My brother has a theory that if you put any two teams together, your true football fanatic will be able immediately to say which one he or she prefers. This has become his test for who is a genuine football fan and who isn’t because – he says – genuine football fans will have preferences that include all football teams.
Crucially, this has got nothing to do with football ability. It’s purely down to personal prejudice.
He once challenged a number of us to put all 92 league clubs in order of preference. It was surprisingly easy. The top 20 and the bottom 20 more or less pick themselves. The team you support goes top (for me, Newcastle) followed by the teams you have a soft spot for because of mates (West Brom, Burnley), teams from places you’ve lived or worked or found yourself watching (Darlington, Hartlepool), and teams that for many other random reasons, which we’ll get onto later, you don’t really mind.
If you’d like to try sorting the complete 2013-14 list according to preference, you can find an Excel spreadsheet here: 92 Likeability
The bottom 20 are even easier. Bottom is your favourite team’s biggest rival (Sunderland) followed inevitably by Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City or whoever is currently seen as the dominant bigshot. Then come the biggest rivals of your mates’ teams (Blackburn, Wolves, Aston Villa) and then other teams you don’t like because of what they’ve done to your club (Hereford, Liverpool, Stevenage). And then Leeds and Millwall, because nobody likes them, as the song goes. (Don’t worry; they don’t care.)
The interesting bit is in the middle – around the 45/46 mark, so roughly the top end of League 1 – where the random reasons come into play. Here you’re imagining playoffs between the clubs that come next to each other and then moving teams up and down accordingly.
Genuine football fans have preferences that include all football teams.
So who do I prefer between Norwich and Colchester? Well Colchester, because I once went to a match there and had a pint with some of their fans. So Colchester goes up one. What about Yeovil and Colchester? Well, Yeovil, because they wear green and white like Celtic.
So it’s back to Norwich, who are now sitting above Southampton. They stay that way. Because Chris Hughton used to be Newcastle’s manager and he’s ‘alright’, whereas Pochettino stole Nigel Adkins’ job and he still does all his interviews in Spanish.
This horsetrading bit has been distilled to a pub conversation where you fire pairs of teams at your fellow drinkers and they have to explain their preference:
“Bristol City or Doncaster Rovers?”
“Donny, obviously. Keegan came from there and I used to have a mate who was a Bristol Rovers fan.”
International match-ups are also good:
“Tromso or Steaua Bucharest?”
“Tromso, obviously. Remember Steaua’s boring European Cup Final that they won on penalties? And Tromso sounds like a character from Noggin the Nog.”
And so on. You really need die-hard fans for this. But if you can’t assemble a group of likeminded know-alls, you can still laugh at people who don’t know who they prefer between Anorthosis Famagusta or Hamrun Spartans. Or even what the significance of the question is.
(By the way, Hamrun Spartans. Obviously…)