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Is the “boyhood club” a myth?

Can top-level footballers ever be real fans of their childhood team?

By Matty LongPublished 9 months ago Updated 9 months ago 4 min read

Newcastle United won a multi record-breaking (8 different goalscorers) 8-0 at Sheffield United on Sunday. Two of the goals were scored by boyhood fans Sean Longstaff and Dan Burn. Another was scored by Anthony Gordon, who is fast-becoming a fan favourite among toon fans but is hated and despised by Everton fans, for the manner in which he left them, his own boyhood club. All this was also less than a week since Newcastle ended their 20 year Champions league absence with a visit to AC Milan at the San Siro, where the performance of Milan local boy, and former player, Sandro Tonali, was met with mixed reviews, after which he notably stated:

“The day of the game passed by so quickly, but I tried to enjoy every single minute. I cannot disguise my passion for Milan. I didn’t disguise it when I was at Brescia, nor playing for Milan, and I won’t now that I am at Newcastle. It would not be possible or desirable to hide this passion.”

This got me thinking about something that commentators, and pundits in general, often mention, but never gets discussed in any real depth, namely professional footballers and their relationship with their boyhood club. Last season, Newcastle faced Southampton in the second leg of the league cup final at St. James’s Park. The aforementioned Geordie boys were very active in that cup run too. Sean Longstaff scored two goals that day, following Dan Burn’s goal in the quarters (inspiring his dressing room dance routine). It means the world to them, and some players are really lucky to have that option. But I think players, ultimately, play for the game itself, not any club.

In the first leg, Southampton had brought on Adam Armstrong, a Geordie, from West Denton. My mate who was watching it in the club said everyone cheered for him when he came on, called him a bastard when he scored, then shouted “he loves the toon” when the goal was disallowed.

Funny, but in the second leg, I was in the stands. Armstrong had a couple of chances, and the off-their-nut radgies next to me started screaming “How dare he? He’s from West Denton man! I’ll break his ma’s windows.” I’m not saying that these lads speak for all fans (they probably didn’t even speak for themselves in that state), but you’d forgive people for being annoyed that a player would try so hard to stop his boyhood club winning a trophy.

This is ridiculous, of course. A professional footballer is doing a job. It was a former Southampton star man, Alan Shearer, who scored twice against us in 1994/95 when he won the league with Blackburn. I think anyone who knows who he is knows where Alan Shearer’s loyalties lie, however. He rejected big moves to stay at Newcastle, and while there are many players who are similar, including one club players, few were both as sought, and boyhood fans. Shearer became a Newcastle legend and still holds the premier league goalscoring record. He recently stated how honoured he feels to have a statue despite never winning a trophy.

However, we can’t all be Alan Shearer. You wouldn’t say the same, for example, about born and bred, NUFC lifelong supporter Graham Fenton, his former teammate at Blackburn, who came on as a late substitute in 1996 and scored two goals against his boyhood team, effectively ending their title chances. But Fenton never regretted that day. He has stated “I don’t regret a thing, I was just doing my job. I was a young lad trying to make my way in the game, trying to impress” before adding “no-one ever mentions that Alan Shearer set me up for the second, the winner.” Shearer would join Newcastle later that year (something Fenton never did) and the rest is history.

But I agree. And I think the majority of fans do as well, really. To a professional footballer, I think what will always come first is the game itself. Sometimes you can be a legend of the game and a legend of the club, and many players also fall in love with their favourite fanbases from their careers, but you can’t always have your cake and eat it. And the mentality of an athlete at that level must always be to be their best. As someone who is pretty much terrible when it comes to all sports, I can’t relate. I can only envy. But as a passionate fan I get a thrill from watching these brilliant people be their best. And I saw that when Anthony Gordon faced so much abuse for making the decisions he made. He has had his issues, but his loyalty is to the game. For now, that means Newcastle, but if times change, I would accept that (though I hope and think he’s here to stay).

Someone like Tonali may be slightly more conflicted. I think he’s admitted that Milan will always have his heart. And that’s understandable. Not everyone is the same. But I do believe his mind is in Newcastle (you’ve seen the pictures of him in spoons), and, with time, we will see that. People were quick to judge Gordon, and some have judged Tonali the same way. That their heads aren’t in the right place. But it’s a non-argument. Players may have boyhood teams, but they will always act professionally.

Well, apart from when known Newcastle fan Andy Carroll (playing for Reading) actively tried to wipe out Man United’s best players before we played them in the league cup final last year. But, you know, as Shearer famously said, “who the fuck are Man United?”

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About the Creator

Matty Long

Jack of all trades, master of watching movies. Also particularly fond of pizza, country music, watching football, travelling, and tea.

X: @eardstapa_

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Comments (1)

  • Alex H Mittelman 9 months ago

    Great work! Good job!

Matty LongWritten by Matty Long

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