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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