When you start supporting a football club, you don’t support it because of the trophies, or a player, or the history. You support it because you found yourself somewhere there. You found a place where you belong.”
This quote came from the legendary Dennis Bergkamp, Arsenal’s Dutch footballer, who was not just a great scorer of goals, but a scorer of great goals.
When I was younger, I always wondered what he had meant when he said the above. As I grew older, though, that quote began to make more and more sense. To put his quote in some perspective though, I had to ask myself one very pertinent question.
Why did I support Arsenal?
They weren’t the most successful of teams, they were up there, knocking on the door of the crème de la crème of world football, but they always seemed to be on the fringes and seldom in the centre of that clique.
But as the answers came to me, I could not help but have the sudden realisation of how precise Bergkamp had been with his analysis of supporter mentality.
I supported Arsenal because they did things the right way, from the manner in which they conducted business in an honourable manner, to their scruples on the pitch, where they never engaged in play acting and gamesmanship.
The Arsenal fan is an idealist. One who eschews short-term success for long-term glory. He truly believes that short term pain leads to long-term gain.
Supporters of football clubs are found in all shapes and sizes. But there is usually one tenet that unites them all, and that is also often the philosophy of the club they support. There’s something about Manchester United fans, an unwavering confidence that comes from within that reflects the belief that they have in their club.
They know, that whatever the challenge facing them, the simplest solution is to meet it head-on. It seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? After all, it is the philosophy that was inculcated into the club by their legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, one that has made them a club to be both respected and feared the world over.
You would fear Chelsea too, but they’ve always been the sort of club that attempts to win at everything, no matter the cost. They of course, are used to the criticism supporting a nouveau-riche club brings, and while it might’ve sundered the confidence of someone else, has only reinforced their self-determination. It is often said that courage is not just sticking to your beliefs, but sticking to them when others question them. True Chelsea fans, you will usually find, are often immune to criticism.
But while these clubs do have hordes of fans the world over, there are two in particular that have always struck a chord with football lovers in Oman.
Real Madrid and Barcelona are clubs the rest of the footballing world aspires to be like, and with good reason. These two clubs (along with German giants Bayern Munich) have always been the best in the world, and it is this quality of not just being better than we are, but being the best, that we all want to emulate.
They may have had very different beginnings, ‘Real’ after all, is Spanish for ‘royal’ and the crown on their crest means they’ve received the personal attention of the King of Spain, while Barcelona have always been the representative of the working class.
But when you see them go head-to-head on the football pitch, it’s not just two football teams facing each other, but the two best football teams in the world. None of the players who now feature for these two behemoths of the beautiful game have had easy lives.
They’ve all had very humble backgrounds, and today, when we see Lionel Messi, whose father was a youth football coach in Argentina, dribble through the opposition with ease, or Luis Suarez, who was left to fend for himself on the streets of Uruguay’s capital, smash home a well-timed goal.
Ronaldo may be earning six-figure sums every game now, but he too came from modest beginnings, being born to a father who was a gardener and mother who earned a living as a cook. Alongside him – more often than not – is Karim Benzema, the son of Algerian immigrants in France, one of eight siblings, and one of the best strikers in the world right now.
We idolise these clubs and their players because we wish we were a part of the world they live in, with the glitz, the glamour, the fast cars and the vast mansions. We wish we had the corporate endorsements, the sportswear contracts, and holidays sunning ourselves in an exotic corner of the globe.
But most importantly, we idolise them because we want to rise above our beginnings, be like them and aim for glory, while sticking to our principles. And become the best we could ever be, while never forgetting who we are.