Given the debate about whom neutrals should support in the Manchester derby, I thought I’d do some thinking aloud on how neutrals might look at football. My club is DC United of MLS (worst record in the league last year, but no relegation, ha ha), so I’m nominally a neutral as regards the Premier League. But often I find myself unconsciously supporting a particular team in a particular match, or rooting for a team either to win the title or survive relegation. So what criteria do neutrals use?
Everyone likes a good upset, and with football a plutocracy these days, we’ll root for someone to take the big boys down a peg. This reached a peak a couple of years ago during Leicester City’s title race. By February I was an unabashed Foxes supporter, basically punching the air every time they scored. The sun will go nova before that sort of thing happens again, of course – which means you can take my wife’s approach. She likes football, and wanted to pick a Premier League team to support. I asked her what she wanted in a team, and she replied: “I like teams that win.”
Managers you like/dislike
This tends to rank pretty high. At least 98% of football managers are d*cks of one kind or another, and you know how badly you want to see [insert name of your choice] have his grinning face smashed in. On rare occasions an exceptionally nice guy gets the job (Chris Hughton, naturally, and also…actually I can’t think of anyone else), and you want to see him do well.
Players you like/dislike
Everyone has a player they can’t possibly root against (mine is Santi Cazorla – sigh), whether it’s a guy who’s just your style, or a club legend who’s gone on to bigger and better things. The reverse applies as well, particularly to that Judas who moved to a big club just as you were establishing yourself in the top flight.
Owners you like/dislike
Roman Abramovich, The Dildo Brothers, Mike Ashley, the Glazers, etc. etc. Um…are there any owners anyone likes?
Style of play
We all want to see attacking football, and when [insert name with initials J.M. or S.A.] parks the bus we’re not happy. On the other hand, when a sexy foreign manager with a beard or a shaven head comes along and thinks defence is so 20th Century, we breathe heavily and pledge our undying love. Until the backlash starts because everyone is breathing heavily and pledging their undying love. Which brings us to…
It goes without saying that the Commies at F365 will always support a foreign manager. Buy British!
All football fans are closet aesthetes, but it isn’t manly to discuss the relative merits of Whistler and Rossetti, so we settle for football kits. Stoke City have had some great home strips lately, but what were they thinking with that stripe down the middle for Arsenal last year?
If a side gets a dodgy penalty, I’ll root for the taker to miss. In fact, if a team gets shafted by any kind of refereeing decision, I’ll usually start rooting for them. On the other hand, you always want to see exactly how badly a manager will complain about the refs, conveniently forgetting that his team only crossed the halfway line twice in the second half.
Our lives are pretty dull (hence football in the first place), and any freak of nature that comes along is bound to grab our allegiance. I find that if a player or side has a ridiculous streak of some kind going on, I hope it continues forever. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was when Sunderland finally won a game that Jack Rodwell started. But he got injured in that game, so OK.
A comeback from injury is always nice, and I couldn’t help pulling for Callum Wilson and Charlie Austin to get on the scoresheet recently. Then there’s the emergence of exciting young players – if and only if they don’t buy houses for their parents. And of course, there’s Jamie Vardy’s rise from non-league oh God please no more.
Come on, we all rooted for Carlos Valderrama. And before him there was the one and only Leonardo Cuellar of Mexico, my favourite player at the 1978 World Cup.
— Old School Panini (@OldSchoolPanini) September 30, 2014
On the other hand, a man-bun or a mullet will quite rightly put us off a player forever. And frankly I just don’t love David Silva the same way without his mop-top. Garth Crooks would probably have something to say about hairdos – has anyone asked him lately?
I knew it all along
Somehow football fans can’t help making predictions, no matter how idiotic they’ll eventually make us look. If we’ve predicted Arsenal will make the top four, then dag nab it, we’re going to root them home, despite the inevitable bouts of hopelessness and despair we’ll experience. Journalists are of course more susceptible to this sort of thing, since their reputations are on the line. But if you’re an inveterate predictor like me (I had Burnley to go down, by the way), the best way to approach it is to hope you’re wrong, because that way you learn something. At least that’s what I tell myself.
I’m sure you can think of other criteria. In fact, we can generally find some reason to favour something over something else, because that’s sort of how human beings roll. To the extent that football fans are human, we’re no different.
So let’s see: it’s Liverpool-Everton on Sunday. Sexy foreign manager with beard against S.A, so that’s pretty easy. But wait – Everton are a big underdog, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin is an exciting young player who hasn’t bought his parents a house. But Mo Salah’s got the great hair, and how can you support a team with ‘Angry Birds’ on their shirts? But I’ve always liked Gylfi Sigurdsson…oh well, I’ll just wait and see. Someone’s bound to get shafted by a ref’s decision.