston Villa and Birmingham, or Portsmouth and Southampton, on and on and on, carries a strain still noticeably deeper. I’m not sure why. I’ve wondered if it has something to do with the perpetually bleak weather, the survival of which I believe lends a toughness and a hardiness that helps deepen passions. I’ve wondered about the much-greater presence of beer. There’s far more creativity in the stands as games go along, thinking up chants, which further fuels the entertaining resentment. There’s more of a notion that the fans ARE (sorry for caps) the club, because a lot of these clubs at least started and sprouted from roots right out of the community rather than from any university. There’s more of a sense of neighborhoods and, in many rivalries, class status, which I realize also is a factor in Alabama-Auburn”. This is a very interesting point that he brings up. The fact that the fans themselves are so much more caught up in the action because the club has sprouted up from the community and people itself.
I couldn’t go through the questions without asking some advice for American sports fans. This is the advice that he gave, “The biggest one is that they should sing more. They don’t sing enough during games. And they should vary their barbs and chants more. For years and years, whenever there was some athlete with a scandal involving a car, fans would shake keys and find it creative long after it had ceased to be so. In England I get more of a sense of thinking on the go during games and trying to come up with new riffs and rips. The whole combination makes the stadiums so compelling. Then, there’s the other matter of sustaining noise. While certain American stadiums keep noise going (Tuscaloosa and Auburn do come to mind), American crowds simply don’t sustain noise throughout games as do English fans. For those various reasons, England leads in the all-important goose-bump division”.
And finally, Chuck gave some credit to the way sports leagues are run here in the US. “I think the salary-cap arrangements of the NFL and NBA, for example, are somewhat preferable to the English model of letting capitalism run wild and having the same clubs finish at the top year after year. I do like the structure the English version provides – i.e. if my club beats Manchester United anytime, I know it’s a big deal as there are no down years for Manchester United – but find it demoralizing that most clubs begin the season knowing they have absolutely no chance to win the league. This is where the American system becomes somewhat preferable, and some football scholars in England have noted this. It’s weird when you consider that England, working within a country that has the greater amount of “socialism,” has the runaway-capitalist league while the United States, which has fewer social programs, runs the socialist leagues with their built-in balance that enables an NFL fan, for one, to know that any year, his or her team might up and reach the Super Bowl”. But there was also some advice for American sports leagues that Mr. Culpepper could give, “Lessons learned from England could include the greater inclusion of fans, I’d say. Fan groups do tend to have more say – if not necessarily sway – at English clubs”.
A big thank you to Chuck, who may not know it, but was a major part of the inspiration for this trip. After reading his book, I was excited about going to England and learning as much as I could about this great culture and sport. I will be writing at least one more blog covering my experience so keep a lookout for that. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading.