Football is a fan-driven sport. Yes, commercial interests are playing an ever-increasing role in the game’s commodification but the fans remain top of the list. Throughout the past 18 months, the atmosphere inside stadiums has been deathly quiet which has been harsh on the players as well as the fans.
The beloved nature of following your team around the world and finally, onto match days has been the most integral part of any supporter’s life. The power of the people was amply evident in their united stance against the proposal of setting up a European Super League. Even fans of the clubs were calling for it to be nipped in the bud, which it eventually was as nine of the 12 clubs pulled out.
One of the protesters outside Manchester United stadium Old Trafford says the protest "isn't just about the European Super League", adding that the Glazer family, which has controlled the club since 2005, "need to go".
— Sky News (@SkyNews) May 2, 2021
Clubs are always pulling out all the stops for their supporters, starting with ones who have achieved success ‘old-school’ style.
By old school, the reference is obviously to teams who have built a feverish fanbase over many decades, based on on-field success filtering through. Manchester United, Barcelona, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Lyon are just some of the names that can point to long years of history and sustained excellence.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) July 19, 2013
Their fans can be found worldwide, and on matchdays, have been able to sell out stadiums regularly in the recent past, and with good reason. United have won the Premier League a record 13-times. Arsenal have Premier League’s only ever ‘Invincibles’ season. Both can thank two of the most legendary managers ever in the game, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger respectively, for those successes. However, what makes them truly special is the fact that they did have revered figures before them as well.
🗣 “I can leave a club where I can be proud of what’s behind me. There’s a fantastic structure and conditions for the next manager. I think I’ve been a little part of this club’s history and I’m proud of that.”#MerciArsène pic.twitter.com/ZlRepsD9UB
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) May 10, 2018
Names like Herbert Chapman, Bobby Charlton, Matt Busby, George Graham, and more. Similarly, the two Spanish giants have been shaped by the personalities and trophies won. Alfredo Di Stefano, Luis Suarez, Johan Cruyff, Ferenc Puskas are some of the most renonklwnd.
— Real Madrid C.F. 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@realmadriden) September 26, 2015
Ticket sales, merchandise sales and the fact that generations after generations in a family or community have continued supporting one club means that loyalties never die out with these teams.
MONEY TALKS A LOT NOW
On the flip side, there are an increasing number of clubs that have gotten rich quickly which has increased the number of supporters of them to come out more and more. One of the earliest examples has been Chelsea. The Blues were bought by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in 2003, and since then has pumped in millions to run the team.
Let’s have a look at Chelsea’s most expensive signings, which ones of this list do you think have done well well for Chelsea? pic.twitter.com/t8jPWNlEAQ
— Frank Khalid (@FrankKhalidUK) August 15, 2020
Chelsea have gone on to lift 18 trophies in the past 18 years, including the Champions League (twice), Europa League (twice) and the Premier League (five times). The ability to snap up the best players in the market due to financial clout has led many of their detractors to comment against their “quick” path to success.
Chelsea have won more trophies than any other Premier league team in Abramovich era. Managers came here and won trophies and Frank will do the same. pic.twitter.com/1qck6fbCjp
— Vince™ (@Blue_Footy) July 4, 2019
Similarly, PSG and Manchester City have joined the continental elite backed by the sovereign wealth of Qatar and UAE. The Parisians have a near complete stranglehold over the trophies in France while the Cityzens have won five of the last league titles. Many will point to the fact that their existence amongst the top level really began when the money came through.
City have 15 trophies in their history; without oil money that's 9.
Chelsea have 22 major trophies in their history; without oil money that's 8.
Football moved on. Oil wealth bought political credibility. So the the table isn't 9 and 8. It's this. pic.twitter.com/bLkfV1DlqV
— Nick Harris (@sportingintel) March 1, 2018
There has been no building through patience or waiting for years to get success through tried and tested methods. Nevertheless, they can boast of their legions of fans who can be found on any day in full voice.
WHICH CLUBS HAVE THE BIGGEST FANBASES?
Though it is impossible to accurately predict the exact number of fans for each club, statistics like sales, income, social following and worldwide presence are main indicators. Needless to say, all of the biggest hitters are in the top five.
The most successful club in Italy, and winning the past nine out of ten Serie A titles. The Old Lady have been home to some of the most accomplished players ever, including Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro Del Piero, Fabio Cannavaro, and of course, the duo of defensive stalwarts- Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci.
— Juventus Fans (@juventusfans) December 8, 2018
They also command the largest fanbase in the country, and will look to once again go for silverware this season.
PSG have become regular silverware winners, even reaching the final of the Champions League in 2020. Their profile was already appealing to a very large fanbase, which got even bigger with the addition of Lionel Messi in the summer. The Argentine great has been struggling to gain match fitness, but with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe still around, their domination looks set to continue.
A longtime holder of the first spot, the Red Devils are the most pervasive European club in the Asian market. They are the most popular team in England, in terms of fans which have gotten a further boost with the return of Cristiano Ronaldo. Even though the Premier League title has not graced Old Trafford in more than eight years, United have continued winning silverware sporadically in the intervening years.
Indeed the messy departure of Lionel Messi has left a void, but the Blaugrana remain a force in terms of supporter base. There have been some rocky years in the recent past with the constant changing of managers and reemergence of Atletico Madrid as a force.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 18, 2018
Last season’s Copa del Rey win was a clear sign of improvement but expectations have been kept in check by a less than ideal start to the new campaign. Xavi’s return in the hot seat along with Dani Alves rejoining the team should improve matters.
The 13-time Champions League winners have been the dominant force in Spain and the continent for some time. Madrid have had a bevvy of Galacticos since the turn of the millennium and that policy has continued in full strength. Their excellent start to the current season has been welcomed by all and though there was a bit of unrest with the club’s involvement in the Super League, the results have kept the fanbase ever growing.
RICHEST IN THE LAND
One of the most surprising money takeovers of recent times, Newcastle United are now the wealthiest club ever. Backed by the sovereign funds of Saudi Arabia, their first order of business was to sack Steve Bruce and hire Eddie Howe. The new owners have been met with overwhelming positivity by the fanbase, who sell out the stadium regularly.
Thank you for your support at the Amex Stadium this evening. 👏
Safe journey home. 🖤🤍 pic.twitter.com/sWoBQGcW8a
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) November 6, 2021
The main thing to notice will be how the club operates in the January transfer window and of course, next summer. If they are able to snag some world-class players quickly, then the dreams of getting back amongst the elite can look achievable.