With Aston Villa Manchester City cushioned inside the Top 6, the current Premier League table looks very different to what it looked like in the early 2000s. I write this with as much objectivity as possible, as a Manchester United fan languishing hopelessly outside of the Top 6. Many times this club has made me question not only my unwavering loyalty towards it, but also my sanity. It also raises an important question of why I, as a British Caribbean who has lived the majority of her life in East London, support a football club whose stadium lies 4 painful hours away from me.
Moment of truth, I have not always been an ardent football fan, my love for the game sprouted at age 10. This, sadly, was also the last time I saw my club lift a Premier League trophy. The immediate answer to my earlier question is my dad. Despite my lack of interest in football before 10, football games were perpetually televised in the living room and in my parents’ room. This is not something special, it is the case for a lot of people - supporting the team their family does. The Larmond family’s affiliation with Manchester United started with my dad - I’m unsure what team my paternal grandparents supported. I thought this was the case for everyone until I spoke to a friend the other day who said his fealty to Chelsea was a family tradition that stretched so far back, he couldn’t even remember who had pledged his family to that team!
For me, and I think for a lot of other second generation children of the black diaspora, that familial connection to an English football team does not stretch back multiple generations.
When I asked my dad why he chose United as his team, his answer was also quite straightforward. At the peak of his passion for football, United were simply the team winning trophies. Initially, it may sound like glory hunting but when you break it down, it follows logic more than a thirst for victory. The average person living in Kingston, Jamaica in the nascent stage of globalisation would not be able to track the progress and affairs of each Premier League club all the way in England. It was not like the present day, where practicality be damned, and you can support any club, anywhere in the world in any footballing tier by joining a dodgy Twitter stream on your phone or finding a stream on your laptop. The clubs that would attract global attention and support would be the ones with commercial success. I believe this is why so many black African and Caribbean young adults my age support teams such as Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea or Liverpool because these were the teams that were dominating either in the domestic Premier League or in European competitions when our parents came over.
Such big fixtures are televised internationally, hardly anybody outside of England would be seated for a Barnsley v Burton fixture!
Furthermore, for people outside of England, it is difficult to understand all of its quirks and different approaches to separating the country in sporting terms - for example, I highly doubt someone who has never visited England would be highly versed in the difference between Essex county football club and Dagenham and Redbridge football club - or even be aware of their existence. This definitely is not a ground-breaking observation, but I just found it interesting. Furthermore, I’m actually putting my History degree to use, and I think this conversation can be used to analyze the topic of assimilation and belonging for immigrants in Britain. I’ve spoken to my Eastern European, Latino, and South Asian friends and received similar responses.
My rationale for supporting a football club that feels eons away as opposed to a local football club is not unique to me, nor is it atypical amongst immigrant diasporas residing in Britain - regardless of skin colour.
Football is a significant feature in British society, with some of the oldest football clubs across this island being established from the mid-nineteenth century. It is a source of passion and entertainment for many people. Regardless of the varying quality of football worldwide, it remains a universal culture; for supporters to share sentiments of euphoria in victories or what can sometimes feel like prolonged periods of frustration and despair during a streak of losses. Essentially, football is meant to be a space which stimulates the feeling of community, in which your background does not matter. Whether you are a player or a spectator, or both, the language of football allows you to seamlessly interact with people you may have never run into or seen yourself conversing with. I think sport in general is pivotal to the immigrant experience, like other sources of entertainment, it enables an individual to feel like they belong in a foreign place because they can rely on this sense of familiarity which also happens to resonate with millions of other people. It erodes further at world borders and allows people to simply just be human, without the trouble that can accompany the different sections of identity.
In the footballing world, when it's at its best, you are just a supporter - equal and similar to everyone else.