Fandom across the pond

Over the past 20 years, professional soccer in England has been in the process of changing its image. Clubs raised ticket prices in an attempt to keep hooligans out of stadiums while funding the purchases of higher profile players, got rid of standing-room-only tickets and gradually tried to change the colour of the sport’s collar from blue to white. Yet, despite the sweeping change from the top, the passion of supporters remains unaltered. Over the Christmas break this year, I made it a point to try to find out why football supporters are as willing as they are to spend the money and time that they do on their teams.

Lee Cadogan, 31, is a lifelong Tottenham Hotspur Football Club supporter. Established 126 years ago, Spurs have an illustrious and successful history in English football, but the past 20 years have been relatively fruitless for the north London club, picking up just three trophies in that time. Though raised in Harlow, Essex, Cadogan said supporting Tottenham ran both in his family and his town.

“The town I’m from, everyone moved from [north] London out to that town, so the whole history of the town I’m from, like, all the families, are all from this area,” he said. “It’s a long line of Tottenham fans.”

Cadogan said that he spends well over £1,000—almost $2,000—supporting Tottenham each season.

“I’ve got season tickets so straight away that’s about £700, with the cup games and all, in the course of the season you must be talking at least £2,000,” he said. “I go to three to four away games per year.”

For Cadogan, it’s nothing more than hope that keeps him coming back year after year.

“Being a Tottenham supporter is the ultimate high and the ultimate low. In the past year we’ve won the [Carling] Cup, been to Wembley, beaten one of the biggest teams in football and we also find ourselves bottom of the table,” he said. “Before he even sees a ball kicked, a season ticket holder is pouring his heart and soul and money into the hope of seeing that little something, and it’s just that hope that keeps you going. You see a really bad game one week, you hope that next week you see one of the best games that’s ever been. Sometimes you lose, sometimes you don’t. It’s hope.”

For Cadogan, football is more than a distraction; it’s a part of life which was inspired and fostered by his family and became a way for his family to connect.

“Most people follow their family roots—their parents, their grandparents, all followed one team—and it’s almost part of the family,” he said. “My family gets together to watch football. If we’re playing away, we get together to watch games. It just brings everyone together.”

Beyond family, Cadogan sees football as a glue which holds not just English families, but English society together.

“The way it’s built into society here, it’s just something that you can talk to anyone in the country about,” he said. “Everyone knows politics, everyone knows what’s happening in the world around them, you can talk to anyone about those subjects, and football is another one. You can talk to anyone in the street and go ‘So what team do you support?’ or ‘Did you see the game the other night?’ and you can have a whole conversation with a complete stranger and it’s just part of it all.”

Finally, Cadogan said the tradition of football is a major part of its grip on English society.

“You look back over the years and it’s just so traditional. Look at Boxing Day. It’s just such a tradition that all games are played that day, all local derbies are played that day, everyone gets together,” he said. “You have your family get together on Christmas Day, you open all your presents together, the next day, Boxing Day, everyone’s at football. It’s traditional. It’s been around for so long now.” Michele Law, 28, is a passionate Reading supporter, and a member of the Supporter’s Trust at Reading. Reading was established in 1871, but have almost always languished in the lower divisions of English football. Although they were promoted to the Premier League in 2006, they were relegated back down in 2008. Sporting two Reading tattoos, Law has supported Reading Football Club for 14 years, and hasn’t missed a game in 11 years, home or away.

“Over the course of the season I spend close to £2,000 on football,” she said. “It’s difficult to explain. I like going to the games, I like the passion and the atmosphere. I like being with my friends. I feel like I’m part of something when I go to the football. It’s a collection of little things, really, that build up to something great.”

Law explained that, due to the relatively small size of the United Kingdom, it becomes both easier to support your team.

“Sport is slightly more territorial [in the UK] than in a lot of other places,” she said. “I follow my team up and down the country, but you can’t do that in other places. It’s too big. In the U.S. or Canada, you can’t fly around every week to watch your team week in and week out.

“Sport is part of life, that’s how it is.”

Canadians are passionate about their hockey. But with the increasing cost of tickets, the large numbers of games in a season and the distance between hockey cities, most fans find it more convenient to support their teams on occasion at the arena, but more often at home or at the bar.

Larry Woods, Sci ’78, has had partial Ottawa Senators season tickets for the past 12 years. Those 12 years have seen the rejuvenation of the newest incarnation of Ottawa’s professional hockey program, as the team began consistently making the playoffs and playing well during the regular season.

Woods said he spends around the same amount of money as Cadogan and Law to watch hockey, but he sees far fewer live games per season.

“We share our season tickets, so we get about a third of the home games, which comes to about 13 games in a season, plus playoffs,” he said. “We spent up to $4,000 to $5,000 [per year] for the past six years.”

After 12 years of holding season tickets, though, Woods said this year will be his last.

“The tickets are really expensive. For a pair of tickets it’s $300 [per game],” he said. “The only reason we had the tickets was a family thing. The boys are at Queen’s now, so the family element is gone. With the state of the economy it’s a lot of money and the Senators just aren’t as good a team. It’s a combination of those factors.”

With the money spent on tickets for home games, Woods said the idea of away games didn’t appeal to him.

“I don’t know if I’d make a special trip [to watch a game],” he said. “If they’re playing in ... a city I happen to be in, I’d get tickets, but I wouldn’t travel around just to see them. It’s too expensive.”

Unlike Cadogan and Law, Woods said the success of the team is vital to his decision whether or not to renew his season tickets.

“If you spend a lot of money on tickets ... you expect fabulous entertainment and you can legitimize the cost,” he said. “But if you’re paying $300 to watch your team get beat, it’s crazy. You can spend $300 on a pair of really nice dinners which would be more enjoyable.”

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