When does blind support for your team end and vitriolic hatred of the opposition start?

Loyalty is an enviable quality. The ability to stick by someone or something that you believe in is an admirable trait, or at least it is if it’s not at the expense of another.

An example of this comes via support shown for football teams. At times fans can turn vast stadiums into intimidating cauldrons of unquestioning support for their team, but supporters can also show an unqualified hatred for their opposition. So when does blind support for your team end and unquestioning vitriolic hatred of the opposition start?

A few days ago I wrote an article highlighting how the gap between my team of choice Aston Villa and local rivals Birmingham City has narrowed this season thanks to two intense and hard fought drawn local derbies and a fascinating League Cup encounter.

The response I received from Villa fans was to be kind, less than favourable. The fact that I even had the temerity to suggest that the gap between Birmingham and my boyhood club had narrowed was greeted with such a vitriolic response that my loyalties to my team were strongly questioned.

This amazed me. The fact that anyone could disagree with me is perfectly acceptable and even encouraged to promote freedom of speech and encourage the sharing of ideas and thoughts, but the fact that some fans would have the gall to suggest that I was any less of a fan than they were just because of a lack of blind support and accompanying hatred for my teams local rivals was astonishing.

Seemingly for some fans the barometer for measuring the love of your club is gauged by the amount of animosity you feel for your local rivals.

The second city rivalry seems to have been exaggerated by fans from a largely two horse town, as it’s completely devoid of any religious segregation that could be attributed to the animosity felt between other local rivals.

Derbies such as Serbia’s Red Star Belgrade v Partizan Belgrade is understandably an intense rivalry rooted in the ashes of WWII, when Red Star were formed as the civil rival to the military club Partizan and also Scotland’s Glasgow derby, which is a melting pot of religious conflict.

These encounters carry with them the weight of something other than football and the meeting between the two clubs is an opportunity to express feelings that are perhaps suppressed by every day society in favour of more current or popular topics.

There is though no such historical intensity between the two Birmingham clubs. This rivalry is seemingly born out of actions that have taken place on the pitch and the attitude of both sets of fans.

If harnessed correctly, as it is by the majority of fans, a local rivalry can be an unparalleled experience for a fan in an atmosphere that is far more emotional and excitingly nervy that any other league encounter.

This is usually a battle for bragging rights to the city until the next fixture tolls around, but without any other motivation towards my support other than football, my feeling towards the opposition ends at the final whistle.

My feelings regarding the result will probably continually sting for a number of days afterwards and perhaps even a few weeks depending on gentle ribbing from friends, but at no point does my disappointment turn to animosity and physical or verbal abuse.

Fans are clearly aware of the fine line between support and something more sinister as according to The Football Fans Census 37% of fans feel that rivalry plays a significant part in leading to football violence; however 71% feel on the whole the positives of rivalry outweigh the negatives and as long as this is harnessed correctly they’re perfectly right.

Having started his career in England with Leeds, before making the move to rivals United, Eric Cantona is fully aware of the benefits and pitfalls of having a culture of intense fan rivalry and in a moment of rare lucidity he expressed his feelings on the subject without the need for a fishing based metaphor.

“The pressure people put on themselves and the rivalry between the teams is much more marked. And I think that’s a good thing. As long as that rivalry remains within the spirit of competition, it can only spur everyone on.”

Tags: Aston Villa, Birmingham City

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Charlie 2 February 2011 at 12:25pm

NUFC fan……Great article. Nice to read an interesting view point on something experienced, on some level, by every football fan. I love the rivalry between us and Sunderland but only as long as it stays on the field. May I also say what a pleasure it is to read something that is not entirely based around transfers

Merf 2 February 2011 at 1:40pm

An interesting read and I agree that it’s a shame that friendly banter is replaced by an illogical hatred of your fellow brummies. This lunacy is seen on both sides and I was saddened to see and hear about the violence that occured outside St Andrews after the cup game.

I remember being at Villa the last time we won there….yep….it was a long time ago. I had to sit amongst the Villa fans and keep a low profile. However, as a plant I did my very best to spur the Villa fans into getting onto Gareth Barry’s back. The hatred that spilled out from the Villa fans that were in the stand towards the Blues fans below was worrying. These seemed to be generally middle class individuals, but the hatred in their eyes and in their voices as they spewed out the venom to their fellows below……where did that come from…..maybe Nazi Germany didnt have such a difficult job in removing humanity from peoples souls.

