It is not just the so called big teams who attract international support. Janice Allen-Brade reports on Norwich City's global fanbase
The global popularity of the big Premier League clubs is an unmistakable aspect of modern football. But one of the unwritten stories about the League's international popularity is how many of the so-called smaller teams have foreign fanbases. Locations include Norway where Blackburn have a strong following largely cultivated in the 1990s, and Iceland where a supporters' club for Wolves was set up in 2000. And then there's my team, Norwich City. Why would someone living in Europe or the Far East support a club that has no real international exploits to speak of – save one golden albeit short-lived spell in Europe – and an eccentric TV chef at the helm?
It's no surprise that their motivations are distinctive – and often involve the team's unusual strip. David Lee, 35, from Hong Kong has been a die-hard Norwich fan for almost 20 years. He stays up late at night to listen to live matches at the weekend, insists on playing seven-a-side games in his Norwich kit and plasters his Facebook page with pictures of the mascot Captain Canary.
"I have supported Norwich City ever since I first saw them play in the 1992 FA Cup semi-final against Sunderland," he says. "I wasn't very familiar with the team at the time but the yellow and green caught my eyes instantly because it reminded me of the lovebirds I kept when I was seven." Despite living 5,887.3 miles away from Carrow Road, David still manages to visit each Autumn. "I usually spend three weeks in England around mid-October when I'll try to fit in four or five games. The club are always very friendly, and they have allowed me to watch the players while they train."
Like David, Norwegian Lars Waage was attracted to the bright stripes of Norwich City. Lars recalls: "It all began in 1975 when I watched the League Cup final between Norwich and Aston Villa. It was only the second time I had ever seen a football match in colour on TV, and I was fascinated by the yellow and green Norwich wore". Lars is an active member of the Scandinavian Canaries supporters' group. On match days he connects with fellow Norwich fans in Norway also writes features for the fanzine. "There are about 100 Norwich fans in Norway," he says "and at least five or six "official" supporters in my hometown Bergen. Still, you can imagine how shocked I was when I went to a local pub to watch the team play Leeds [during 2009-10] and found 20 other fans sat there in Norwich jerseys."
Hamad Abdulla from Bahrain has supported the Canaries for over 20 years, since he was eight. The reason? "I always used to root for the underdog and disliked those who searched for glory by supporting the big clubs. In Bahrain today you'll rarely come across locals who support clubs other than Man Utd, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea. It's funny how each has his own story about how they became a fan of those clubs, trying to find an appropriate excuse to justify their newfound support."
It hasn't always been easy to see his team's matches. "In the 1980s, Bahrain TV used to show weekly highlights of top-flight English matches, late at night, once-a-week. This programme, and the Sunday newspapers were our only sources of news on English football. It is much easier to follow a team like Norwich today thanks mainly to the internet, and various sporting channels in the Middle East which cover clubs of all sizes. And with Norwich back in the top division. I am able to see nearly all of their games live on television – a unique experience that fans of larger clubs often take for granted." Hamad has seen Norwich action just the once – but it was a special occasion. "I visited Carrow Road in 2008, for a match against Blackpool, which we drew one-all. It was an amazing experience to finally witness a live game after all these years."
From WSC 297 November 2011