John Williams of the Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football Research previews some of the main findings of the 1997 Carling Premiership survey due to be published next month

You know that smug Carling poster ad, with the guy with his head in his hands contemplating the message of his son’s catastrophic defection to (gulp) rugby? The words a father most dreads hearing? Forget it. Much worse is to learn that your offspring has resisted the obvious charms of your own footballing heroes for another football club.

The new FA Premier League Fan Survey (out later this month) points out that the child defector is very much alive and kicking in the Premier League, too.

This year’s survey, based on over 28,000 fan returns, also includes respondents from Glasgow Rangers for the first time for some English/Scottish comparisons. No surprise, then, that Rangers fans are right up there with those with strong family traditions of club support (Figure 1 overleaf). In fact, there is a clear north/north east thread here, with fans from southern clubs generally showing fewer family ties. Wimbledon, we already know, is a ‘young’ League club which collects fans from a number of sources, including other clubs. Notice, too, Chelsea’s rather capricious support, and also the tendency for Leeds to attract followers in the 1970s who had no earlier tradition of support for the club, or attachment to the area.

Overall, around four out of ten Premier League season-ticket holders have no family connections with their chosen club. A kick in the teeth for all those ‘football support as cultural inheritance’ theories; or, simply, a sign of increased mobility and the changing football times?

So what of their own kids? About one in eight Premier League fans who have school age kids have blighters who Support someone else. At Wimbledon that figure soars to almost one in four (Figure 2). At 12 top clubs ‘traitor kids’ opt mostly for Man United, who else? Kids at Leeds and Everton mostly favour Liverpool. Some should-be Chelsea kids like Arsenal. Shock of the round here, though, is that Sunderland fans have children who have fallen mostly for big money Newcastle. Maybe the new Stadium of Light and the exotic Niall Quinn will swiftly turn that around... In all, one quarter of all child defectors follow Man United; 16% go for Liverpool; 7% for Arsenal. Derby County, Southampton and Sunderland attract no delinquent followers at all.

Sunderland fans do, at least, top the regular club fanzine buyers chart this year, closely followed by Everton (Figure 3). In times of adversity fans are probably more likely to turn to these wise voices from within. Maybe the high Man Utd rating here reflects local concerns about over-commercialization? (Or else just that anything about United sells?) Blackburn Rovers’ season-ticket fans have no time for mere fanzines. Figures here also generally confirm that the 1997 general sample does include supporters who, indeed, ‘connect’ with, or are at least aware of, the ‘alternative’ fan voices around their own clubs.

What else in the 1997 survey? Well, lots of material about club services and facilities; interesting findings on fan spending; fans’ views on the structure and size of the Premier League and on possible Scottish participation in the Premiership; comments, too, on relations between big and smaller clubs and on the intrusion in to the game of the stock market. We also asked questions about women and football and about terraces (25% of all respondents still preferred to stand). Details of all this, and more, will be in the main report.

There are some detailed findings, too, on patterns of TV football watching. Match of the Day is still almost universally watched, of course, but where are the real footballing square eyes? Well, they can’t get enough of it at Rangers (Figure 4). Maybe their fans can’t quite believe what they are watching in their own league? Rangers fans are also the biggest watchers of Channel 4 Italian Football, followed by Arsenal and Chelsea; fans in the Midlands, down to earth folk that they are, much preferred the orgy of Nationwide football on offer there last season. Again, it looks like some sad Northerners (and Arsenal fans) do little else than tune in and watch the bouncing ball. Clearly, not in Blackburn though, where there is a lot more to do than simply stay at home, read the fanzine, and watch footy. But what, exactly? As we say in the trade, this is an area where we really need to do more research... 

From WSC 128 October 1997. What was happening this month

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