When I was younger and living in Nigeria, it was a familiar sight to see people who loved playing and watching football. The Premier League’s exposure in Africa had been booming ever since the beginning of the Premier league in 1992 (dare I say, Thank You Sky TV?) and that helped me, and so many like me, rarely miss games on TV.
Players like Daniel Amokachi joining Everton in 1994, Tony Yeboah at Leeds in 1995, Nwankwo Kanu at Arsenal in 1999 and Rigobert Song at Liverpool in 1999 helped the league’s exposure reach new heights in Africa back in the 90s. Walking around Lagos there was always someone wearing a Premier League club’s jersey and this is still the case.
Ever since then we have seen an influx of African players join the Premier League and it has now become a global powerhouse with TV exposure like no other league of its kind and that has helped breed fans from all over the world even more now. What I used to see in Nigeria, can now be seen all over the world with all big European clubs. Similarly to Asian players, these players are brought in not only because they are good footballers, but also because they will help the clubs gain more worldwide exposure and potentially grab some new supporters along the way. It’s what they call “breaking into new markets”. Football fans from various backgrounds supporting these major European clubs.
In Europe however, the situation is much more delicate. The locals have already got their homegrown clubs to support and love. You’re born and bred in an area; automatically you begin supporting the club of that area traditionally. You’re born into deep hatred of your city neighbors, which is customary. Every city has got a few clubs to support and the locals normally follow those clubs according to where they are based: in Barcelona you have FC Barcelona or Espanyol fans, in Madrid you’re either with Real or Atletico, in Manchester you’ve got City or United, in Liverpool there’s Liverpool FC or Everton, in London you’ve got about 100 clubs…and so on and so forth in almost every European city (exceptions do exist of course).
The choices are there from a young age for a local European boy to choose from, unlike his international counterparts. So with this in mind, you could say it would be extremely difficult to imagine walking around Milan for example and seeing a bunch of Italian West Ham fans from Milan. You think it would be impossible…think again.
I was recently in Milan with my girlfriend and we randomly stumbled upon “The Football English Pub” (Click here for website) and were able to watch the Manchester United vs Bolton game there. The place was filled with memorabilia from all leagues around the world. However, the real surprise over there was that we found out that this was actually the West Ham supporters club of Milan’s “home bar”. Italian skin headed hooligans, that don’t speak English, supporting West Ham United. The owner supports West Ham as well. The whole bar was filled with West Ham fans and on every corner there was a sign of claret and blue. It was a surprising sight for any football fan.
Now, I understand seeing “big” and “successful” clubs having supporters a bit all over the world as I explained above for various reasons, it makes sense. What I don’t understand is seeing relatively small clubs have fans in random European cities. For example, I don’t think we could ever find a group of English men in London supporting Real Zaragoza or some team like that. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s amazing to see and that’s what makes us love this game.
I tried to make a link between any Italian players that played for West Ham and couldn’t think of much besides Di Canio and Alessandro Diamanti (both not even from Milan), as well as Gianfranco Zola when he was the manager (but also, not a Milan man and lasted a short unsuccessful period there). I looked it up on the internet and found no response. Can anyone help me on that?
It made no sense at all, but it was amazing to see. Italian fans all wearing claret and blue singing their hearts out to “forever blowing bubbles” when in all likelihood, they didn’t understand a word they were singing. Amazing what the globalization of Football sometimes make you witness. I decided to call them “The Mighty Hammers of Milan”.