Back of the Net!
Football. For many genre fans it is considered a profane word and fans of the sport are reviled as knuckle dragging Neanderthals who prey on the geek in lager fuelled, chanting, testosterone oozing packs. I imagine this enmity has it's roots at school, where those who have a gift and understanding of sport are generally more popular than those who have their heads buried in comics or huddle around table top role playing games. As we grow older those prejudices ingrained in us as teenagers still seem to hold sway in general. The geeks are viewed as sad losers and the football fans as stupid louts.
Of course in reality it is actually possible to be a fan of both, indeed I know many who are, but there are those on both sides of the gulf between football and sci-fi fandom who would have you believe that they have nothing whatsoever in common and I think that they are more closely related than either side would care to admit.
For starters the average fans of both are just your normal average person who just happens to have a passion about something. A passion that for the most part will remain kept to themselves until they discover that they are talking to someone else who shares that passion. Only then will they reveal themselves as fans and more than likely a long and enthusiastic discussion will take place. While these average fans are the bedrock of both fandoms they can find themselves embarrassed by those other fans who possibly take things that little bit too far.
Then there are the subjects that both sets of fans debate. Football fans follow teams, geeks follow TV/film/comics but the cut and thrust of discussion of all of these things is very similar. As fans of football teams will discuss the decisions of their manager so geeks will discuss the decisions of a show runner. Both positions will come in for strong criticism from some fans, who may feel that they are moving in the wrong direction. There will be calls from some quarters for their resignation saying that new talent is needed to stop things from becoming stale, while others will defend the current incumbent and applaud their achievements.
Player transfers are discussed in much the same way as casting decisions. It will begin with a rumour, the truth and merits of which will be debated long before anything official is announced, and when the announcement is made there is heated debate about the quality the newcomers performance long before they have actually made their début. Once they do their performance will be scrutinised for the rest of the season by enthusiasts and detractors for signs that they were right all along.
The ruling bodies of both usually come in for stern criticism. The FA and referees will find themselves strongly criticised for decisions made on the pitch, fining clubs or amending the offside rule, while television networks will come under fire for unfavourable scheduling or cancelling a TV show and film producers for changing plots and characters to appeal to a broader audience. Fans of both know that things would be different if they were in charge. Both can bring out the statistician in people. There are football fans that can tell you how their team has performed against all others every single time they have played each other. There are geeks that can tell you the production code and date filming commenced for every episode of their favourite show.
Both appeal to the collector of memorabilia. With football you can buy autographed balls, shirts and dramatic artwork depicting your heroes in action, with sci-fi you can buy autographed props, shirts and dramatic artwork depicting your heroes in action. Many collect and lovingly store programmes or comics filed in boxes, each with a memory attached or a story behind them. The storage of these items will take up every spare space in their home. There are as many towels, mugs, bubble baths, keyrings and duvet covers for football teams as there are for Doctor Who (although not so much for Torchwood).
If there are so many similarities between these devotees then what is it that separates them? I have mulled this question over a lot since deciding to tackle this subject. Watching football is a much more visceral experience, that is usually shared in large groups. Whether you are at a ground or in a pub you will be surrounded by many other like-minded people who love the sport and want to cheer their team on. The experience is one that is emotionally moving. You cheer when your team scores, you're crestfallen when they concede, you appeal collectively to the ref when he fails to give a penalty. If you are at the ground you can immediately let your team know how you think they have performed. Teams are regularly booed by their own fans if they have played terribly or lost to a supposedly inferior side. It's shared, it's immediate, and you never know how it's going to end till it's over.
Sci-fi can be just as emotionally affecting but there is a distancing from the action. You are always viewing events via the screen or the page. There is never the opportunity to actually be there when the action takes place. Sci-fi is rarely an activity that is enjoyed socially. There isn't that shared group experience of watching a football match, of 20,000 people stood in one building watching the action unfold. That is the experience that creates the bond amongst football fans. Thousands of them can all say there were there at the FA cup final and they experienced it as one. Many geeks watched the last episode of Battlestar Glactica but they don't have the shared experience of watching it together in the same place. If they did they may have found that their opinions on it different than they currently are having experienced it as individuals. There is an argument to be made that shared experience of a moment changes the perception of that moment and that I think is the main difference between what is to be a fan of football and a fan of sci-fi.
There will always be enmity between the two sets of fans mainly because like any large body of people it is going to be littered with its share of jerks. Just try to remember, the next time you may feel like rolling your eyes because everyone at work won't shut up about the world cup, that we are cut from the same fanboy cloth.