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Sean McMahon

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Football Polygamy – Don’t Knock It ‘Til You Try It

Written by on September 22, 2011 | 13 Comments »
Posted in General

“It’s not a choice!”

That’s a refrain I’ve heard often from soccer fans describing how they came to support their favorite team.

Some supporters were raised within miles of their favorite club, while others shared a cultural or religious kinship with a certain side. For those fans, then I understand. They had no choice.

These are the same people who seem to look at me with disdain when I explain that while I do indeed have a favorite team (Barcelona), I am sometimes proud to show a smaller degree of allegiance to the likes of Arsenal, Bolton, Bayern Munich and Paris St. Germain.

When I reveal this list of clubs, I usually get a curious stare and the same question: How can you call yourself a supporter of more than one club?

The answer is simple. I practice what I like to call Football Polygamy.

I am part of a generation of American soccer fans who came of age in an era when televised broadcasts of world-class soccer were few and far between.

How were we supposed to develop any kind of love for a particular club when watching a given team play was such a rare occurrence?

Fixtures from England, Italy, Spain, Germany and South America were not the weekly standard they are today. ESPN had yet to go after the soccer market. And many people forget that not too long ago there was no Fox Soccer Channel.

We had Fox Sports World. And while Fox Sports World showed a couple of European soccer games each weekend, airtime was also shared with the likes of auto racing and Aussie rules football.

The point is, whenever I got a chance to see a top-flight match, I was watching it – regardless of the league or the teams.

Not surprisingly, the one or two EPL games Fox Sports World broadcast invariably featured at least one of the same four clubs: Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Newcastle. (These were the pre-Abramovich days, so the beer and exploits of Alan Shearer helped Newcastle best Chelsea when it came to global brand awareness).

The same thing goes for other leagues: If it was Bundesliga, it was Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund. Italy was AC Milan, Juventus, Fiorentina, etc.

And don’t even get me started on international soccer. Every four years we got the World Cup Final. Not the whole tournament, just the Final.

And even that was on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, as if it was some peculiar sporting event to be grouped with the likes of ski jumping, curling and the World’s Strongest Man competition.

I was a schoolboy during Barcelona’s Dream Team era of the early 1990s. Therefore there isn’t really a need to explain why the Catalans were my first love – or as I affectionately refer to them now: My First Wife.

A funny thing happens when you are “forced” to watch loads of games that don’t feature your favorite side: You slowly accept that you are starting to develop an affinity for other teams.

After all, was I supposed to just not care about the players or the outcome simply because the result would have no impact on the La Liga table?

For a Barcelona fan, Arsenal’s similar style of play makes them easy to like. Other teams you admire simply because they are so good.

But my favorite side effect is that you sometimes find yourself supporting teams about which previously knew absolutely nothing … and even some that aren’t all that good! This is how I once explained my admiration for Bolton to a London pub full of Tottenham fans a number of years ago.

They were absolutely befuddled as to how a Yank could know anything about the EPL, let alone why said Yank would admit to liking the Wanderers (even this Yank knew confessing a slight liking for Arsenal would have been unwise when surrounded by Spurs fans!)

Then I pronounced, “Jay-Jay Okocha is a wonder to watch when he is on top of his game, Kevin Nolan and Kevin Davies are scrappy players who battle for their goals and Jussi Jaaskelainen is an amazing shot-stopper. Plus, Big Sam Allardyce’s teams always have a good measure of fight in them.”

The Spurs supporters looked at me in a stunned silence as they processed what I had said. I’m not sure, but I think a few of them might have even nodded in agreement!

That brings me to another benefit of practicing football polygamy: Romances with various clubs need not be permanent. Certain players, coaches and styles of play can lure you in, but you are not beholden to them forever. My attraction to that Bolton side faded soon after Okocha and Big Sam departed.

A few years ago I had a fling with Fulham simply because they were giving so many Americans a chance to play. (However, I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that such trysts can lead you do do silly, silly things like spend a lovely London afternoon sitting through a nil-nil draw between Fulham and bottom-of-the-table Derby County at Craven Cottage!).

And those Spurs fans would be happy to know that it was their team that caught my eye last year. Tottenham’s run through the Champions League was exhilarating stuff. The genius of Rafael Van der Vaart and Luka Modric, Gareth Bale’s hat trick in a losing effort against Inter Milan and that rough-and-tumble slaying of AC Milan at the San Siro. Were you not entertained?

The final pillar of Football Polygamy lies in being willing to happily participate in one-night stands. I made the pilgrimage to Parc de Princes to see Paris St. Germain just once. That dalliance was wham-bam-thank-you-man all in the name of Ronaldinho.

I tried to re-kindle that flame a couple of years ago when the club signed Claude Makelele and Ludovic Guily – two players I’ve always respected and viewed as underrated – but the spark was gone.

At least Barcelona, my First Wife, eventually signaled its tacit approval of my fling with Ronaldinho by signing him and riding his skills and persona to the first of its three most recent Champions League titles.

American kids walking around these days donning the shirts of clubs like Aston Villa, Napoli, Atletico Madrid and the like doesn’t surprise me.

