Jerry and I were recently approached by Sharp Fan Labs about analysing some of their data – they’re currently involved in a massive survey of European football fans.
When I saw some of the information that they’ve collected I knew that it would be something that our readers would be interested in, especially as Euro 2012 starts tomorrow. Although we’ve concentrated on England and the other teams in Group D, it’s fascinating to see how closely our attitudes match one of biggest rivals and how other countries see both themselves and us.
The first aspect that comes across about how we see Englandâ€™s chances is that compared to past tournaments expectations seem to have been lowered. For example only 45% of the England fans have confidence in the both the team and Roy Hodgson â€“ which might sound like a lot, but is not a great deal when itâ€™s compared to the 74% of German fans that have confidence in the Nationalelf. In contrast, the French and Swedish fans are not as confident as we are but that may be because they know what theyâ€™re getting. Both Laurent Blanc and Erik Hamren have been in charge of their teams for longer than two games: weâ€™re not even sure what the starting XI for next weekâ€™s game against France will be.
64% of English fans also think that the squad is lacking team spirit, which is the first of a number of aspects we share with French fans â€“ to put it simply, neither ourselves nor our friends across the Channel believe that our respective teams have the necessary esprit de corps: between us we had the lowest scores of the countries that have taken part in the survey. To me that appears to be a similar attitude but for different reasons: the Premier League is not only far more tribal than the England national team (think of Evra/Suarez) but is also a bigger global brand that is popular around the world. To some extent thatâ€™s similar to Ligue 1, but my guess is that French fans remember the meltdowns that happened at Euro 2008 and the last World Cup: although Blanc seems to be doing a good job of preventing a repeat, one bad result for Les Bleus could burst the bubble.
Another area where we share common ground with the French fans is in terms of knowledge of past tournaments and the one that starts tomorrow. In this category, we occupied two of the top five places across the teams that qualified for Euro 2012 and easily outperformed the Swedes and Ukrainians – who filled two of the bottom three places. Iâ€™m not sure if thatâ€™s because a higher proportion of their fans from either of the latter countries only have a mild interest in the game: it could also be that they arenâ€™t as obsessive as either ourselves or our French counterparts.
Before I go any further, itâ€™s worth mentioning that the Swedish and Ukrainian fans scored higher in terms of â€˜dedicationâ€™ than English and French fans. Dedication is hard to define: it could range from draping a flag out of your bedroom window or having your face painted with your flag to spending thousands of Pounds, Euros, Krone or Hryven following your side around Eastern Europe this summer. At the risk of sounding too cynical but with the experience of Euro 96, itâ€™s probably far easier to be dedicated to your national team when theyâ€™re playing at home.
If you re-read the first four paragraphs, there seems to be a pattern emerging amongst followers of the countries in Group D. Both English and French fans seem to be less enthusiastic generally but more knowledgeable than their Swedish and Ukrainian contemporaries but as I mentioned earlier that could be based on the weight of unrealistic expectations and a general cynicism about the real motivation of the players. On the other hand, the Swedish and Ukrainian fans may take these tournaments less seriously than we do because their definition of success is more realistic and they perceive that players genuinely seem to appreciate the opportunity to both take part in them and to try to do well for their countries.
However, itâ€™s never as straightforward as that. One of the best definitions of belief that Iâ€™ve come across is â€˜confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proofâ€™ and having already mentioned a lack of confidence in the England team and manager, an impressive 71% of our fans believe England can win Euro 2012. That being said, the majority of fans across all countries in Group D believe their team can win Euro 2012: given past results, the 69% of French fans who believe their side can win the tournament probably have the best chance of not being disappointed.
The Spanish fans are the most confident that their team will win Euro 2012 â€“ an astonishing 97% of them think that they can retain the title. Itâ€™s amazing what a bit of overdue success can do, but I would imagine that number sounds ridiculously over confident to everyone else, particularly as no country has ever won consecutive European Championships â€“ and the two best players in La Liga are Argentinian and Portuguese.
Looking beyond Group D, there are a couple of very interesting results worth commenting on. Irish fans came first in both dedication and knowledge, which when you think about it isnâ€™t that surprising. Only one of the Irish squad plays his club football in a country where English isnâ€™t a first language (Aiden McGeady of Dinamo Moscow) and with over half the team playing in the Premier League itâ€™s necessary for a typical Irish fan has to have a good knowledge of football outside his or her own country â€“ something thatâ€™s not always the case with England fans.
Overall itâ€™s a very interesting study especially as it seems to agree with the theory that thereâ€™s a much more realistic attitude from England fans than there has been before past tournaments. Possibly the most surprising thing for me was the similarities between French fans and ourselves, although frustration that we should both be doing better is important in that context as well as being an integral part of being a supporter at any level.
Although we donâ€™t seem to have much confidence in the team (we also find them frustrating, lacking team spirit and undisciplined) when you learn that England are the fourth most feared team in the tournament and â€“ behind Spain and Germany â€“ the team that fans from other countries most want to beat this summer itâ€™s actually surprisingly uplifting. Although we seem to be less optimistic about our chances than we normally are, at least we have some consolation: beating England is still seen as an achievement by fans in other countries.
Thatâ€™s something that England fans and players alike should be both aware and proud of.