Successful football clubs in Europe and South America exist and survive on the devotion that is derived from their teams. Fans worship at the shrines that are their home grounds, and it is no coincidence that they are often referred to as the ‘faithful fans’ of their said team.
They are faithful as they turn out each week to watch their heroes play whatever the weather, whatever the result. Former players invoke more God-like status with the passing of time and the team like religion gives them hope of greatness, of life, of happiness.
Yet the amazing thing about football is it transcends religion. Muslims and Christians stand or sit side by side, united in the love of the game and their team. Even at global tournaments such as the World Cup fans with completely different cultural backgrounds mingle, paying homage to the better team, bemoaning their bad luck, and looking forward to next time.
Fans from all walks of life recently marveled at the display by Barcelona in the Champions League final where their ethereal football made a mockery of what was another very good side, Manchester United. Performances such as these are what every fan dreams of, and even if their team cannot produce such class, they can dream, and respect and admire the other team.
Football in Australia has a smattering of loyal fans at each club, Melbourne Victory probably being the stand out in the A League, yet does the game have this same religion-like following?
The answer is probably in the main a resounding “no” as the game has no home of its own, no temple where its fans can go and feel at home. The grounds are shared with other sports as well as concerts, and football and its fans are always made to feel like second-class citizens. No one goes to a place of worship to feel that way; they go to feel welcome, part of a family and to be uplifted if even for a moment.
NIB Stadium in Perth was taken away from the ‘novelty code’ and Nick Tana and his team made it the home of Perth Glory. Bernd Stange called it a ‘Cauldron of Fear,’ yet now it would appear that the Western Force have made the ground more theirs than the Glory and if the WA Rugby League obtain an NRL license the Glory could find that it is the lesser tenant in its own home.
Fanatical football fans understand the need to share a ground but they want to feel at home when they walk through the gates and that feeling has dissipated in recent years.
The fans need a home. The members last season often missed out on mingling with the players post game, as they slipped out of the dressing rooms to a separate room where their wives and girlfriends waited for them. The tangibility that made being a member a privilege was no longer there; it was like going to church and the priest not turning up.
Many of the East Coast clubs have Leagues clubs close to the ground that they use and this becomes their base post game, a place where the worshippers can meet fellow evangelists. Perth does not have this, and it desperately needs it.
Form on the pitch has confirmed that there are a hard core 7,000 who will come and watch their team, but they need to feel a part of the club, that they belong and that they are welcome. They need to know their voices are heard, and that they are appreciated.
Without a meeting place, a home, a base, these become non-negotiable and it is essential that Perth Glory embraces those fans in the coming season, as many are looking to no longer visit their church of choice, some opting for the TV evangelists, others for a new religion completely.