Malcolm Dawson, Salut! Sunderland‘s deputy editor, didn’t know quite what he was starting when he dredged up Monsieur Salut’s old guide to the criteria to be met before it became acceptable to support Sunderland, Manchester United or, for that matter, anyone else.
It’s here – https://safc.blog/2015/07/who-do-you-support-what-gives-you-the-right/#comments – with some great comments, new or posted when the piece originally appeared five years ago.
One comment, from Alan Hedley, became an article in its own right at https://safc.blog/2015/07/summer-madness-the-war-over-a-lifetime-of-supporting-sunderland-began/.
Now there’s more, also summoned from the archives. I rewrote the rules, abolishing the old tests in favour of simple questions of brand approval designed to suit glory-seekers everywhere.
In essence, the “you do NOT qualify if …” part of the rules, intended to render ineligible those who choose who to support based on how successful a team may be, suddenly had the opposite effect.
It was published in different forms here and at ESPN, where I seem to recall it attracted a large and – in part – indignant postbag from fans around the world who took umbrage at what thy saw at my sarcasm. Sadly, those comments are no longer available.
This, then, is an edited version of what appeared just before Christmas 2012:
I am making a massive effort to smile and make others smile.
As a start, I have decided to make radical changes to my arbitrary set of rules governing the rights and wrongs of picking a club to support.
Never again will I think ill of those who profess to be fans of clubs based in geographical locations they would be unable to locate on a map. No more cheap jibes about glory-seekers. No more laughs at memories of the man in Kuala Lumpur who kept an entirely straight face while telling me: “I used to support Manchester United but I think Chelsea are better now so I support them.”
Go ahead world. Follow whoever you want.
To recap, the rules that served me well for long enough were intended as a guide for determining what did and did not constitute just cause for a footballing allegiance. They ran something like this:
You are entitled to support Sunderland, Manchester United or even Melchester Rovers if one of the following applies:
* You were born or brought up in Sunderland (or wherever) or the surrounding area
* They were the team your dad took you to see for your first professional league game
* Your family’s roots are in the relevant area even though you were born and/or raised far away, even abroad
* You formed a close bond through playing or otherwise working for your club of choice, or working/studying/living in the town, city or region where it plays
As rules go, these did not seem too oppressive. They meant my own Sunderland support was beyond criticism despite my birthplace being, to my everlasting shame, Hove. My family had loads of North-eastern connections, to Sunderland and elsewhere in the region, and moved to County Durham in the earliest months of my life. Sunderland, before Parliament mucked about with local government boundaries, was the “county team” and I remained there for the next 23 years.
My dad did indeed take me to see Sunderland for my first professional league game; Brian Clough scored the winner so we are reaching deep into history.
But I am aware that many people, from leafy Surrey and all corners of Ireland to South East Asia and for all I know Mars, consider my rules outdated and irrelevant.
So I now add the following easy means of establishing eligibility:
* You decided to support the club because it seemed to be very successful or had just won something important
* You liked the club’s name
* All the lads (or lasses) at school put team names in a hat and you had to promise to support the one you pulled out
In other words, football support is from now on a free-for-all. If the top clubs are just global brands, and not really anything to do with their surrounding communities, why should we not be able to latch on to – and discard – them just as readily as we do our favourite pop groups, makes of jeans or mobile phones?
Life becomes so less complicated. We can chop and change, switching loyalties as often as we wish. “United ’til I die” becomes not “United ’til half time”, as some wags would have it if United happened to go behind early, but “United ’til I say otherwise”.
And having seen the error of my past dogmatic ways, I already feel a better person.