For Club or Country?

By | April 12, 2016

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?

6 thoughts on “For Club or Country?

  1. Ben Jackson

    Great post! I have to admit though I may neither be a fan or club or country but purely player. Yes, I admit I am an oddball in my soccer fandom as I support certain players over their teams. For example, I am a huge Javier Hernandez fan and therefore have been a Manchester United, Real Madrid and now Bayer Leverkusen fan, club wise. Additionally I have supported the Mexico national team (escaped in cases where they play the USA of course). Unlikely my basketball or football fandom where I have a physical connection to an area and team, with soccer I felt free to support players that I enjoyed watching and not so much a particular club. I know its odd and especially to pick a player like Chicharito who may not be a megastar on the same level as Messi or Ronaldo to follow, but something about the Little Magician and his style of play caught my interest and I’ve just stayed with it!

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  2. Carrie Mittl

    This post brings up for me an interesting discussion of “Club vs. Country” with regards to my soccer career in high school. In a way, I would equivocate my high school team as my “National Team.” Here, for a season out of each year, girls from different clubs and different part of Charlotte put on the same uniform to fight for the same goal: a state championship. Even though during different times of the year, my teammates are my rivals, we all share our high school as a main part of our identity. This is similar to how the National Teams are made up of club players who often face each other in competition during the year and come from different areas of the world based on where they play club. Similarly, my allegiance to my club Charlotte Soccer Academy only increased my hatred for my high school teammate’s clubs. I feel like more of my identity as a soccer player was solidified on my club team, but most of my pride for being on a team came from my high school team. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to consider.

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  3. Tom Vosburgh

    I agree with Breanna’s point that it really depends on the history of your club and national teams. For instance, I’m definitely a fan of the US national soccer team but don’t even know where the Major League Soccer nearest to my hometown is based… maybe Washington, DC? In contrast, I follow Duke basketball very closely but have never watched our national basketball team play a single game in the Olympics despite us have just as successful a program as Duke. I think it does come down to history; Duke and Coach K have cultivated a very passionate fan base (we’ve been sleeping in tents for Duke-UNC tickets for 30 years, darn it), whereas there just isn’t yet that history of fanatical support for American club soccer teams.

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  4. Austin Tran

    This was an interesting blog post about the difference between loving a club team versus a national team and I would have to say that my opinions follow yours in regards to favoring international success over club success. In the end I, like most soccer fans, just love to watch good soccer being played out on the field and I feel that on the international stage there is more of a consistency to adhere to a higher quality of play. Each player represents their entire home country on this stage so I feel that they have more of an internal motivation to succeed and play well than on the club stage. Beyond this there are also factors like playing with friends who always speak the same language and just quite simply playing less. Also, from a viewer’s standpoint, the fact that international tournaments like the World Cup and the Euros come around far less often than annual club play adds an extra excitement factor to each game because the success on this stage lasts a lot longer than success on the club stage. Each team cannot simply write off a loss and tell themselves they can try again next year and every team who wins gets to hold on to that victory for at least 2 years (I am disregarding friendlies in this scenario). However, I do not want it to seem like I believe club teams are only in it for the money and that players do not try when playing for their clubs. I just feel that the added pressure from representing an entire country and the time constraint on international play makes it more exciting to watch. But, like you said, I do not know what it is like to grow up loving a local team as much as my soccer-loving counterparts in Europe do.

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  5. Breanna Atkinson

    Great blog post! I completely agree with what you said about the, what we both perceive to be, additional emotions when it comes to a national team. One thing I would consider, is that the “club or country” answer probably differs by country. For a country like the US, for example, there is clearly going to be much more appreciation for our national team versus the professional league here. A national team in a country like the United Kingdom, who has such a strong league, has a lot more competition when it comes to their fan base. I think another interesting blog post could involve going country to country and taking a look at the level of play, size of fan base, stadium, amount of apparel sold, etc of their professional leagues versus national teams.

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  6. Marc McFarland

    First of all, very happy to hear there is another Liverpool fan out there like myself haha. More importantly though, I think that your blog post here makes a valid point about international success vs. club success. There is clearly a much more common definition of success across international teams, as these teams can measure success in terms of how well they do in international tournaments like the World Cup, European Championship, African Cup of Nations or Copa America. However, the fact that these tournaments occur somewhat infrequently (often every two to four years), means that few teams achieve the highest level of success at a time and it can be easy for the individual fan to lose interest or become disillusioned in their support for their national team, particularly for Americans who rarely see our national team progress far into international tournaments. As a Liverpool fan, I get much more excited when Liverpool does well in the Premier League or European competitions than when America does well internationally, as Liverpool competes across three or four competitions season after season. Additionally, with the continuous transfers in and out of players, the team is constantly changing (hopefully for the better, though this hasn’t seemed to be the case for Liverpool over the last five years), meaning there is always something to be passionate about as a fan. The frequency of competitive play, compared to the many meaningless international friendlies played by national teams, keeps the entertainment level of club teams very high in my opinion and should not be understated to the average fan. Yes though, this sentiment may change for me were America to win the Copa America this summer or England (my father’s nationality) to win the European Championship, but overall I think the average fan can get more excited and passionate about a club team that has a greater number of chances to be successful in their domestic leagues. I think though that this is an interesting topic to bring up as there is no clear cut answer to the “Club or Country” question.

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