They say you don`t choose your football club — it chooses you.
They say you don`t choose your football club — it chooses you. But if that were true, I`m not sure we`d see quite so many ’70s-born success-era Liverpool fans prancing about on Wind Street every Saturday night. And while we`re at it, how many times did you see a new Blues shirt around town before a Russian oligarch docked his yacht in Chelsea Harbour? I thought as much. But I digress. What I`m really interested in is whether this is the season I`m found out as a sham of a football fan. Whether a club chooses you or not, is it possible to support two football teams in the same league?
If I am to be found out as a superficial fan, it`ll occur in late autumn — the 19th November, to be precise. If football were a marriage, the 19th November is the day my wife discovers I`m having an affair right under her nose. Perhaps I`d better explain: Manchester United is my wife, and Swansea City is my bit on the side — my Imogen Thomas, if you like. Actually, they`re more than that. If you`ll stick with me through this laboured analogy, they`re the fully-fledged lover I can almost imagine leaving my wife and kids for. And the 19th November is the day my two clubs come together in the league for many a year. The day I get busted.
As Scott Sinclair buried his second penalty in the Reading net, I felt the same cocktail of euphoria, excitement and apprehension as everyone else. I`m a delighted Swans season ticket holder who`s been splitting my weekends between Old Trafford and the Liberty Stadium over the last four or five years. And, as the East Stand song goes, ‘I just can`t get enough`.
But suddenly there was a very real sense that my fellow United fans would no longer think it was cute that I supported a little hometown football league club on the side. I suddenly support a rival. Isn`t someone who supports two clubs the worst type of fan?
I can`t pretend I`ve been a lifelong Swans fan (but how many of the 18,000 that now pack out the Liberty can?). I`d see the odd game every season as we struggled through the lower divisions; I did my fair share off freezing my balls off on the North Bank. But I can`t claim to have been a true fan in those days. I`d call myself a fair-weather fan if the weather was ever fair (clue: it wasn`t).
In fact, all my earliest football memories revolve around United: Brian Kidd running onto the pitch to celebrate Bruce`s title-winning goal in `93; Kanchelskis tearing Norwich apart on the break; Mark Hughes`s equalising volley against Oldham in ’94; a young Ryan Giggs; a Paul Scholes pass; a Roy Keane tackle; replica shirts with ‘Irwin 3` on the back. I remember vividly the treble-winning year in ’99 and the 2008 Champions League victory in the Moscow rain. United and I, we have history.
I`m certainly not the only fan who`ll see the Swans take on their boyhood club — their ‘other` team — this season. But I seem to be the only one who sees this as nothing short of a problem. Most of the mates I grew up with supported a top-tier club. Lots of them are, or were, fellow United fans, many of them are Liverpool followers and a smattering of them support other clubs. But what I cannot fathom is the willingness with which they`ve eased these clubs out of their lives — often with gleeful abandon. One mate who supported Tottenham all his life felt affronted I`d even had the audacity to ask who he`d support when Swans met Spurs. He was even adamant that he wouldn`t be happy just beating Spurs, but positively slaughtering them. What happened to loyalty? What happened to a football club being for life?
So am I a sham fan? That`s for others to answer. Whatever happens, I can`t wait for the upcoming season. As for the question of where my loyalties will lie when United and Swansea meet in November? Best not to ask as you probably wouldn`t like the answer — although until I`m watching from the East Stand I can`t be sure exactly how it`ll pan out. Although could the opening game of the campaign against Manchester City be any more perfect for a Swans and United fan looking for an upset? To quote City`s former manager Kevin Keegan, “I would love it if we beat them. LOVE IT.”
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Gareth Evans on twitter – @garethevansno7