Can you call yourself a ‘true’ sports fan?

Brian O’Driscoll’s latest book supposedly makes for an interesting read when digested in large chunks, but the extracts have fallen well short of Roy Keane’s on the Richter scale.

If there is one thing that seems to have touched a nerve, it was his radio interview earlier this week when he expressed his frustration with the ‘Lunsters’, those chameleon-like fans from Leinster who supported Munster back in the day before switching allegiance to their home side.

Which begs the question: what actually defines a ‘true’ fan?

Bill Simmons, the famed American sports journalist for ESPN, once asked the same question and came up with a detailed manifesto, some of which was specific to the scene across ‘The Pond’ but parts of which held some universal truths. Here’s this column’s stab at a few of the essentials.

1. The first one goes without saying: You cannot ever change or contemplate changing, your allegiance. There is only one acceptable exception to this rule: the time when you were four or five, still eating grass and waiting for the Tooth Fairy’s next visit and you decided that brief fling with Blackburn Rovers was a bad idea and maybe someone like Liverpool or Chelsea was the way to go after all. (Time to hold a hand up here and admit that this column once held an infatuation with Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town team when a force in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s before being converted by a trip to Old Trafford. The slagging was relentless: even in junior infants).

2. You cannot have a favourite team in another league/sport or country. People who declare they are ‘Munster till they die’ throughout the winter and spring and don the county GAA jersey for the summer months can never be deemed true fans. Neither can those who support, say, an English club and Celtic. Just as divorce is illegal, monogamy is essential in the world of sports fandom.

3. Defeats must hurt. Properly hurt. For at the very least a day but, ideally, much more. Anyone can walk out the door with a replica jersey on their backs and a skip in their step, but if you are one of those pretenders who can be found laughing and joking down the pub later that evening with your mates, then you just don’t cut the mustard, pal. (Hat tip here to the Chicago Bears fan who couldn’t even look at a Green Bay Packers friend of this column after a recent game between the sides in Soldier Field. “It’d be better if you just leave,” the gutted Bear said after the home team’s loss. The threat of violence was unstated but understood. Respect, dude!)

4. We will disagree with the estimable Mr Simmons here. Your team winning a championship or some sort of crucial game actually does give you the right to act like a complete berk. Chances are that, if you are a true fan, then the team of your dreams has given you more than enough nightmares for long enough. Enjoy it. Rub everybody else’s noses in it. Just remember that what goes around invariably comes around.

5. Perhaps the most divisive one of all: when is it okay to use the word ‘we’ when talking about ‘your’ team? This isn’t a hard-and-fast one, but if you live, or hail from, the area where your team is based, then that may be acceptable. May, we stress. If you live in Ireland and your club of choice is the Pittsburgh Steelers, then this is a complete no-no.

6. Your team must affect your life every single day. Turning up on a Friday night or a Sunday afternoon doesn’t cut the mustard. How else are you justifying your status as a real fan? We’re not talking a garage converted into a shrine to James O’Donoghue or Henry Shefflin, but your no-half-measures supporter must surely be trawling through message boards, boring friends and family with team-related nonsense or being sidetracked in some other infatuated way by his/her allegiance. And to an unhealthy degree. Missed weddings, birthdays — you get the drill.

7. Which brings us to the next point. Following your team, if done right, should have a serious impact on your bank balance. Season tickets, transport — especially to away games, which you attend religiously in your role as a true fan — merchandise and so on should all set you back a fair whack. In fact, it is probably a serious issue between you and your better half. Like Nick Hornby in ‘Fever Pitch’.

8. You have to do your time. Most of us have held a torch for teams throughout our childhoods and into our teenage and early adult years. True fandom can only be claimed by those who have gone through puberty, left home, got a job, held down relationships and dealt with all of life’s infinitesimal amount of stuff and still feel as strongly for their lot as when they started. If all that’s you, then, respect.


* Twitter: @Rackob

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