Soccer fans in the U.S. can now watch matches from almost any league in the world. Perhaps that will lead them to remain faithful to one, and only one, club for the rest of their lives.

If so, good on them. Me? I think I am hooked on my philandering ways for life.

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13 Responses to “Football Polygamy – Don’t Knock It ‘Til You Try It”

  1. Blake says:

    What a fantastic article!! This sums up a lot of what I as well went through growing up and watching games at any chance. I remember the days of painfully waiting for world championship dart throwing to end so I could watch football again in August! My first game, as a school boy, was the famous 3-0 down 5-3 comeback between Manchester United and Tottenham, it is honestly where I fell in love with Manchester United and Tottenham as well, although to a lesser extent. I as well embrace football polygamy with many many teams across Europe and in the Americas but I will always come home to sleep next to United. Remember Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink?? I know i’ll never forget him among many many others including the early but sensational days of Michael Ballack at Bayern Munich. Again what a great article, very much enjoyed reading this.

  2. Tim says:

    it’s amazing how your story is similar to my futbol polygamy … Barca my first love…Fulham for the American connection…i followed Arsenal because they were similar to Barca…One thing i have found out about my polygamy, Once a team plays Barca in the Champs League i usually develop a disliking for the team…esp Arsenal 2 yrs in a row….

  3. Tim says:

    i was a teen in the 80′s and i remember only seeing the world cup and a few matches here and there….so grateful some of America is catching on to the hype

  4. JimBob says:

    I watch the German league just to boo Arjen Robben.

  5. John Bladen says:

    Sean;

    Good article. Your “polygamy” is not that unusual to football fans of european descent. While most will have a “major” club as their favourite, they will also have a more local club to cheer on in lesser leagues (excluding those who actually live in the city of their favourite club, of course).

    It doesn’t often extend much beyond one’s favoured club in the nation’s elite league and a local, but there are exceptions…

  6. Ed Gomes says:

    John, I agree with your statement.
    I was born into being a Benfiquista, and will always be one. But when I do go back to Portugal I always try to catch a “local” teams game as well.

    Let me add that being a football nut, I do have a favorite team in each major league.

  7. Justine says:

    I’m the same way. I get alot of grief for supporting both Barca and Chelsea but I like teams with drama and a certain playing style. I couldn’t care less about your “history” I care about when I started watching not about 1896!!

  8. Gus Keri says:

    I am not sure I agree with the term “polygamy”. I would rather use a different social classifications.

    1- one wife: For many people, there seems to be one team that is above all. For some reason, they get hooked to it and support it in thick and thin, and have their way to brag about it and show their support constantly.

    2- one or two mistresses: Few teams that you find yourself following for some other reason, (like being forced to travel away or to live in a different location from your wife’s). You don’t have much of a guilt feeling but you don’t brag as much.

    3- Few love affairs: Some people don’t want to be left out of the (watching party or the discussion). This most likely to occur during tournaments where your “wife” doesn’t want to attend and you’re forced to choose another one, especially a team who will be there most of the time. You know about it from the guilty feeling, associated with the pleasure, that you have.

    4- one night stands: How many time did you support a team for one time only, just to satisfy a specific need? How many people supported Barcelona in the last year UCL final, just because they didn’t want Man Utd to win it?

  9. Rob says:

    First off, no matter where you are from its always a choice.

    Second, I disagree with this article completely. You’re a fan of the game, not of any real teams. If you want to follow your team, you find a way to. Its one of the beauties of being a fan of that particular team.

    Liverpool was rarely shown in the 90′s on TV and so I had to either follow it on game updates on the internet(and remember that was with dial-up connection) or I had to read about it the next day.

    Saying your a fan of more than one team is like saying your married to more than one woman. You can’t possibly know everything about one woman and joys and falls of being with just her if you’re married to a half-dozen others. Same goes with clubs.

    You have a love for the game and thats respectable but you don’t really have an affinity for a team that stretches beyond the scope of its current make-up.

  10. AZBhoy says:

    Oy, Bobby Man;
    I dinnae see those Dark Blue lads from Dens Park on yon list.

  11. AZBHOY – I didn’t write the article.

  12. [...] Sean McMahon extols the very North American virtue of “football polygamy.” I’ve noticed this trend with the kids that I coach, including my son, whose “second teams” include Milan, Barcelona and Lyon. Television, the Internet and other media shapes a much different connection between supporters and their clubs. In some respects, even traditional supporters over here find the lack of tribalism is refreshing. I was recently at a wedding where I spent a great evening with a Spurs supporter chatting about the game, the brilliance of Luka Modric and Cesc Fabregas and why Peter Crouch will always present an unsolvable conundrum to his manager. I think we both appreciated the fact that we could talk to somebody else whilst our significant others made catty comments about the bridesmaids dresses, cooed about the cake blah, blah, blah. [...]

  13. I remember as a kid seeing italy serie a games on PBS in new york city. I go on in the link about that. But, I think in retrospect, the US Open cup has been the real tragedy of the MLS venture.

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