Fans of smaller clubs are drawn to each other amid Cambridge's swathes of Arsenal fansEmily Lawson-Todd for Varsity

One of the best parts of going to university is the new environment you find yourself in, surrounded by people of all different backgrounds from up and down the country, even beyond our shores. For me this has meant meeting people who I share something with, and that is supporting a shit football team.

Anyone who knows me knows of my love for Brentford F.C. A club with a stadium capacity of below 20,000, the 1942 London War Cup is the closest we’ve got to a real trophy. At Cambridge, I have found solidarity with those I meet with a similar passion for a football club with little to its name.

“This was the beginning of the community I have found at university just through following football”

One of the first people I became friends with at Cambridge is a Brentford fan. We technically met before even coming to uni. I, like any normal person, tweeted I got into Cambridge on results day, which led to a DM from someone who followed me, also saying he got into Cambridge. This meant that, when I moved to University, I didn’t have to watch Brentford’s first game alone, because I was joined by a random MML-er who I’d met on Twitter just because we support the same football team. This was the beginning of the community I have found at university just through following football. A community that has even gone beyond my own team.

Two of my closest college friends share my affliction of supporting lacklustre football teams (although none of us will admit this out loud). One is a Sheffield United fan (poor sod), the other a Portsmouth supporter. Now, if you follow football, you’d know this means that as a trio we’ve had a bit of a rollercoaster of a season, with a promotion and relegation between us. But it also has been a brilliant season of friendship, making journeys together to Sheffield and London to watch one another’s clubs. My team was so generous as to give Sheffield United their only clean sheet of the season in front of our very eyes. I even braved a cold Tuesday night in Cambridge to watch Portsmouth produce one of the most boring games I’ve ever attended. This friendship formed around football has led to a tradition of commiserative pints and a fantasy football league with a MASH-related forfeit.

“it has allowed me to connect with the minimal football roots in my family”

But, most importantly to me, it has allowed me to connect with the minimal football roots in my family, that being my grandad’s club Portsmouth. Celebrating their promotion was a lovely moment, witnessing the joy of my friend but also knowing that my grandad, who has been through his fair share of struggles as a Pompey fan, would also be celebrating that night. I would never have had the opportunity to do these things without the camaraderie ‘small club’ fans have with one another. We all share experiences, despite wearing different coloured shirts.

Football is an emotional sport. I cried when my club moved stadiums, I felt sick as we got promoted and I cried again when we won our first Premier League game. Only football fans can understand this passion, but only fans of shit clubs can truly understand what it means. We come from garden shed stadiums, with pillars that block your view of the goal. We have watched our teams climb the leagues and suffered seeing them plummet down them. We have witnessed our clubs scrounge for money, shaking buckets just so they can keep the lights on.


Mountain View

Why I’m bowled over by college cricket

Fans of ‘big’ clubs simply don’t understand witnessing something you love go through this. They may complain when they lose three games in a row, but they have never had to witness their club nearly cease to exist, or in the case of some, actually go extinct. The hardship of supporting a smaller club creates unique bonds between strangers. I’ve chatted with a random guy in the Eagle because he was wearing a Brentford scarf. I’ve had a Middlesbrough fan congratulate me on how well my club are doing. I’ve had a Newcastle fan in college recognise me just from wearing my Brentford shirt at brunch. These links between people were made simply because we recognised one another as someone we can relate to. Someone who has sat in the rain on a cold evening watching their team lose to Bolton, or travelled the length of the country just to see a nil-nil draw.

Having grown up with few friends who liked football because of its (slowly changing) image as a boys’ sport, I have finally found community. These are people who might understand why I decided to spend my 18th birthday watching my team lose to Chelsea. People who won’t call me crazy for going home during term just to watch some football. Despite the prevalence of the ‘big six’, especially among football fans at this University, those of us with tinpot running through our veins will always have one another.