Most fans of just about any code have traded insults, jibes and barbed comments.
Football fans across the world are renowned for witticisms, clever songs, chants, banners, memes and any other method they can garnish to put the opposition off their game and it applies to players and supporters alike.
Most of us can cope with, “You only sing when you’re winning” or, “Where were you when you were shite?” but I have never met anyone who would accept being called a ‘plastic fan’.
But what exactly are we referring to when we use this term? Are we speaking the same language, or is it just a throwaway line used because we know it is a certainty in the points scoring stakes and that it will upset the intended victim?
Plastic fans go with plastic stadiums, plastic competitions and a plastic atmosphere. In the world I grew up in, this described anyone that just latched on to the ‘latest and greatest’ and claimed to be a supporter at least for as long as the side was doing well.
I’ve met people who have claimed to have supported at least three or four clubs during the time I have known them and each change was accompanied by a fairly significant trophy acquisition by the team they were expressing their love for.
Plastic stadiums and plastic atmospheres have always been easy to identify for my contemporaries. Most new stadiums that have little history and are designed with the corporate dollar in mind rather than a typical football fan are often deemed as plastic.
Anywhere where the singing and chanting is not organic and the ground announcer has to repeat player names out loud and repeat the scoreline to the crowd is considered to be very plastic to the nailed-on fan.
Even the use of loud hailers and capos is frowned upon by some fans who believe that the whole atmosphere and enjoyment of the event should come from the heart and soul of the fans attending.
These days, the ground announcers appear to believe they can whip up the crowd by repeating the goalscorer’s name four or five times, meanwhile there are sections of the crowd just willing the PA system to break down and for the natural sound to take over.
In the A-League and on the pages of The Roar, accusations of being ‘plastic’ are often thrown at fans who don’t attend every game or just turn up for a derby game.
I prefer to think of this group as simply being ‘fair-weather supporters’, and Sydney is full of them.
Again, there is another category of plastic fans – the ‘event goers’. Once again, Sydney scores heavily in this area, and the derby between Sydney FC and the Wanderers a few seasons back was a fantastic representation of that group, when 55,000 turned up at ANZ Stadium.
Many just came along to savour the atmosphere they had heard or been told about and it was very much a Sydney event to say you had been to. Once over, they drifted away and the next few games were returned to the hardcore supporters.
The next group you come across who are accused of being plastic are ‘the bandwagoners’ – a more complex group to properly define. The complexity lies in the varieties that get caught up in this description.
There are those that start to show an interest or go along when the team is playing well and has a genuine chance at lifting silverware. Equally important are fans that support a new franchise or club when the previous season they were supporting another in the same city.
Another group labelled as plastic are those that don’t join in the singing and chanting, who prefer to watch the game without distraction. They are sometimes berated by active supporters who believe everyone should be like them.
Growing up in the UK, there was a widely held belief among hardcore fans that you were plastic unless you went to away games as well as home fixtures. That definition would be hard to apply here in the A-League.
COVID-19 aside, travelling to away games, particularly interstate and overseas is not a cheap day out – in fact, it is a large investment, both in terms of time and money and can well be classified as near impossible for many fans.
Amongst the old-school away supporters groups that I grew up with, you were likely to be considered to be ‘plastic’ if you didn’t fight in the name of your club – by that, I mean with fists, boots and sometimes far worse, risking both serious injury and arrest if the police intervened.
Even then, there was a hierarchy within the group and you had to know exactly who you could rely on if certain situations arose.
Times have changed, though, and most of us do not have to worry about general levels of safety and well-being when attending games.
Fortunately, there is no rule book as such about becoming a fan and it is pretty much a ‘free-for-all’. Whilst clubs and stadiums have codes of conduct, as do governing bodies, fan groups are fairly loose and supporters are always able to come and go as they please.
Ultimately, that means there is room for part-time supporters, for those who have ‘jumped ship’, for those who come along to see a star player, the ‘event goer’, the fans who come along during good times, those who turn up only in fair weather, and even those who come along hail, rain or shine.
Yes – there is room for everybody.
Does it annoy us? Most certainly.
Is there a private hierarchy or league table of fans – real or imagined? – sure, there is.
Will we continue to throw the accusation at anyone who doesn’t fit in with our own definition of what makes a true fan?
I’ve probably missed some categories of plastic – over to you then, Roarers.