The Welsh Gull

Torquay United, the Football League and other stuff

What is a glory-hunter?

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I hate to start in a rather boring and formulaic way but earlier I read this article by John Nicholson of Football365 on glory-hunter football fans, portraying them in a largely negative light. The idea is that the club you support should be part of your self-identity, and ideally should represent your residential background, or, to put it another way, where you came from. It suggests The Glory-Hunter is an Other – an objective type of fan. Nicholson (I don’t really intend on sounding like a pompous academic, but these days I am a pompous academic) does make some effort to differentiate between a glory-hunter and a loyal fan from far away, but I think the conclusion is a bit muddled.

For one, I do think it is hankering for a long-lost world – yes, glory-hunters have been around forever, but the assertion is that there are more today, which is probably true. Because let’s face it, the increased TV coverage over the past 20-30 years has been a game-changer. Whereas before if you wanted to watch a particular team week in week out, you had to actually go to a match, which restricted you to local stadiums. Today, not only do teams feature regularly live on Sky Sports or ESPN, but every match is usually broadcast somewhere, so that even with the 3 pm kick-off blackout in this country, you can just do a quick search for a stream on the internet, and suddenly you don’t have to leave your house to watch every single one of your teams matches during the season. This of course also applies to people in Malaysia, Mexico or Mississippi – the football fan of 2013 has a choice that the football fan of 1973 didn’t have.

This itself has created a new type of fan that many might consider a glory-hunter but actually is completely different – fans who are attracted by or appreciate talent.

Let’s just pause for a moment and define what a glory hunter is – by and large, it is literally someone who supports a successful team for the sake of it, and that the level of their loyalty is determined by whether or not the club can sustain the success. That’s quite an open definition and could include a wide variety of people.

I ventured BTL in the article and some people made some good points about lower leagues clubs – when they are successful, attendances go up, and when they are struggling, attendances go down. The highest average attendance figures at Plainmoor in recent years came from the year Torquay were promoted from Division Three in 2003-04 and the following year in League One.

Sometimes lower league fans get treated by football hipsters and disgruntled fans of Premier League clubs as the Fellahin – a more authentic type of football fan. But to treat lower league fans as one amorphous blob is not only disrespectful but totally inaccurate. I have noticed in recent months at Torquay that there is a noticeable division between those who want the club to be successful and those who want the club to survive in a healthy state – I would put myself in the former as I’m ambitious and think we could be doing better, whereas the latter group are happy for us to tread water and would be reluctant to have success in case we overstretch ourselves. On top of that you have different levels of glory-hunter – some turn up when the team’s doing well, while others only turn up for the big derbies against Exeter and Plymouth, or the big cup ties. Plus it’s worth considering that many Torquay fans also support bigger clubs, with some considering the Gulls are their “second team”. I would estimate that there are probably going on for about 8-10,000 people in the world who follow Torquay United, but only about 2,000 go every week.

Would the group that I’m in – the ambitious fans who want the club to push on – be considered glory-hunters? Most people would probably say no as it would be easier to support Manchester United or Chelsea, and ultimately we aren’t that success. But looking again at that definition, to a point my level of loyalty is determined by whether or not the club can be successful, which is pretty close. Am I a “proper” football fan? My loyalty to the club isn’t unwavering. I’m happy to criticise when necessary. I’d walk away if I felt the club was doing something immoral. I’m pissed off with the way the club is being run at the moment because I think we could be doing better – and some might call that glory-hunting. It’s also worth bearing in mind that my first season as a Torquay fan just happened to coincide with a run to the play-off final at Wembley – it helps to break children into football with a good team and a nice dollop of success.

Children are surely a case apart, though. I’m 22 tomorrow (I like telling myself this). When I was half my age, it was 2002, and Manchester United and Arsenal were the dominant teams of the Premier League. The vast majority of boys in my class at my South Wales Valleys school supported either United or Liverpool, and the only exceptions being the odd Newcastle or Leeds fan (that I can remember). It was quite surprising back then that there weren’t any Arsenal fans, hence why I grew up siding with them rather than United (as well as the fact that my dad is a closet Arsenal fan at heart). The reasons for supporting United were obvious, of course – most of those kids (myself included) started following football in the late 90s.

But as I grew up, the talk became less about those teams and more about Cardiff City. I can’t work out whether this was success-based or maturity-based – granted, a lot of kids do tend to deviate from their childhood glory-hunted clubs to their local clubs, like my dad did, but it is worth bearing in mind that my first football match in 1997 was a Division Three match between Cardiff and Torquay, whereas at the end of the 2002-03 season, Cardiff were promoted to what soon became rebranded as the Championship. I should imagine it’s a combination of the two – kids growing up to become adults and get immersed more in the fan culture, while at the same time the club was increasingly successful and becoming relevant again. At the same time, United were beaten by Arsenal and Chelsea in the Premier League, which might have also been a factor.

Having said that, are they glory-hunters? On the one hand, they weren’t interested in Cardiff when they were struggling. On the other, they have abandoned a bigger, more successful club to support a local club. It’s incredibly fuzzy. And now I’m going to add to that fuzziness.

As a lower league fan, I’ll be the first to admit that the football’s shit. The players are rejects from better clubs for a reason – they may be lacking in one area of their game (technical ability, stamina, pace, physical attributes), lack the consistency and drive to make it at a higher level, or lack the focus to avoid making stupid errors at least once in a match. Lower league matches are error-strewn and the tactics are crude – Jonathan Wilson might think that the striker is dead, but he’s alive and well in League Two every week, and will be for many years to come.

