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?
For the best part of a century Hartlepool and Darlington were bound together through shared derbies that added a couple of high points to what were, more often than not, long and dreary seasons. Holding little hope of any more substantial achievement, fans of both clubs focused intensely on beating "them" once or twice a year. There was the occasional season apart but the breaks never lasted long as both clubs quickly returned to their natural habitat of the fourth division.
Fans will always moan about their team but Jason McKeown thinks some criticism goes too far
Having minutes earlier scored his second goal of the game to put Bradford City 3-1 up over Barnet, striker James Hanson deserved to feel good about himself. Yet after failing to keep an over-hit pass towards him from going out of play, the Annoying Bloke Behind (ABB) was unsentimental in his response: "Piss off Hanson, you useless prick!"
There are five ages to being a football fan. In Age One, you are the wide-eyed innocent in your father's wake, awestruck at every kick, scream and swearword. In the Second Age, you are the young teenager at the game with his mates, gleefully and liberally squawking those same swearwords. In Age Three, in your late teens and early 20s, you are the detached, laconic observer, trying to pretend that you don't care by laughing at your team's failures, all the while hurting underneath.
Travelling on the Space Shuttle, appearing on Top of the Pops with my own synth band, playing for Ipswich: these were all ambitions that I had at various points during my childhood. Jimmy Savile heartlessly ignored requests to arrange the first two, and my lack of anything resembling football talent soon ruled out the latter. Which left me with one tantalisingly achievable alternative – to be the Ipswich mascot.
Before the start of the campaign, each team is technically dead level. Even the most battle-weary of supporters may cling to the belief that the new owner/chairman will usher in "a new age of prosperity", that the "dynamic" and "forward-thinking" new boss will cajole and inspire the troops and that the new striker will rip through opposition defences at will. Reality can sink in within minutes, or the belief may seep out of the club like a slowly deflating balloon over a period of weeks. Unless you happen to follow one of the elite group who actually land trophies regularly, supporting a football team is just one long false dawn.
I was unlucky, I suppose, that both of the first two English football matches I ever saw ended without a goal. But what I remember most about my first trip to Villa Park, on the first Saturday of February, 1984, wasn’t the score, the weather, or even the opposition: it was all the empty seats.
Through the wonders of modern technology, I've been watching 15-year-old episodes of David Baddiel and Frank Skinner's Fantasy Football League (why I've been doing this, when hairshirts are so cheap, is a matter I've placed in the hands of my therapist). These days, as you might expect, this once-hip horror looks dreadfully dated and often painfully unfunny, a very obvious ancestor of Lovejoy and Corden's boorish bollocks.
The year 1985 was a nadir for English football in a decade of great change for football supporters in Britain. And May was the pit of the trough. Supporters were caged in decrepit stadiums and 56 of them died in a fire at Bradford City's ground on May 11. Violence was rife at home and abroad, policing was brutal and on the same day a 14-year-old was killed during fighting between Leeds and Birmingham fans and police at St Andrew's. Just over two weeks later, these two factors came together killing 39 and injuring 600 at Heysel.
Cameron Carter investigates the vast spectrum of football collectables, with some unusual finds
It used to be a lot simpler. Collecting football memorabilia meant saving your match programme and tremblingly accepting the football card from father's cigarette packet. Now there appear to be hundreds of different categories of collectables to choose from. And, like television channels, the greater choice means only that there are a lot of choices that should never have existed.