Anyway…..on that note…I’ll end by maybe showing that I’m not perfect….SOTV!

Old Villan 2 February 2011 at 1:55pm

I also wonder where all of this vitriol has come from.

I’m a dedicated Villa supporter and it’s 55 years since my first game at Villa Park. Until a riotous Birmingham vs Millwall game in the early 1970s I used to alternate, where possible, between Villa Park and St. Andrews although I was never a Birmingham City “supporter” but I never wished them ill. In fact during the Francis/Latchford era they were a pleasure to watch. In those days there was almost no television coverage and most of my football fix came from attending games – I also attended games at the Baggies and the Wolves.

In 1970 there were Villa fans who wouldn’t have crossed the City to attend a game at “sty Andrews” (as they now so ineloquently put it) but in 1970 their thoughts were contained to their immediate circle of friends in the pub or in the canteen. In 2011 it is so easy for these folks to express their opinions through 100s of media outlets that help create the impression that all Villa fans (or even all Blues fans) hold their city based rivals in such contempt.

I suspect that if Adolf Hitler had had access to Facebook, Twitter and Internet Forums he, and his Sturmabteilung, would have used them extensively between 1919 and 1933 whilst they were struggling for power but would have banned them in 1933 as soon as he became Chancellor. He would have realised how easy it is for a few to manipulate perceived opinion using these media outlets. I sometimes read things on these electronic outlets which refer to Blues fans as such things as “inbred knuckle draggers” and yet these things often appear to be written by Villa fans whose grasp of the English language, and its usage, seems little better than that of primordial man. They seem to suffer from that same affliction they are so contemptuous of in others.

I guess we have to accept there are decent people who support Villa or Blues and who feel no enmity for the other team and there are also those who would wish to start a fight with Schrodinger’s cat it couldn’t prove whether it was wearing a claret and blue scarf or a blue and white scarf whilst in the box.

All Blues fans hate Villa fans. All Villa fans hate Blues fans. All Villa fans love Blues fans. All Blues fans love Villa fans. All Villa fans are neutral about Blues fans. All Blues fans are neutral about Villa fans. Reductio ad absurdum.

Would I let my daughter marry a Blues fan? Yes, of course. Would I try and convince him that he’s chosen the wrong team? Of course, every day, because I’m a football supporter and my team is the best – but I don’t have to hate you or yours because you don’t agree.

Bazzathebluenose 2 February 2011 at 2:25pm

Excellent, well thought out and articulately presented article. Nice to see with a lack of the partizan rubbish that is normally spewed out. Rivalry is one thing, spiteful vitriol another but I suspect the minority won’t change regardless of what this author and like minded decent supporters like him may think.

Bart Gremink 2 February 2011 at 3:38pm

V. good article, but I think Old Villan just won the internet with his post.

On the point about fans going to both teams in the past, I wonder if this shift was basically due to being unable to meet the financial demands of watching football every weekend at different grounds? You have to pick one, and civic pride soon goes out the window for a more tribal rivalry… money ruining football, who’da thunk it?

My friendship group of blues and villa fans will watch each other down the pub , and certainly take an interest in each other’s teams without resorting to boorish ‘omg u suck’ chat. I don’t think this is as unusual as certain media outlets would have you think. But the idea of actually going in the home end of your biggest rival would be, to be frank, pretty absurd now.

Yet it does seems odd that a city basically split in two, resorts to calling each other 12 toe’d and so forth, esp on the internet, fanzines etc. If nothing else it’s just so boring. We’re basically the same. As ‘nose, I’d rather a brummie villan than a brummie man utd/ chelsea/ liverpool fan.

That said, I think as long as it is contained to match day, a bit of animosity generates some pretty spectaular atmnospheres, and games. The best games are under lights, or 3pm on a saturday.

It looks like future generations will be deprived, with insipid derbies played on sunday at 12 with little atmosphere and players not as up for it. All thanks to morons.

KRO (!)

Mike 2 February 2011 at 5:42pm

The rivalry is vicious now more so than it’s ever been IMO. Villa fans are seen has been arrogant whilst Blues fans are seen has being the poor relation.

I’m a staunch Blues fan who’s lived outside of Brum for 20 years or so now so I don’t really know to many villa fans anymore.

Although an idea I’ve had for years would be for the clubs to merge and build a 75000 super stadium. All brummies uniting behind one team going for it year in year out for the champions league.

I can’t stand AVFC but even I would love to see a super team from Birmingham putting up London and Manchester.

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