If you give people a choice between a lower-end Premier League match (Wigan vs Stoke, for example) and a top-end League Two match (say, Rotherham vs Gillingham), most people will still choose to watch the Premier League match. Why? Well, it’s the Premier League – big names, big narratives, but most importantly, better players and a higher standard. You have to admit that while Stoke do the ugly hoofball thing, they do it quite well, better than League Two sides. I got a close-up of this over the summer when Stoke came to Plainmoor for a pre-season friendly – though we got the draw, you could easily tell which team was the Premier League one, and you could easily tell that Peter Crouch is worthy of international football.

The fact is people like watching things that are better, and many of them will take this into account (consciously or subconsciously) when they choose their football clubs. Most people who support Manchester United don’t do it simply for the glory. In fact, I’ve heard it said that supporting United is a frustrating experience, because you either win, which is expected, or you lose, which is disappointing. Anything less than the Premier League trophy in Nemanja Vidic’s hands at the end of this season will be a disappointment.

What John Nicholson did not acknowledge in his article that there is a difference between supporting clubs who win trophies and supporting clubs who produce good teams. Some people support Manchester United because they enjoy watching a well-oiled footballing machine take teams apart, which just happen to win things. In the same way, Roger Federer is probably the most popular tennis player of all time not just because he wins tournaments but because he is an absolutely incredible tennis player who does things no one else can. Michael Schumacher was popular with glory-hunters but was also a brilliant racing driver who performed incredible feats. Lance Armstrong was…doping.

I’ve grown to quite like Manchester United. I wouldn’t consider myself a glory-hunter. It’s been a combination of a number of things – going to Old Trafford and seeing the history on display; watching them play some magnificent football; revisiting some of their great matches with a different perspective from wanting them to lose all the time. Plus it’s a nice contrast to the comparatively dull and dreary existence of my own club.

Most people usually go the other way – they drop out of supporting a big club to watch lower league clubs, or even watching non-league clubs instead of lower league clubs (because there are always smaller clubs than your own). People say it takes the pressure away, because you have less riding on it personally, instead of the heavy emotional investment.

But speaking from the perspective of someone who is probably in the process of going the other way, I don’t think it has anything to do with the size of the club – sometimes it’s just nice to switch allegiances, to try something different. And it just so happens that a lot of the clubs that people switch to are, shock horror, doing rather well in their respective league. Hey, you know what, maybe we’re all glory-hunters really…

I’ll end this by talking about another personal experience. Recently, I’ve really got into the NFL, and I decided to nail my colours to a mast. It’s interesting because it puts me in the same position as the millions of Premier and Football League fans from outside the UK, or more specifically, those just getting into it for the first time. There’s no guide on how to pick an NFL team – well, there’s a programme on the NFL-360 site which can pick one for you by answering certain questions, but that’s not how it goes. If you want to do it properly, to create emotional investment, it has to be natural – you have to be drawn to your team by gut feeling.

So I read up on the histories of each team. To begin with, I thought I’d go for an underdog – most likely a team that hasn’t won the Super Bowl before, rather than one of the big-time juggernauts. Given that the only US state to I’d been to before is Florida, I decided to go with a Florida team, and out of those 3, I decided to pick the only one that hasn’t won, or even been to the Super Bowl – the Jacksonville Jaguars. With their upcoming visits to Wembley, it felt right.

But then I started re-thinking, and talking to people. The Jags don’t really have much of a personality. They have Maurice Jones-Drew, a brilliant running back, but they have no history, they’re struggling to establish a fan culture and fanbase, and, speaking to other fans, nobody really thinks much of them – they are the Wigan Athletic of the NFL. Last year, they had a 2-14 record, the joint-worst in the NFL, and despite the great turnover of talent and teams at the top, it’s unlikely to change soon.

By this point, my mind was being drawn elsewhere – specifically, to the Green Bay Packers. The Packers are of course the most successful team in NFL history, with 13 titles, but only 4 of those are Super Bowl wins (and 2 of those were in the first two Super Bowls in 1966 and 1967). But it’s not the success that I’m drawn to. For a start, they play in green and yellow, which I like. They were established in 1919, which makes them one of the oldest teams in the NFL. Then there’s the fact that they play in Green Bay, WI, which has a population of just 100,000 – roughly the same size is Blackburn, but the US has a lot more bigger cities than the UK. The team is just about the only thing going for the place. It gives them a plucky underdog feel, but a successful plucky underdog. The Packers are also the only NFL team owned by their fans. They haven’t moved stadium since 1957 – Lambeau Field is the second oldest in the NFL. And they also have one of the best quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers, who guided the team to their most recent Super Bowl triumph in 2010.

It’s this combination of history, success and a plucky underdog feel that I’m drawn to. It’s glory-hunting to a certain extent but there’s a lot more behind it. And I will stick with them.

This is the point – how many people out there are glory-hunters in the traditional sense, jumping ship as soon as the trophies disappear? Given that the barrier of transport has been broken down by TV, meaning no one is restricted to locality, what’s wrong with picking a successful team that’s enjoyable to watch if you’re going to stick with them forever? The “problem” with glory-hunting isn’t the desire for success – if it was, we’d all be the problem, because we all do it. The problem is the lack of loyalty.

You shouldn’t be bound to your clubs to the point of refusing to accept they have done wrong, but you should stick with them. Treat your team as if you are married to them – if they go behind your back, by all means ditch them, but otherwise, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health…

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Written by James Bennett

February 12, 2013 at 18:31

Posted in Club Football, Football

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