The game of football arouses passions that defy all logic. And sometimes its loyal followers do the kinds of things that others find hard to fathom. Paying tribute to the folks who are the lifeblood of the game, FIFA.com reveals the lengths some fans will go to in order to show their love for the shirt.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ is just weeks away now and fans of the 32 finalists are busy making travel arrangements so they can go and cheer their teams on. In some cases the journey will be an expensive one, although when it comes to seeing their heroes in action, diehard football followers are prepared to make major sacrifices, as FIFA.com user JDAVID83 from Colombia explains: “My father took five years to pay off the loan he took out to go to Tokyo for the Intercontinental Cup final between Atletico Nacional and AC Milan in December 1989. I think I’d do the same thing too.”
A similar case of dedication above and beyond the call of duty is provided by Li Wengang, a Chinese electrician who founded the country’s first supporters’ club in 1984. Such was his passion for football that he embarked on a pilgrimage that took him the length and breadth of China to promote the sport. Nicknamed Rossi because of his likeness to the Italian legend, his footballing odyssey has made him a national celebrity.
Argentina bore witness to another pilgrimage in 1995 when a large contingent of San Lorenzo fans walked all the way to the Basilica of Lujan to celebrate El Ciclón’s first championship in 21 years. Three seasons later it was the Virgin of Lujan’s turn to venture out as part of a procession to Racing Avellaneda’s home ground, the aim being to rid the stadium of all curses and help the team win its first league title since 1966. The virgin’s arrival was followed by a blessing, a rock concert, fireworks and a friendly match, and three years later Racing were champions again.
Mass demonstrations of support are not uncommon in the game. Fifteen years ago the fans of Celta Vigo and Sevilla took to the streets in their thousands to protest against the demotions of their clubs to the Spanish second division for alleged financial irregularities. The impressive shows of public support worked, with both teams keeping their places in an enlarged top flight.
Till death do us part
Football has always had its mystical side, as the founders of the Maradonian Church will tell you. Dedicated to Argentina’s most famous footballing son, Diego Maradona, the church celebrates its “Christmas” on 30 October, the star’s date of birth, which in its eyes also marks the beginning of a new “era”. Hundreds of thousands of followers observes its rituals and recite its very own versions of the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. The church even performs its very own wedding ceremony.
Our next tale of footballing passion also involves a wedding. In 2003 a young Pakistani by the name of Tay Baig travelled with his friends to London for his stag party only to end up in Seville, where his beloved Glasgow Celtic were due to play Porto in the UEFA Cup Final. The only problem was, while Tay was in southern Spain soaking up the pre-match atmosphere, 1,500 guests were waiting for him to appear at his wedding back in Lahore. Fielding irate calls from his exasperated family, Tay explained that there was no way he could miss such an important game.
“They aren’t very happy,” said the wayward groom at the time. “His fiancee has to understand it,” added his supportive brother. “He’s a staunch fan and a season-ticket holder too.” Defying his family, Tay stayed on in Seville, albeit without a ticket for the final, though we do not know if his wife-to-be ever forgave him or if they ended up tying the knot.
One football fanatic who did get married was Mei Nansheng of Wuhan, China ... on a football pitch. “Maybe I wasn’t born to play the game but I’m prepared to die for it,” said Mei. And though he has not gone to that length yet, he was so disgusted by his national side’s performances and his club’s decision to withdraw from the Chinese Super League that he retired from public life to become a Buddhist monk in 2008 .
Other fans take their passion with them to the grave. In response to growing demand, many undertakers now offer coffins adorned in the colours of clubs and national teams. That option was not enough for one follower of Spanish outfit Real Betis, who before his death asked his son to take his ashes along to every home game - a request the dutiful son continues to honour. To cater for the same kind of eternal devotion, Argentinian giants Boca Juniors now offer their departed fans an exclusive cemetery where they can rest in peace.
Customised coffins aside, fans around the world have even been known to dye their hair and paint their car and house in their club’s colours, though no one can surpass Germany’s Schalke 04, who are the proud owners of a tank bedecked in their blue-and-white colour scheme.
Continuing the transport theme, Portugal nut and former national trial biking champion Osvaldo Garcia is intent on delivering the country’s flag to Carlos Queiroz and his players before their opening game at South Africa 2010 against Côte d’Ivoire. Osvaldo’s mission involves a quite extraordinary journey, however. Setting off from the town of Penafiel, near Porto in northern Portugal, on 5 April, he is hoping to ride through 18 countries to reach the team’s base at Valley Lodge, Magaliesburg, a mere 20,000 kilometres away from home.
Have your say
These are just a few examples of the allegiance the game inspires in fans around the world. Do you know of any similar examples of unstinting dedication to the cause? If so, click on ‘Add your comment’ and tell us all about them.