IT IS well-known fact that Australians love their football. We have multiple professional codes of the game, and it is almost a requirement of citizenship to be a die-hard fan of one team or another from the embryonic stage of life.
That is why what I am about to say next may be a little bit surprising. When it comes to football, the English do it better.
I recently made my way up to North London on the day of the Arsenal match against Tottenham. This is what they call the ‘North London derby’, with the rival teams going head to head in a match that is often the trigger for antipathy, malice and hilarious banter.
Acquaintances that are Arsenal fans gave us the hot tip as to which pub near the stadium to go to, and so we traipsed up to the El Comandante bar at lunchtime to watch the match a mere stone’s throw from Emirates Stadium.
Let me make something clear: I have on occasion written about the chav lifestyle, and I am not at all saying all football fans in England are chavs. Without question, football is an important (almost religious) experience for most. However some of the hooliganism associated with the game is the result of bullish chavs looking to unleash repressed aggression. On the other hand the majority of Arsenal supporters at the El Comandante were ‘proper geezers’ that loved their team and were excited by the Gunners 5-2 victory over their arch-nemesis.
English football fans, chavvy or otherwise, are passionate about their sport. All it takes in the bar is for one exuberant fan to yell the first line of a well-known chant and the entire crowd erupts in song. The chants range from supportive of key players in the Arsenal squad, to slightly more colourful ones expressing their distaste for their Tottenham opponents.
The beers flow after the Arsenal victory and, as happens when too many boys and too much beer is put together, things start to get a bit rowdy. At one point, the lights came on and a bell started ringing. Confused, I looked around to find the source of the commotion and a chant burst out from the other side of the bar. Fans started pointing at a rather suspicious looking group of men standing by the bar, yelling the question “Are you Tottenham in disguise?” in unison.
The crowd grew louder, as the opposition had been identified in the heart of Arsenal supporter territory. The men in question made the wise move of leaving the premises rather quickly, and things returned to normal. It was a small insight into the football culture and ‘lad’ attitude that exists in English sport. It can be confrontational to the novice fan, but you can never say it’s boring.