你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste
In my opinion it should be a fact that, in football, and other sports too, all overseas fans are undisputable in their brilliance. The modern game has long drifted away from the traditional working class background of football fans. Women now attend games in their droves – and rightly so. The fanbases of many clubs feature disabled fan clubs and LGTGBTQ+ (I lose track of which letters are used and for who). This is ideal. Football isn’t a man’s game. It isn’t a girl’s game. It is for everyone. Whether disabled, a Martian or from Wales, the sack of air that can be moved around as a team is for all. I love it. It is such a simple game, to watch and to play. You can be Messi or you can be messy.
The benefits are more than just commercial. If 800,000 people a season visit a Premier League game from overseas, that means many will indulge in local cultures, see our towns and our cities and feel our way of life. They will join the clubs and their future identity. To some, they will worry – and others will feel xenophobia but surely 1500 Norwegians a week at Anfield ploughing money into the club isn’t all bad. Visit Britain used Ryan Giggs, when he wasn’t busy tapping his brother’s wife, to promote a “Football is Great” campaign a few years back and the Premier League is one huge advertisement after another, with some cracking games amongst the dull ones, that sell it.
There are negatives. Half and half scarves have grown out of hands. For cup final merchandise, it is a little acceptable. For a friendly game versus a team you’re unlikely to face in a competition, it is fine. In the league, against your rivals, no, sorry, no room for half of your opponent’s name on the scarf… Yokohama F-Marinos versus Manchester City, now there is a good memento. City v Utd on a scarf. No. Never. It is bad enough having them in the matchday programme. Football tourism in huge stadia is possible and can’t be seen to destroy the traditional fanbase. Those fanbases must adapt to survive and prices for tickets need to be local no global. Some fans know more about Football Manager, Fantasy Football than reality…
TV coverage has erupted outwardly, over Scandinavia, Germany, Ireland and east, west and south. The Premier League monster has become a global competition – the true super league for global talent. Asia and Africa are joining the league coverage fronts with consummate ease. As New York watches at breakfast, China watches at supper. Social media platforms and interactive coverage allow for unparalleled levels of game coverage. Long gone are the days of trying to find City at Watford on Setanta, or turning to Teletext for a goal update. The Pink has been replaced by Twitter, Facebook and a dozen other live feeds.
Young fans may be priced out of the game, but from the pocket of overseas fans, come a bunch of middle-class and well-to-do sorts. They visit the clubs shops and they buy as much as, if not more than the local fan. These purchases are akin to a pilgrimage to Mecca City [C’mon City Football Group, buy that club!]. Those keyed up on the latest game e.g. FIFA ’98 or wherever we’re up to now, have had a virtual education. The stats have been drilled in and names memorised. There is a blurred line far unlike seeing Tommy Doyle play for Manchester City’s EDS and then make the first team. These fans learn whoever is on that game, and hero worship tends to sway away from up-and-coming players or names. That is, until they’re exposed – and then the overseas fans are wild. These Harwood-Bellis types are wearing the shirt – and close to the dream of the fan. The two can evolve together. They can share memes and tweets, and all that, in ways older generations never came so close to their boyhood heroes (sexist comment? Yep).
The mass markets are open and with that you’ll get a crowd. Inevitably, plonk enough fans together and eventually you will get a truly fanatical kind. Those who form official supporters’ clubs and actively chase the dream of watching their club and being involved in their own ways. That’s what makes me admire the overseas fans. Anyone who watches a game in bed, on the other side of the planet or gets people together to share their passion and cheer City (or whoever else) on deserves credit. Modern football is expensive – and to trek around the globe seeking a game or two – or attend an overpriced friendly featuring a handful of first team regulars, with no idea of what the game will be like, gets my hat off, and placed in the air. Hats off to you. With your worldly curiosity, cultural awareness and passion, you’re welcome at the Etihad Stadium anytime. We are stronger together. We are Manchester City.
Manchester City’s presence in China, over recent years has created a new pocket. 13 Official Supporters Clubs, up from 3 at the time of their last tour in China in 2017, are spreading the sky blue gospel. City’s website, TV and media has punched highly at their fans, with huge following increases. It engages and it supports, holding an annual meeting with the Chinese OSCs. Like Match of The Day, they engage tradition and add a modern twist of flavour. Each meeting has given a great insight into City’s China strategy and set-up. They’re in it for the long-term. What I like to do, is encourage the newer generation of City fans to watch their local teams, watch some non-league football, see any games at professional level that they can and take from it as much as they can. To understand the game and the passion of fans, sometimes it is best simply to observe with no objective. I think fans of City, on the whole, understand football very well. They follow a local non-league team or they at least ground-hop around local clubs.
“I told the Ministry of Foreign Affairs it was a matter of humanity” – Sugihara Chiune
Sugihara Chiune is sometimes referred to as the Japanese Oscar Schindler. He helped around 5,558 Jewish people escape persecution and probable death in Europe. It was on this day, many years ago that he led with peace…
Next up, I’ll write about the jaunts around Nanjing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Yokohama flying the sky blue flags… when I am awake more.
再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā