How my love for IFK made me understand the meaning of ‘us’ in globalised football

Maybe you know the feeling.

If you’re a life-time supporter of a modern international ‘sports brand (formerly known as ‘a football club’), you definitely know the feeling. You were young, and you fell in love with a football club. Often it was the local team from your city or region, and in many cases a member of your family introduced you to the love-hate relationship that comes with supporting a football team. A relationship, that usually is only separated by death, or more recently, commercialisation.

Despite growing up in a village near Hanover, I became a die-hard supporter of Borussia Dortmund further back than my actual memory goes. This was the work of my father, who fell in love with the Schwarz-Gelb himself back in the 70s. And ever since, he took this ‘hobby’ very seriously. Therefore I never really had any say in the club I was meant to love and support, but to be fair, I never had any hard feelings towards this forced marriage. Borussia is a great club to follow, with a lot of highs and lows, which in some ways prepares you emotionally for the rollercoaster that is life itself (as sports does in general).

However, in the post-capitalistic world that we’re living in by the beginning of 2020, this promised eternal love has suffered some serious cracks. Players, who were supposed to show ‘echte Liebe’ (real love) towards BVB, go on strike to get their dream transfer to a fancier club; the Barcelonas, Real Madrids, the Bayern Munichs. Fans run riot and attack away fans with stones and bottles, children being among the victims. And a chairman who seems first of all interested in running a profitable business and expanding towards the Asian or U.S. market. Which leads to more unpleasantness for many traditional supporters: suddenly Borussia has a lot of fans from all around the globe – Singapore, Dubai, Chicago, to name a few.

What used to annoy me about that was not only the way how these people became supporters of my club (through a calculated marketing strategy rather than being brought to a home match by their parents), but also that these fans from afar tend to spread very strong opinions about which player the club should buy or sell, why we have to change our club colours or that the team is simply not good enough, since it’s not winning the league every year (like Bayern does). To read these statements on social media from people, who most likely can’t name five of our club’s legends from last century, or even worse, players from five or ten years ago, made me pretty angry. To me, they were fans who jumped the bandwagon after the successful Klopp years and now flood the club I loved since childhood with their plastic and short-time affection.

And that’s were IFK Göteborg steps on the pitch. For the readers who aren’t familiar with my history with Blåvitt yet, here’s a quick summary: I came to both Sweden and Gothenburg for the first time in 2009, went for a stroll, discovered the stadium, went straight into the shop, bought a home jersey and followed the club back home from Germany ever since. Which means I watched some matches now and then on live streams and tried to keep up with what’s happening around the club through Twitter. Which was the place where I also shared my opinions about the squad, the coach and the overall situation. And you know what? Not a single time in ten years has someone from the IFK community reacted negatively or in a mean way towards my expressions, even though they were probably often a bit, let’s say, unprecise or just wrong. In fact, the complete opposite was the case. People were overjoyed and gave me a very warm and loving welcome to the community. They even invited me to participate in fan videos, podcasts or this very blog. They were just genuinely happy that someone from abroad fell in love with their club, even if it happened in a completely random way.

Reflecting on the hospitality I was shown in a well established supporters’ base myself, despite being a bit of a newbie, I started to feel really ashamed of how I denied fans from all around the world the same right to fall in love with my (German) club just as I did with IFK. And I hope that I will be able to follow the example I was given and be more open-minded and even thankful in the future towards every single person who decided, for whatever reason, to support Schwarz-Gelb. Even if it’s just until they lose the title to Bayern once again. If they don’t know about the club’s history – well, maybe it’s my duty as a die hard supporter to teach and educate them.

I strongly believe now, that it shouldn‘t be any longer a case of ‘me’ versus ‘them’, but rather a greater ‘us’ instead. An us, who loves this one particular club, no matter if we’ve been to the stadium a thousand times or never will be able to travel there in our lives. Football is for everyone and built around togetherness and community, enjoying the game with all its ups and downs together, and tolerating each and everyone in that larger group. All the right attributes which football and our world in general now need more than ever. Thank you, fans of IFK Göteborg, for teaching me that lesson.

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