Leading psychologists from Siggy Freud downwards have concluded that we humans are judgmental as a rule. There are few things that we can view dispassionately. If we take these as inviolable premises, we are lead to the inevitable conclusion that there exist no ‘neutral’ football fans. A degree of partisanship is not merely ubiquitous, it is also indispensible if one is to enjoy the beautiful game.
‘Reason is,’ declared David Hume, ‘and ought only to be the slave of the passions.’ There is no reason for us to watch a football match if we are not passionate about it, if we are ‘neutral’ in the truest sense of that word. As it is, most teams give us plenty of reason to support or deride them despite the fact that we follow one team for the entire season.
Let me illustrate. Being a United fan, the Premier Division is divided broadly into ‘Us’ and ‘Them,’ friends and foes, allies and axis, the moral and the immoral, the saints and the sinners and so on and so forth. Broadly, ‘Us’ consist of:
1) Man Utd (duh!)
2) Enemies of our enemies: The likes of Everton, Tottenham and Fulham by virtue of their being fierce rivals of United’s fierce rivals.
3) Bunny teams: United always seem to thrash Wigan Athletic. Needless to say, Wigan Athletic are one of the good guys (I doubt if the feeling is mutual, though).
The reprobate ‘Them’ boast of, inter alia,
1) Liverpool and Man City (duh!)
2) Trophy Contenders: Arsenal and Chelsea. City would fit nicely into this category these days. Poor ol’ Liverpool.
3) Teams that have had a decent record against United in the recent past. Basically, teams that are to United what United are to the likes of Wigan and Spurs.
There you have it. The league is nicely split into Us and Them. There is no Premier League match I can watch as a ‘neutral.’ Perhaps I’m watching Barcelona pass their way around Inter Milan in the Champions League. It’s a clear clash of ideologies. Although I care for neither team, I may be a supporter of their respective ideologies. The philosophy of passing your way with orgasmic touches into the opposition net or the philosophy of parking a bus in front of your own (just generalising, no need to get offended, there’s plenty of that going around). This gives me cause to support either of the two combatants and consequently gives me reason to actually watch the match. I may support Real Madrid when they take on their nemesis in the El Clasico because Ronaldo plays for them. Either way, I have sufficient cause to actually watch the match.
When a putative neutral is watching a football match, he is, in his heart, a supporter of one of the two teams. If he’s not supporting either team, he’s either stoned, forced to watch or sleeping with the telly switched on. There can be no two ways about this. So, the next time somebody tells you they are ‘neutral’ football fans that care only about this great sport of ours, you’d know them for the humbugs they really are. Show me a neutral fan and I’d show you a Premier League trophy won by Liverpool.