The Various Species of Zambian Football Fan
Part of the fallout of Mr. Putin’s terribly misguided invasion of the Ukraine is the decades-late witch-hunt for the real source of Russian money that has (ahem) proven itself rather useful. I am only in frequent contact with two well-informed Chelsea fans, one of whom hasn’t always enjoyed having his weekends bankrolled by a sugar daddy. So my presumption is that, for the first time ever, even Zambian Blues supporters have dared to Google how on earth Roman Abramovich could afford to sign all these players.
But selective objectivity is not an ailment unique to Chelsea fans. Here in Lusaka, I like to ask what compels people to root for particular club sides — especially since we mostly ignore the local game, to get the Premier League beamed into our living rooms. I like to ask Liverpool fans if they’re aware that the gorgeous city is considered a capital of culture, whose historical status as a port of note stores important things about migration and even slavery. North London is home to two mostly hopeless but widely beloved teams, but also an embedded Jewish community and the art of grime – a rap style so ferocious one verse can compel you to repeatedly reach for a napkin.
History interests me, you see, and so does anthropology — especially when you can see how it inflects a stadium. The colours, the chants, the badges, the (ahem) values. But too often, the clubs that win sell all the jerseys. The ones that lose — often for having less money — find themselves trapped in the media mythology of ‘winning mentality,’ which we (Zambians) subscribe to because we’ll believe any opinion disguised as fact in a British accent.
In spite of all this, however, there are subtle distinctions to be made … so why don’t we have a bit of fun?
The Arsenal Martyr
You don’t become a supporter of any side without watching them lift a trophy or spend 50 odd million on an overrated striker. Many Arsenal fans inducted themselves as Arsene Wenger’s French revolution puttered to a slow death, and to their credit were beguiled by how beautiful sequential passing can be.
This species knows true suffering; not just for a lack of success, but because it must suffer the indignity of every other fanbase in the league taking the piss.
The Manchester United Cult Leader
A truly insufferable creature that believes their franchise has a God-given right to silverware. The Manchester United fan is predominantly blind to the notion of competitive imbalance, and so does not see the value of a corporation (Manchester United plc) finally having to eat its vegetables.
All will be well. You are like Odysseus, a United supporter, passing through epic tribulations before you reclaim what you believe to be yours.
The Foreign/Small Club Hipster
Football is a reflection of capitalism or consumer culture or both. When everybody else falls in love with Drake (Manchester United), or J. Cole (Arsenal), or Future (Chelsea), there happens to be the occasional rebel who prefers to zag for a sense of identity.
“Since no one cares that much about La Liga, I shall gladly watch Real Madrid trounce some modest establishment in a different coastal paradise every week!”
“I shall applaud Bayern Munich as they once again conquer Germany, with all the panache of exactly eleven armoured tanks.”
“I too shall join the Tottenham Hotspur Zambia fanbase, which has a total membership of three, before everything goes to hell again.”
The Three Lions Mocker
This is not so much a species as it is a fascinating spawn of football hypocrisy. I will spend all this money on English football — pay for satellite television, a knockoff jersey, data for memes, and of course booze — but I will also delight in the floundering of the English national side. Because they were my country’s colonisers. Because World Cups matter, even though my country has first-hand experience of how hard it is to even qualify for one.
Because international football, for which random assortments of players train together for only small units of time, is an adequate measure of greatness.