A potential for divided loyalties?

Now I know that those football purists amongst you will say you can only support one team. I do think that is true to some extent. For example, I don’t know how it is possible for anyone to follow two teams who play in the same league. However many people, including me, do support two clubs, one from England and another from a different country. Obviously for me that other team is Ajax. This was not something I chose to do. It just crept up on me as result of watching Ajax on TV in the early 1970s.

Now as I write, both Manchester United and Ajax are still in the Europa League this season. I know it’s a big if, but if both sides get through their respective quarter finals then they have every chance of meeting. Given that these two clubs are the biggest in their respective countries and have worldwide support, there will undoubtedly be many people in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands and elsewhere who follow both sides.

This got me thinking about what these people would do if both teams did meet in this or a future season. I mean, who would they support? Would they cheer each goal that is scored regardless? Would they even watch it?

Strangely given each club’s European pedigree there has only ever been two meetings between these sides in UEFA competitions. These were in the UEFA Cup and it’s successor the Europa League, in 1976 and 2012 respectively. Both ties were won by Manchester United.

Anyway, if they were drawn against each other again, how would fans who follow both sides go about resolving the conundrum of who to support?  Well, as it happens I have some thoughts. Some are more serious than others by the way. The first is your nationality, right? Well no actually. Certainly in England in the 1960s and 70s it was usual to want your country’s teams to win in Europe. I can well remember that after beating Liverpool in the 1977 FA Cup final, most Manchester United fans wanted Liverpool to win the European Cup final on the Wednesday afterwards.

The reason for this was that apart from the UEFA finals, which did have live coverage on TV, only late night highlights of the preceding rounds were shown. These highlights normally featured matches that only involved British clubs. There was no coverage of any foreign leagues either.

This meant that in those days most English fans were more able to bury their local differences and want their nation’s teams to win in Europe. Yes, even Liverpool. The attitude of lets give ‘Johnny Foreigner’ a football lesson was prevalent back then. Given the wall to wall coverage of European football that there has now been in the UK for many years, those insular attitudes have long since changed.

Oh damn, I forgot about Brexit. Hang on though, that may be the answer about who to support. If you are an ardent Brexiteer then there should be no problem in wanting an English team to stuff it up those nasty continental Europeans. Problem solved. If you are a Dutch reader then substitute Geert Wilders for Brexit and you also have your solution.

Moving on, I suppose the length of time you have supported each of the two clubs counts for something. First love and all that. However think about your personal relationships and your first love. I bet that first love changed and became a different person to the one you originally met.

The same goes with football teams. Ask Manchester United fans after the Glazers take over. That was like somebody buying your house and making you pay their mortgage. Still, if you are ambivalent about the Glazers and believe that Manchester United or indeed Ajax are still the same clubs that you first supported, then stick with the team you have followed the longest.

Should glory come into it? Emphatically no. Absolutely no one should choose to support a club purely because of the titles they have won or might win in either the past, present or future. Football should be about much more than trophies. Believe it or not, I get as much pleasure watching my local non league team, Brighouse Town, on a Saturday afternoon as I do watching a top flight match.

Still, if you are of this persuasion, then it has to be Ajax that you support. 33 domestic league titles compared to United’s 20 and 4 European Cup/Champions League titles against 3.

I accept that there is an argument that says the Dutch league is easier to win, so it shouldn’t get the same recognition as winning the English league. That however, is a discussion to be had on another day.

Do you go with the club that is the biggest? I’m not sure why you would, but in any case how do really define the size of a football club. Is it for example based on attendances, worldwide support, trophies won or financial turnover. I guess in reality it is a combination of all these factors. Manchester United probably beat Ajax in nearly all of these categories. So if you wish to use this criteria then you would have to support Manchester United.

I will now tell you what I really think. Support for a particular football club is not something that can be explained in purely rational terms. Yes, there are things that can be quantified, like supporting your home town team. But if that club has been rubbish for years and never given you anything back how do you explain your continuing loyalty?

In conclusion, if Ajax and Manchester United were to meet this season, then those with an affiliation to both clubs already know in their heart of hearts who they would want to win. Could they clearly explain why? Probably not.