Over the past week or so I’ve seen comments on twitter and forums regarding the validity of overseas fans that have really wound me up.
Amongst some fans there is this asinine delusion that certain fans are superior to other fans. These irrational halfwits have come to the conclusion that season ticket holders or native North Londoners are more “Arsenal” than overseas fans and to an extent, non-locals and “armchair” supporters.
I have seen comments such as “foreign football fans buy a few tops and that’s it” bandied about, retweeted and fervently lauded by troglodytic morons, you know the types, the cerebrally challenged ones who hide behind their keyboards and avatars frothing at the mouth, smashing their keys in a near orgasmic state because they’ve found other morons who share their views.
This notion is plain stupid and shows very little understanding of not just how the business of football runs but also the heart of football.
There are only 58,000 season ticket holders at Arsenal (actually 40k but I’ll use the home capacity to make my point) and if they alone were considered as Arsenal’s fan base then Arsenal would have the equivalent to the total fan base of a conference team at best.
It seems that, for these people, the criterion for Arsenal fandom is attending live matches, purchasing memorabilia, sustenance and other match day concessions at the grounds and a smattering of replica kits, official merchandise, ArsenalTV subscriptions and membership to Junior Gunners for the little’uns.
I think this is ridiculous in the extreme. Football, as many will try to tell you, is not about money, it’s about the passion, the excitement and the belonging. Sport is very unique in the sense that fans speak about their chosen teams efforts in the collective, i.e. “we did well today” “we should have won”. They didn’t participate in the actual sport but the team belongs to them and they the team, hence the collective.
Apart from tickets, match day programmes, food and beer etc foreign fans and “armchair supporters” offer the same support, both financial and emotional, that season ticket holders and locals do. In some circumstances, many overseas supporters actually spend more money supporting the club they love than season ticket holders do.
We know from Dave Seager’s excellent “Global Gooner Passion Tour” in the summer that we have incredible overseas support from Europe to Asia to Africa to North and South America and Australasia. Many of his guests save up to make their pilgrimage to N5 to watch Arsenal live and this can cost an absolute fortune.
A season ticket holder could pay £2000 to watch Arsenal play up to 26 times a season at home and maybe £500 in programmes and food etc. An overseas fan can drop the equivalent in just one trip. Take for example our huge Russian following. Russia is a very big country and many areas suffer grave poverty but I’ll use Moscow in this example as the average wage is one of the highest in Russia. Muscovites earn an average of £7800 per year based on 2011 figures. Now the average UK wage (which I’m using as it’s significantly lower than the London average) was £21,236 in 2011. That is almost triple. Our Brazilian friends in Rio de Janeiro earn an average of £7000pa.
Recent figures show that the average amount spent by overseas fans coming to watch EPL football live is £785, roughly a third of what the average season ticket holder at Arsenal would be spending over the course of the season. Bearing in mind that some of our overseas supporters earn roughly a third of our GBP salaries and are only getting 1/26th of the football that season ticket holders are getting I think it is safe to say that our overseas fans give greater proportionate financial support to the club we all hold so dear. And that is before they’ve even “bought a few tops”.
All of our fans, local, national and international want the same thing, Arsenal success. Overseas interest is the platform for success in this era. Without a global fan base it is impossible to compete financially unless you have a sugar daddy but then again aren’t most sugar daddies from overseas?
Every year Arsenal make millions from TV broadcasts and if all of the fans are in the stadium who the heck are we broadcasting to? I don’t hear these “true fans” complaining about the foreigners they pay to watch play every week. Imagine an Arsenal that didn’t have the Cesc’s, Pires’, Henry’s and Bergkamp’s of the world in our history? In fact, we wouldn’t even have the likes of Liam Brady because he is also a foreigner.
On the subject of TV, not every season ticket holder watches every single game we play live. I would be willing to bet my house that less than 100 people have seen every Arsenal game, home and away, for the last 5 years straight. Even if we said we had 3000 away fans every week who are season ticket holders we’d still have 55’000 people who aren’t watching those games. How can they support their team if they aren’t watching them? Many of our overseas fans watch every single game home and away on TV and probably watch more games than most of our season ticket holders. Every Arsenal fan around the world makes sacrifices to watch Arsenal play and many of our overseas fans have to get up at ungodly hours to support our team and some walk for miles just to get to a bar to watch Arsenal play. Where do you local fans go? Round the corner, 5 minutes walk away. Local fans don’t know how easy they have it sometimes and have no grasp of how much some fans have to give just to see their team play. If it weren’t for the contributions of foreign fans and the wider non-season ticket holding fan base we’d have never moved into the best stadium in the country and we’d be trailing light-years behind the rest of the top 4 in financial terms.
Foreign fans are often derided for being glory-hunters but then again aren’t we all? Do we not all want success? Many of our local fans will also watch other leagues and have affinities for other clubs and I’m sure that when they watch La Liga they cheer on Barcelona or Real Madrid instead of Tenerife or Malaga which I find odd considering the esteem in which they hold local support and the affinity that Brits have with holidaying in those locations.
Success is what attracts new fans outside of hereditary support. I support Arsenal but I could easily have been a Crystal Palace or Charlton fan. On my mother’s side of the family there is a historical connection with Woolwich Arsenal but when Arsenal moved north of the river her family loyalty to Arsenal faded a bit and to this day her side of the family hold no strong connection with any one football club but “look out for” Arsenal, Charlton and Crystal Palace, the historical team and the local teams (no Millwall thank you very much).
However when my Dad moved to London from Scotland in the 60’s he was taken to Selhurst Park to watch Crystal Palace play Arsenal with his neighbours and sat with the home support. He was instantly hooked on football and were it not for Arsenal decimating Palace and my dad declaring “Palace are rubbish I think I’ll support the other lot” I could well be a Palace fan today. I’ve been an Arsenal fan all of my life and so has my dad but we’re not from Islington. Does that make us lesser Gooners? No it doesn’t and I’ll challenge anyone who says it does.
My dad chose his team and stuck with it despite there being a lot more dark times than there were good times in his football supporting formative years and our overseas fans share this excellent trait.
Our overseas fans should be celebrated for their unwavering support for the club over the past 8 years because as “plastic” fans it would surely be easy for them to jump ship and buy a different shirt but they don’t. They tune in, they buy shirts, they blog, they tweet, they save up to fly over and they support out team week in week out just as much as the rest of us.
If you cheer on the Arsenal wherever you are and a result can make or break your week then you are a true Gooner. If you clutch your season ticket in your hand, thump your chest and proclaim yourself superior because of it then you are a prick and need to grow up.
Big love to all of my readers and fellow Gooners but especially to our passionate and loyal overseas fans for being there for our team and for visiting my humble little site.
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