The 2018 FIFA World Cup

When Football Fans Give Up Supporting Their National Team

With the World Cup knockout stages approaching, and reality replacing hope, many fans are starting to remember why they hate watching their national side play.
27 June 2018, 1:46pm
Photo by Ayman Arif

There are many valid reasons not to support your national team at the World Cup.

The certain knowledge that their success will be co-opted by all the worst jingoists, xenophobes and false patriots your country has to offer; that failure will cause an outpouring of navel-gazing and self-loathing that is always depressing to watch. The sense that – having backed almost every nationalist, secessionist and right-wing populist movement in the West – the symbolism of Russia hosting a tournament of oppositional nations cheered on by partisan flag-wavers is a little too pointed to bear. Or perhaps your national team is just shit and a guaranteed let down.

Whether their country is currently competing in the World Cup or not, there are a surprising number of fans who – for reasons personal, emotional and political – have given up on their national team altogether. We asked people to explain the decision to sack off their compatriots and, in many cases, support someone else.

James, Ex-England fan

VICE: What was behind your decision to stop supporting England?
James: It was a number of things, not one big thing. I loved England up until about 2000. Then there was a generation of players I couldn't stand for their club, or in general – John Terry, Ashley Cole and so on – and I found I couldn't switch my feelings off to support them.

I also fundamentally don't agree with the outward Brexit-y feeling around England's hardcore support. I was raised to believe that quality of football was always paramount, that the game is about glory, and I found England dull but loved watching other national teams, so I followed Argentina in 2006. Again, I couldn't turn off my footballing beliefs. That has softened a bit recently, as I'm siding with the England players against the tabloid press. Plus, I'm a Spurs fan, and the Spurs contingent are so important to the side.

Is there anyone else you've got a soft spot for this World Cup?
To be honest, not this current Argentine team so much. I like Belgium for obvious reasons [for the Tottenham players Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele and Toby Alderweireld], I like the collective unity of Iceland, I love Croatia's midfield and I like Colombia's style. Germany are always brilliant, obviously. France could be amazing if they pull together. Anyone who entertains, really. And Nigeria because they have a nice kit.

David, Ex-Norway fan

VICE: Why don't you support Norway anymore, then?
David: Because we fucking suck.

Okay. Could you... elaborate?
The whole of Scandinavia except for Norway, even fucking Iceland, managed to get to the World Cup. We don't deserve to be there, so I'm OK with it, but still.


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Joan, Ex-Spain fan

VICE: As a Catalan, Joan, can you give us some perspective on what it's like to have previously cheered on Spain?
Joan: I supported the Spanish national team until 2010, but I stopped from personal experience. I supported Spain because there were Barcelona players, and my friends were followers, so it was as expected. We celebrated Euro 2008 as our title. But in 2010 it changed when we went to San Fermin. We watched the World Cup final in the fan zone in the square of Pamplona. There were people there who saw that we were Catalans, so they were asking us if we were "normal Catalans or not." Normal, for them, was for us to be fans of La Roja. This distinction made me think long and hard.

From that moment on, I watched the end of the World Cup without much interest. My friends celebrated the title, but for me it was a moment of apathy. I just thought: 'Yeah, OK, they – not me – are the winners.'

Was that the only complicating factor in your relationship with the Spanish national team?
As well as all that, politically, Catalonia was experiencing a complicated situation with its statute of autonomy at the time. So, in those days I felt rejected politically and socially. Since then I have no real interest in the Spanish national team. I should say that I have wanted Catalan independence since I was 14, but I happily supported La Roja until I was 20. Now, though, I see that the Spanish national team is a political tool.

Perry, Ex-England fan

VICE: So how come you no longer support England?
Perry: I wouldn't say I've completely stopped supporting the English national team, but I am certainly apathetic towards it. I was born in 1996 so I have no recollection of a good tournament and I've never felt that pre-tournament buzz that people back in the 80s and 90s would have felt.

On top of the fact I've never seen real success, our fans are often extremely off-putting. Seeing the scenes in Holland earlier this year just kind of reinforced that feeling. Most England away day fans are gammons, so I feel no pride in seeing them at tournaments and knowing the inevitable headlines will be about racist chants, some reference to WWII, trashing streets or celebrating Brexit. It's all just grim.

