I saved Tim Park’s excellent “A season with Verona” for the trip to Italy. Parks has made a career out of writing about his adopted home, Italy and here he follows his home team to every away game in the 2000/1 season. The team narrowly and amid high drama avoid relegation from Serie A. Parks writes about the politics, emotions, rivalries, media and racism not to mention the corruption which make Italian football the flawed and colourful giant it is.
He also finds out a lot about the motley crew of die hard supporters who devote a large part of their emotion, time and money following a team which is never going to amount to much.
It reminds me so much of the team I can almost see from my top window. Fulham. A team which after a dozen years in the Premiership fell from grace last season and then only narrowly avoided falling down another league into an even deeper crevice.
I know three people well who support this team. Only a mile away is Chelsea one of the best funded teams in Europe, a team that regularly wins major trophies. Why support Fulham when there is such a better alternative nearby. Why shop at a store which gives you faulty goods when there is a Waitrose nearby.
TM has supported Fulham since a boy. As has his brother who sits nearby. A successful media man he has two season tickets. He has even got me on occasion to watch some of the poorest football. When asked he says if he gave up on Fulham he would lose all semblance of self respect. It would be like deserting a dying friend, he would be consumed with guilt.
Football gives its true supporters a focus,an emotion, a meaning a place to go, something that is in the diary. As well as a social life. But RC a neighbour goes because not only is it close and cheap but it is an interest he shares with his grown up son. His fan ship is part of his bonding process as well as part of his local identity.
My third supporter is a successful businessman who goes a little further in that he not only goes to all the home games but he wears a scarf and hat. For him his support is wrapped up with a loyalty to his family and the trips they made to the ground when he was a boy. He somehow feels he would be insulting some family icon if he gave up coming. It is also a habit which for all its health warnings he finds difficult to break or replace.