Today in class, we celebrated “Jersey and Scarf Day”; many of the students in our Soccer Politics class brought in their favorite piece of soccer memorabilia and shared their story about how it was obtained, as well as the extent of their allegiance to their respective team. The class appeared to be roughly split 50/50 between club teams and national teams. After observing this trend, I recalled back to an r/soccer forum from a few years ago which simply asked its readers: “Club or Country?” Do soccer fans care more about club success or national team glory?
The overwhelming majority of the respondents to the question answered “club”. I remember being spectacularly surprised by this consistent viewpoint throughout the thread. As a response, I have decided to elaborate on my belief that international footballing success is more important than the local club.
First, let’s dive into the definition of “international success” and juxtapose this against “club success”. Since there are thousands of clubs in hundreds of different leagues around the world, “club success” has a wide disparity in the concrete results that would need to be earned to fit this definition. For example, for FC Barcelona, club success likely means achieving “The Treble”, winning all 3 major competitions in the same season. However, for Botswana Meat Commission FC, a small club with a stadium that seats less than 20,000 spectators, success may mean finishing midtable at the end of the season. “International success”, on the contrary, has a much more parallel and consistent meaning worldwide. I believe that the absolute floor for “international success” would be qualifying for the World Cup. From this point up, definitions will differ; but the floor for international success is so much more impressive and meaningful than any definition of club success.
I also believe that there is something romantic and emotional about international success that is less prevalent when considering club success. At the World Cup, every nation is united together for the 11 players representing their country, heritage, and tradition on the global scale for the world to see. In my opinion, the World Cup actually proves that international camaraderie is stronger than the bonds forged with fans of a club side. In England, likely the country that is most critical of its national team, you still saw Everton and Manchester United fans embrace their rival Liverpool fans in fervent celebration when Raheem Sterling “scored” his firecracker against Italy in the 2014 World Cup. During the World Cup (and during Euros, as well), citizens throw away their derby hostilities and link arms with their fellow countrymen and support their national squad.
To counter, one might argue that as an American, I do not understand the relationship between a club and its hometown, its people, and its heritage. I completely agree with this sentiment. While I am a massive Liverpool fan, my parents didn’t grow up on Merseyside. To be honest, I have never actually been to Liverpool.
I would love to hear from other members of the class to share their familial, community, or historical ties to their club of choice. How do you view “club” against “country”? What about the rest of the class?