My last issue is that I find the English press to be vile when it comes to England tournaments. No more evidence is needed other than the recent Raheem Sterling hysteria by shit-rags like The Daily Mail and The Sun.

Do you wish that wasn’t the case with England?
I feel like supporting England has become the same as wearing the poppy, or St George's day... anything patriotic these days seems to have been adopted by the right-wing. England fans seem to have an island mentality and arrogance that I can’t see myself getting into, and given the current trends with Brexit and right-wing politics on the rise throughout Europe, I can't see it getting any better.

I understand we’re not the only nation which has issues with their fans, but you just can’t imagine English behaviour being conducted by a lot of our European counterparts. I know that might come across as pro-EU, leftist snobbery, but that’s just my perception.

Are you backing anyone else at the World Cup?
I've got France in a sweepstake, so I've got a financial interest in them. That said, part of my sweepstake is growing a moustache and not being able to remove it until your team is beaten, so I also hope France go out at the group stage.

I've always got a soft spot for South American and African teams – they always create a great atmosphere. This year I'm going for Argentina because I would love to see Lionel Messi win a World Cup, so that’s my hot take for Russia 2018.

Simon, Ex-International Football Fan

VICE: So what made you stop supporting your national team, Simon?
Simon: Well, I used to support England and China when I was a kid, but when I turned 16 or 17 I decided that nationalism was cancerous to the world. It's just a way for the government to control you, and since then I find it very hard to be enthusiastic about any national team.

Fair enough. Is there a manifestation of nationalism in football that you find especially off-putting?
Simon: Perhaps it's not purely about nationalism; it's the idea of taking pride in other people's achievements. For example, suppose England wins the World Cup – people tend to attribute the success to the English as a whole, as opposed to just the national team. I don't know how I could philosophically justify taking pride in their success, when I've contributed nothing to it.

That applies to club football as well, really.
Yes, I agree. I suppose I watch club football very closely, but find it hard to support any particular team as well. I guess, for me, football is about watching extraordinary athletes achieving extraordinary things, so I tend to support characters rather than teams. In other words, I really enjoy watching Cristiano Ronaldo break record after record, or when the group of players at Leicester won the Premier League.

But nationalism in football is particularly problematic for you?
I suppose the reason that I particularly detest national teams is more due to my political outlook and recognising that most of us have been brainwashed since birth into feeling that "you’re supposed to love your country", or something.

I also think national teams can have a detrimental effect on international relations. For example, when China plays against Japan it often becomes more than just a football match; it almost tears open old wounds that have been around since the Second World War – especially among the older generation.

It's a bit toxic when you don't just hope your team wins, but you hope a rival country fails spectacularly. Hypothetically, suppose Catalonia were to gain independence, I would expect a match between Spain and Catalonia to be much more than a football match. I'm sure there are plenty of other examples, but whether we like it or not, politics are involved in national sports.

Roshan, Disillusioned India fan

VICE: How come you no longer support India, Roshan?
Roshan: There are a few reasons. Firstly, cricket is much more popular here than football, and our cricket team has achieved a lot of success, so naturally this has attracted fans to watch the sport more and diverted attention from other sports where the team doesn't perform very well. This also means that the government doesn't invest as much in football compared to cricket.

Then there's the lack of progress – the national team has achieved pretty much nothing in the past 60 years or so. It has produced a couple of talented players, but there's a general lack of progress and direction shown by our FA.

We also have an inability to produce talent – our best talent never reaches the top tiers of European football. So there's no player to be excited about. Likewise, there’s no clear plan for the future and no manager capable of completely changing the system as it is.

There’s no way to better identify and develop potential in the country. There's no vision or roadmap. It all feels aimless and discouraging.

Do you think you could get into supporting the side if some of these fundamental issues changed for the better?
Definitely! Personally, I feel that, for fans, it's not really success that makes them support their team, it's more to do with their team showing them signs of making progress or promise – and there's patriotism, of course. Without signs of progress I feel really disillusioned and don't really see the point in investing my time and energy to support the team.

Who do you tend to support at the World Cup, given that India have never reached the finals?
I supported Spain in the 2010 World Cup, but stopped after that – I didn't really feel connected to the team. Now I just watch international football casually, and generally hope for smaller teams to do well. I’m also a Liverpool fan, so as long as our players do well, I'm happy.

@W_F_Magee