Cameron Carter Begins our new column by scrutinising the way we decide which team to follow
Morality is nomadic, we know this from history. The Ancient Greeks believed it was perfectly acceptable for a man to love a boy – and I mean any boy – whereas trousering stray apples was punishable by death. In the West it was only in the last decade that fidgeting was legalised in infant schools. Yet there remain some last taboos that prevail across most cultures: murder, incest and changing the football team you support.
Most of us have selected our team for life by the age of five – an age when we can spend the best part of an hour smacking a mud hill with the back of a spade while conspicuously wearing safety pants. Would we choose our career, our political affiliation, our life partner at this age? The answer must be a resounding no – otherwise there would be a surfeit in society of apolitical train drivers holed up with a jingly panda. So surely there should come a point later in our lives when we might legitimately, and without censure, make a more informed choice about which club we would like to follow and, as a consequence, switch allegiance.
Just as we are permitted to vote for one of three Conservative parties upon turning 18, so we should have the opportunity to fix upon our football team at that age. I chose to support Arsenal when I was five, probably because they won the Double that year but also because I liked the kit and Charlie George looked like every single one of my older brother's friends.
Had I waited until my 18th birthday, I may have opted for Southampton, as the nearest team to my hometown and one I could more easily mention – along with names like Reuben Agboola and Ivan Golac – in a facetious tone, to comply with the prevailing college-boy snobbery towards the game. It would actually be quite reasonable for a psychometric test to be applied in early adulthood to match individuals to the most fitting club.Home-loving, spirited but ultimately unambitious? Try Norwich City. Confident and charismatic in public but afraid of the inner silence when alone? Take Chelsea. New to football? Sign up to the Manchester City Project.
For that matter, why not free ourselves of these self-administered chains entirely and change teams whenever we choose – or not support an individual team at all? If the owners of clubs wish to commercialise the game to make maximum profits, then perhaps fans should act more like conventional consumers and treat the game as a product and the teams as brands. Should we cling to a half-remembered childhood vow when most players manifestly look elsewhere towards the end of every season, and our club tacks and lists on the commercial whims of a foreign gentleman who made his money in the post-communism cupcakes boom?
Shouldn't we, as consumers, look around for a cheaper or more accessible team that brand loyalty had previously prevented us from considering? Why not try another team on a trial basis, at trial size (say, two or three games) and if they give us a better experience than our previous club, or the same experiences at a lesser cost and inconvenience, we might legitimately stay with the new brand.
But we are not ready for this yet. Researching this topic, I asked a handful of people if they would ever consider changing team. The query resulted in four swift one-word rebuttals, with only one person bothering to supply a rationale, peppered with abuse words, to their answer. Loyalty is not necessarily a force for good. Many more atrocities are committed through loyalty to a flag or charismatic leader than by dangerous loners acting on their own free will. Loyalty also breeds complacency in its subject. Look what happened to Tonight-period David Bowie and to West Ham every other season.
The philosopher Josiah Royce argued that to lead a morally significant life, one's actions must express a self-consciously asserted will. It is not good enough to simply copy the conventional moral behaviour. This is the time to assert that self-will and wield our little wooden sword of consumer choice. The herd mentality can be consigned to the past – we should by now be heading towards an enlightened society of limitless possibilities, as acted out by the Deal Or No Deal participants in their hotel and television studio demi-monde.
It is time to be moving away from the one man-one club mentality of those ghostly pre-Premier League days. As we are paying 21st century prices and player wages, we must counter with a vigorous new philosophy and go where the spirit and the marketplace take us. Or veer towards the football that is most aesthetically pleasing to us at any given time. Love of tradition has painted the British fan into a corner: we allow ourselves to admire foreign teams, we merely support our own.
From WSC 295 September 2011