Friday, 25 December 2009

R U a Hornby?

This does not refer to whether you have an interest in model railways, but to the famous novel by Nick Hornby about an obsession with the Gooners, later made into a film. It is used as a term by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski in one of the best football books published this year, Why England Lose.

They set out to challenge the contention that you can change your job or even your partner, but not your football club. They argue that core fans who do not switch clubs, the Hornbys, do exist but 'the majority of people who go to English football matches go only once in a while, and are often quite fluid about who they choose to watch.' For the authors 'fandom is not a static condition, but a process.'

The available evidence shows that there is much more churn in football club support than most fans are prepared to acknowledge. Fans are joining and leaving all the time for a variety of reasons, e.g., a change of job or the arrival of a child. Some are attracted by success. The switch made by David Mellor from Fulham to Chelsea is more common than one might suppose.

My own father started off as a West Ham fan, which was logical enough given that he was born in North Woolwich and played for a non-league team on that side of the river. It was only when he moved to Eltham that he became an Addick, urged on by his cousin. After we moved to Essex, he started to follow Southend as it was an easy journey on the train and some of his mates from work went there.

His final club was Falmouth Town which was the last place we saw football together. Even there, his innate sense of fairness used to kick in. As Falmouth started to demolish Mousehole (eventually 10-1) in the Cornish Senior Cup he urged the opposition to do better.

My father was a reserved although very affable man who hoped that I would take his skill in football a stage further and play for Charlton. That was not to be: I was hopeless and eventually found that one thing I could do was long distance running so I chose orienteering as my sport. As my life took me away from my origins, football remained a shared interest and point of contact.

I think that my mother was actually the more committed fan. I subsequently met one of the hairdressers she used to work with at The Hollow on Plumstead Common as a young woman and apparently it was a nest of Addicktion with this other woman going regularly to matches with her family. My mother was convinced that Charlton were the victim of 'dirty' referees (she may have had a point) and roundly abused them.

A friend of mine supports Manchester United. She does live in Wilmslow, so the journey to Old Trafford is quite short (her contempt for City knows no bounds) and sometimes she is lucky enough to spot United players in Wilmslow and nearby Alderley Edge (sometimes I uncharitably suspect that she drives around looking for them).

She teases me about supporting Charlton. In her view, it is a down market club and my retro attachment to it involves the construction of a false identity. 'Wyn, you have never had a working class accent in her life.' She seems quite well informed about the club, as she had a number of mutual friends who support other clubs in fits of laughter with her description of a Rickshaw in reverse that took a group of Charlton supporters to visit Kent restaurants.

I have to admit that she is probably on to something. According to Kuper and Szymanski, the Hornbyesque fans supports the local team of his town of origin. 'This gives the Fan roots, a sense of belonging.'

Why does the stereotype persist that most fans are full on Hornbys? The book argues that they tend to dominate the national conversation about football and are also the most important part of the football economy as they spend the most money on tickets and merchandise.

For the Hornby, football 'is not just a hobby but an identity.' As a narrative 'it tells a story of roots, of belonging - a lifelong love of the club your father or grandfather supported before you - in a country that is unusually rootless. In transient Britain, the story of the rooted Fan is especially seductive.'

They argue that Britain was the first country to experience urbanisation and industrialisation and one of the first to become secularised. British people tend to move more than most other people in Europe. They are also quite likely to emigrate producing phenomena like the Chicago Addick living in Bermuda. For such people, distance makes the heart grow fonder. Will the New York Addick feel quite the same way now that he is living in beechy Bucks and can get out of Deutsche Bahn's efficient trains en route to the match?

Above all, 'Britons have suffered yet another uprooting: as well as leaving their place of birth, many of them have left their class of birth too.' A working class nation turned into a middle class one, largely as a result of the 1944 Education Act drafted by Rab Butler at Eltham Palace. Like many of my generation, I passed the 11-plus, went to an (academically outstanding) state grammar school and was the first person from my family to go to university.

Kuper and Szymanski argue that such people lost touch with their roots and started to suffer from 'authenticity deficits'. I think that my friend's argument (as befits someone who became a professor at a top university in her mid-thirties) is even more complex: the authenticity deficit is itself a construction of reality. In other words, I never was what I thought I was in the first place. Now that Rob Elliot has come out as believing in an interprevitist version of history, I suppose we have to take these arguments seriously.

Of course for some fans the identity has no local connections. I have a friend who is a lifelong Burnley fan: two of his sons support Everton and one supports Forest, places with which they have no connection. One of them even chose to go to university in Liverpool so that he could take out a season ticket.

My boss comes from Guernsey. I had always thought that there was a following for Southampton in the home of Le Tissier, but he went to university in Leeds so that he could follow his chosen team. In the modern electronic age, he is able to live much of the time in Malmo in Sweden.

There was a long period when I lost touch with Charlton. The move to Selhurst shook me. This was also the period when my children were getting to an age when they needed a free taxi service at weekends. So I popped down to Tachbrook Road to see the Brakes now and then and hear the Whitnash Enders chant for 'AP aggro'.

It was my Burnley friend that got me back to Charlton. He took me to watch Charlton v. Burnley in the FA Cup from the Jimmy Seed. 'We are Burnley, super Burnley from the north. Everyone hates us. We don't care', I dutifully chanted.

But my interest was re-awakened. As soon as the East Stand was opened, I started to go to matches and then got a season ticket more or less in the position where we used to stand on the terraces. It's been a switchback ride since then, but I don't regret it, although sometimes the Addickted exasperate me.

One of my children commented this week that as you get older, Christmas can become a maudlin festival. It certainly always makes me thinks of when I was a child and now I have four grandchildren (our big family party is on the 27th).

A lot of people now identify me with Charlton. I was on my way to Chile in July and changed planes in Madrid. When we got to Santiago a publisher said to me 'I saw a Charlton bag way ahead of me in Madrid and I knew it was you.' A few years ago I had to give a speech at the deputy ambassador's home in Washington DC and I made a little joke of the fact that his name was 'Charlton'. He responded, 'Our ambassador in Turkey had already warned me that you are a Charlton fan.' It is a bit of a minority taste in the wider world, although this year I have bumped into fans in Toronto and Sydney.

Maybe I am someone who seeks out safe ground and is not willing to experiment with new identities. But I am happy and proud to be an Addick.


Swedeaddick said...

About me
Born -57 in Gothenburg Sweden.Became Addickted -73 when I saw Charlton play Walsall (1-1) in the old third division at the Valley. It was a massive feeling to see 5073 people at a third division game being so exited about their team. Since that special day I was hooked.Charlton was my team!
To Mr Wyn Grant, I`ve followed your blog since -01 and it has really kept me up to date with all things that happens around Charlton that is impossible to get information about when being a CAFC supporter living in Sweden. It is really a great blog.
Every other year I try to get over to England to see Charlton play at least once a season. Last time was at CPR (lost 0-1). Now I`ve booked a trip for the Stockport game march the 6th. It would be nice to meet some of you at the Rose of Denmark before the game.
Up the Addicks

Les Abbey said...

Good post Wyn. I have always considered football club support to be part of a tribal identity especially amongst young men and boys.

Wyn Grant said...

Swedeaddick, get in touch with me nearer the time of the Stockport game and we will meet up in the RoD.

Swedeaddick said...

Great. I will do that

Swedeaddick said...

Great. I will do that

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