When I was a kid, my football idol was Eric Cantona. Everything he did fascinated me (and still does, by the way). The collar, the chips, the flicks, the madness, the goals, the passes, the anger…his entire persona was, and still is, what made him a class apart. In the same way the kids around me used to believe they were Superman, Optomus Prime or any other fictional hero, I used to believe I was Eric Cantona (alongside other United supporting friends as kids). The big difference was he wasn't a fictional hero. He was as real as they get. Many schoolmates and I often play-acted his role on the field; besides for the kung-fun kick, we weren't trained enough for it. We'd put our collars up and say his name with a fake English accent in a commentator-like voice. Good times. But what used to confuse us back then was the hatred that people had towards the man.
Every time he did something great, United fans (even the kids) would praise him and other supporters (even the kids) would hate him. For a kid, that was damn right confusing. We thought everything he did was golden. How could anybody hate the man? But as time has gone by, and after years and years of watching our beloved teams, we’ve all become irrationally and emotionally attached to the game and the teams we support. This has led to something that football fans should become accustomed to, but for some reason many supporters out there just can’t seem to grasp it. I've tried to explain this phenomena to several supporters out there, but they can’t their heads around the idea: the more a player or a team is hated by other supporters, the more they’re doing something right.
We’re at an age in history where, thanks to the internet, every single person online has an opinion about everything. And strongly! It’s in your face. Just like this blog. In your face. What you’re reading right now is also very opinionated. You are reading someone’s point of view and you can agree or disagree with it, but normal civilized human beings discuss opinions. Normal civilized human beings understand that opinions can be different and divided. Normal civilized human beings should know that nothing in Football is black and white. But when it comes to Football, none of us are normal civilizied human beings.
Actually, scratch that, when it comes to anything we truly love – we become irrational and start talking from the heart instead of the head. We feel too much and think too little. Football is a great example of this. This does nothing good for any of us because there is a simple reality in Football which fans don’t seem to understand. Read this clearly and murmur it to yourself before you start rambling on about whomever it is that your support: the team you support is probably HATED by many, many, people!
You should be taking the hatred as a compliment, rather than as an insult. Hatred comes with the territory of being successful. You can't be successful and expect the world to love you. Success breeds hatred, envy and jealousy. As supporters, we tend to always believe our teams are the best thing since sliced bread. We believe we are going to defend the team's colors until death does us part and that no other team around us has values close to ours. We think that our team represents all that is righteous and perfect in the game. That's why we're Football fans. We become blinded by the love of our clubs. But the hatred that comes from our love exists at all Football clubs.
I’ll name a few examples to elaborate my point. If you ask any Barcelona fan, in the world, who they hate the most, they’ll all say “Real Madrid” and perhaps with the exception of one or two other clubs. Ignoring a club like Espanyol, who live to loathe Barcelona. Ask Espanyol fans who they hate the most and without a shadow of a doubt, it's Barcelona. But I can guarantee you that if Espanyol were winning trophies and successful, they’d be at the very top of the list of the Barcelona fans' hate list. Above Real Madrid. But the fact that Espanyol pose no threat whatsoever to their club's success means that nobody gives any special attention to them. The hatred towards them is minimal. Success breeds hatred.
Take Manchester United fans as another example, many United fans have hated Manchester City for a longtime. But there’s a whole bunch of supporters, who haven’t supported the club for such a longtime, that never had any hatred for them until recently – when City started challenging for titles and becoming significant. Yes, they were insignificant little nomads until Sheikh Mansour bought them. Success breeds hatred.
Whenever I’m in the UK and I meet new people, the first topic we always talk about is obviously Football, which always leads to the usual question being asked “who do you support?”, and every single time, without hesitation, I always respond in the same manner by saying “the team you hate the most” ...with a grin on my face. They know who I'm talking about when I say that. If this were the 70s or 80s, that's how Liverpool fans would respond I imagine. They were the most hated side back then. And so on and so forth for all winning sides throughout the history of the game. You win, you're hated. Simple as that. While for some that is considered an insult, for me, the acknowledgement of their hatred for the team I support is the evidence that the team is successful and doing something right. If the team was rubbish, nobody would pay attention to them. They wouldn't be hated. Ask Wigan fans.
To put it into perspective for you, it's just like when a good looking rich girl or guy becomes an easy target for insults by us regular people, the same happens in Football. Hatred comes with the territory of being successful, embrace it while it lasts. Yes, embrace hatred. One day, your teams aren't going to look so good any more and you'll wish you were still public enemy number 1 (ask Arsenal fans). Loving the team you support is what the game is all about. Expecting other supporters to love your team is akin to expecting a married man admitting that a friend's wife is better looking than his. Never going to happen.