The Difference Between Football Fans & Supporters

The Difference Between Football Fans & Supporters

Words are funny sometimes. Not funny “ha-ha,” funny-strange.

Trending on social media recently has been an outpouring of non-Americans poking fun at American fans of soccer teams.

Seemingly silly chants of “USA! USA! USA!” and “DE-FENSE,” as well as some attempts at crafting or recreating songs that are more frequently heard when watching the sport played abroad, have been posted all over Twitter, Facebook, and the like for several weeks now.


The accounts posting them are getting plenty of exposure for it, which means there’s a draw for users to find those videos as well as for other people to watch and comment on them.

The general idea is that soccer supporters across the world find it difficult to fathom why Americans even bother with simple, dull, and wholly uncreative chants, and Americans find singing – singing – at any sporting event entirely incomprehensible.

Before anyone stops here and spends the next thirty minutes on YouTube trying to find some good ones, here’s a few “writer’s choice” editions of those videos that are worth the watch:


Some examples are mean, others endearingly humorous, but the real divide isn’t chants vs. songs, which sounds like a C-rated boxing match, buts fan vs. supporters.

Words can be funny sometimes. Those who enjoy dictionary definitions will find that the “supporter” and “fan” run pretty close to one another by the book – in essence, when a person likes something, they support it; they’re a fan of that thing.

For sport, however, the gap widens dramatically. For soccer, it leads to people making fun of American chants or non-American songs.

In the UK for instance, the seriousness of supporting a club is exemplified perfectly – on a cold, wet night away to Stoke City, supporters huddle beneath parkas and umbrellas cursing under their breath, willing away with their entire being that the match would simply end. Nil-nil would even be an acceptable result if it meant getting out of the rain.

And yet, despite that face-value appearance of despair, songs emerge from the supporters’ mouths tucked behind the upturned collars of their coats.


Chelsea supporters sing of the infamous Steven Gerrard slip from their match against Liverpool in the dying embers of the 2013/14 season.

Tottenham supporters recently sang “Arsene Wenger, you can stay forever” at the Arsenal manager after going two-nil up on their North London rivals in a span of about three minutes.

Many songs, like these, are vitriolic in nature – supporters berate managers, players, and officials with ruthless intent in nearly every match that’s played in England.

This sort of outcry towards the individuals on or around the pitch is based on the “will and way” of the supporter because they feel they do just that – support the club, supply something invaluable to the club’s very existence that, without it, would destroy the club from the inside out.

Without any support, who pays players’ wages, or funds incoming transfers?

While a simple look at any club’s bank statements creates a more realistic answer to that question, that’s not the understanding of a supporter, period.


The concept of supportership isn’t always so bleak, and that can be denoted by the more joyous or positive songs.

For example, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,”(link) sung around Liverpool’s Anfield at the beginning of every match, is testament to a more optimistic view of being a supporter of a club.

What’s important is not the kind of feeling or gesture behind the song, but that there’s an immensely emotional foundation grounding many of them in the belief that supporters are a necessity to a club’s operation.

To say there’s that same level of emotional basis to American fans chanting “DE-FENSE” on repeat in the Gillette Stadium when the Jets are driving on the Patriots, or the age-old “Here, batter, batter” among the crowd in Fenway Park, would be asinine.

These soccer fans in question paid for their tickets because they’re invested in their team, so there’s undoubtedly a desire to go out for the day and watch them play live.


That seriousness of England’s supporters, however, doesn’t really translate to fan-bases in the states.

Tailgating (the real American pastime) is a strange ritual to most sporting fans outside the US. Crowd interaction with the game is typically pretty minimal elsewhere in the world.

Those uncreative chants are seen as mostly ineffective in the middle of any game, as well as bordering buffoonery.

And, to non-American supporters, it seems logical to see American fandom that way, because chanting “USA!” doesn’t fall in line with what supportership is. Which makes sense, because Americans are more fans of sport than supporters.


Going to watch the Seattle Sounders, Pittsburgh Steelers, or Baltimore Orioles is fun for Americans.

The aforementioned tailgates, laughing with family and friends in the stands, having pokes at opposing fans that happen to be sitting near you, and grabbing beers, brats, and burgers between innings or quarters is oftentimes more important than the game itself.

Americans know the score at the end, and probably saw a good portion of the action, but other cogs in the live sporting event machine retain equal or higher levels of importance.

For those supporters out there reading this, deep breaths: what I just described is very real, and it’s OK.


There is no correct way to be a fan or supporter of a team.

Though the two terms look and sound very alike, because words can be funny sometimes they’re indeed very different in personality, function, and effect.

And, because of that difference, social media banter can continue to exist – deep down, isn’t that all we really want?