There’s something highly irritating about the fan who simply chooses the best team that he or she has no immediate connection too, and it’s a condition that affects the South of England far more than the North. A couple of years ago I found myself watching one of Manchester United’s Champions League games in The Tollington – an Arsenal pub about three minutes walk from the Emirates Stadium. To my surprise, United’s goals were met with cheers and applause, and no one protested. These United fans weren’t all exiled Mancs living in London, they were Southerners. Rival fans like to deride United by suggesting Old Trafford is full of people from Surrey, which is horseshit. But, it’s undeniable that United’s popularity extends deep into the Home Counties – the heart of glory hunter territory – which happens to be where I grew up.
I spent my formative years in Hertfordshire, an unremarkable county in the South East of England. There is practically no regional identity here. Many of the locals are gravitating towards London for work, or have moved out of the city for a spot of green land in the commuter belt. The close proximity to London and its abundance of professional clubs means there are no big football clubs in the Home Counties; most of the teams from the larger towns are lower division sides or non-league outfits.
This lack of pressure to follow one side or another means many kids are free to follow teams as they wish, which results in large numbers aligning with the most successful clubs of the moment. This is how glory hunters are created, and in my day (and in many days since) the club that picked up the most of this low hanging fruit has been Manchester United.
I also had the freedom to choose whoever I wanted, but overlooked the potential influences of my Mum (United) and Dad (Arsenal) and ended up falling for my local team, Watford. While this would ultimately give me a fairly secure moral high ground over my peers, it was a predominantly miserable experience during my teenage years. This was the 1990′s, when United were taking off under Fergie, football was becoming ‘cool’, and Gladiators was essential Saturday evening telly. And, while all this was going on, Watford were properly shit, playing in a mostly empty stadium, with little or no interest from the outside world.
It was this total lack of attention that hurt my teenage self the most. While all the glory hunters had limitless media coverage with newspaper stories and magazine interviews, as well as Match of the Day, and live games on Sky, I used to get excited if there was one 150 word match report in the national papers, which there almost never was. I subscribed to 90 Minutes magazine for years and can’t remember a single feature relating to Watford. If I hadn’t been to the game, I had to record the Endsleigh Insurance League programme that ITV used to broadcast at 11.30pm on Monday, just to catch Gabriel Clark narrating a 20 second glimpse of what happened (most of the show was dedicated to Ricky Otto’s stepovers).
I’d try to console myself by saying the glory hunters didn’t really get it; they’d never feel anything like the bond of I had with my team because they weren’t proper fans. I was going to watch Watford with whatever spare money I had, with the experience of ‘live’ football to enrich my soul. All they had was watching the TV from their living room sofa. But, this logic didn’t really work for two reasons. Firstly, going to watch Watford at that time was almost always awful – there was no atmosphere and the football was terrible.
The second problem was that going to Watford did not mean I escaped United’s presence. Their merchandise was sold in all the big sports shops – often where Watford’s was not. On any given Saturday afternoon the High Street was full of fuckers in United shirts. They weren’t going to a match, of course, they weren’t even watching United in the pub. No, they had simply decided to put on their red shirt while they popped down to C&A. This is how I came to loathe United. The more they won, the more I resented anyone who claimed to support them (I made an exception in my Mum’s case). After a while I noticed United had even managed to infiltrate Vicarage Road. I started to see kids at Watford games wearing United shirts, their weak minded parents having given up the fight. They say you’re never more than six feet away from a rat in London, and that’s how I felt about United fans. Suddenly they were everywhere.
But, the third and most telling reason awarding myself ‘proper fan’ status had little effect was because the glory hunters simply didn’t give a shit – and why would they, United were winning everything. They got all that success and they didn’t have to put anything in other than turning on the telly. Bastards.
To make matters worse, when forced to interact with these people I began to realise they didn’t know much about football. In various jobs I began to encounter the kind of office wanker who asks who you support then tries to make a joke of your reply with something like, “someone has to!” or “oh, you’re the other one! haha!” . They would then try to cover their lack of knowledge of my club by saying “so, how do you think Watford are going to do” but found it impossible to conceal their lack of interest when I started to offer an opinion. Their next comment was inevitably, “yeah, well, better get back to work”. So, you see, these people need to suffer. They’ve had TWENTY years of success to fall back on.
The absolute hysteria after three (THREE!) league defeats has brought me some joy, especially when I think of all those proud bells wandering up and down Watford High Street . It’s not enough, though. I want that smug office wanker from Hemel to feel the same insecurities about his team that I did. But, it’s a futile desire, because even if United were utterly humiliated this season , more likely is he’ll just lose interest. I guess that would prove me right about the shallow nature of the glory hunters, but would mean I’d had to endure two decades of loathing to do so, while they’ve just enjoyed a nice ride. Which kind of means they win again. Urgh.