Jamie Carragher explains what being a football fan means to him as a new report reveals the changing nature of fan culture, and believes the game now treasures supporters more than ever.
Supporters are the lifeblood of football, and the last 18 months has had a huge impact on them.
Firstly, for the match-goers. Every supporter is the same in a sense that it is their life. As players we sometimes don't realise that enough.
Without being able to go to the match, it's not just the football you're missing, it's the meeting your mates, the sharing of joy, celebrating things through tough times.
Going to the match, seeing your team come out the tunnel, that excitement and anticipation, you can't beat it. And those moments, where something special happens, they are the moments you remember for the rest of your life.
Without the football people feel a little bit lost.
And for those not at the match, viewing from afar, the impact has been huge. We've all spoken about it for the last 18 months. It's hard to watch a game; I've thought that, and that's the feedback I've got from a lot of others, too. I think a lot of supporters switched off from football, because the atmosphere of a game is so important to make football what it is.
From my point of view, even being in the ground commentating, it has been very difficult to get excited about events like you usually would. The perfect example would be Alisson's goal against West Brom - the goalkeeper comes up in the last minute to score the winner. How often do we see that?
That, with fans, everything about the commentary, the atmosphere, the occasion, would have taken it to a higher place. It's massive to have the fans back.
When it comes to being a football fan, I would describe myself predominantly as a Lifer.
The definition of... Lifers
The lifeblood of the sport, Lifers have been there since birth and have never known any different - your passion is one that’s likely been passed down generations. Your season ticket is your most prized possession and you follow your team through the highs and lows each season. Nothing can rival your love for the game and your club. Your Football Fan Family is the OG of football fans.
Football has been a massive part of my life for a long time, and always will be a part of it. I am very, very lucky that through everything we've been through I've been able to go to football games. I would consider myself very privileged, because football fanatics up and down the country have not had that privilege.
I have an insatiable love for football, and I've still been able to go and watch it live. It hasn't been the same, and it will be great to get supporters back, who are the lifeblood of football.
But football fan consumption is changing all the time - we're seeing more that fit the Game Changers model, and social media has had a big role to play in that. Players are now very aware of their own social media profile, and coming across as decent people and not just footballers. We've seen that a lot in the last 18 months. The football community, and especially within Premier League footballers, have really stepped up.
The definition of... Game Changers
The Game Changer’s attraction to football is based on how today’s top stars are portraying the game in a new light. By following players and the social issues they champion, you have seen first-hand how football can change mindsets and have fallen in love with the power of sport. Your Football Fan Family is socially-minded, driven by the positive impact of the game and the good it can do for society.
The likes of Jordan Henderson, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, along with many others; footballers are role models whether they like it or not. In the past players would say: 'I just want to play football, I don't want to be judged by every action off the pitch', but young people do look up to them. And they have certainly come to the fore and stepped up in this pandemic.
I think there's a lot more respect for footballers from supporters up and down the land, more than there was when I was playing.
It's easier now for players to get their message across on their social platforms, which are bigger now than newspaper circulations. You are your own media now.
Footballers right now can be as proud as anyone with how they have conducted themselves and gone about things in this time. They've played a huge role in the creation of that game-changers profile.
Then there's the Stattos; as most know, I do like my stats.
The definition of... Stattos
How many shots outside the box did James Maddison take last season? What’s the percentage of teams winning in red shirts on Monday nights? The Statto is most likely to know... you study the data, chew your mates’ ears off with facts they didn’t know and take pride in your spot-on predictions. Your pals might take the mick for you being a numbers geek… until you take the bookies to the cleaners and win your fantasy league, that is. Your Football Fan Family is the dark horse of the football community.
I don't think stats should be the be-all and end-all - and watching football in its pure form is still the eye test. But if I can use stats to back up what I think I've seen, that's brilliant.
Some people turn their nose up at stats, and it has gone beyond shots on goal, corners and possession, it's now expected goals, expected assists, passes into the final third; we're going into a lot of detail and I really enjoy that and I try to use it.
I think statistics on social media have almost taken over from fanzines, and fans are now giving all sorts of their own analysis for their own teams.
When I first started MNF, it felt quite easy, but now it feels more difficult, because the supporters are out there making their own analysis before a Monday when we get to it - so it's becoming even harder to find something new.
That's from supporters embracing analysis and stats. There are a lot of very good analysts on Twitter.
Even though I played the game, I'd never turn my nose up at any supporter who had an opinion on the game, or has made an analysis of the game. I don't think you need to have played the game at the highest level, or indeed any level, to have an understanding of the game.
I think it's the way forward, with more stats, looking deeper into the game, because that's now what supporters want to see.
Then there's the 'Socialisers', those people who thrive off the social aspect of watching big matches, and the 'Expressionists', fans who enjoy football for its culture. Personally, I'm quite particular.
I've always found it very difficult to watch the game down the pub - if I want to watch a game of football I always watch it indoors in the house - I don't feel I can ever watch it properly or analyse it properly while being in the pub.
The definition of... Socialisers
Socialisers are all about the way the game brings people together. You know players, you enjoy the game, but you don’t necessarily display the traditional, die-hard traits of a football fan defined by their club. You connect more with friends and family during the season and use it to expand your social activity. You love to rally around a national game and enjoy how big wins bring communities together. You Football Fan Family is the life and soul of the party, because after all, it’s just a game… right?
But I like to be involved in social media while I'm watching the game. I think a lot of us watch social media as much as the game, everyone is checking each other's opinions on an incident, and that's the way a lot of people consume football: TV in front of you, phone in the other hand, scrolling down and seeing what people's opinions are.
The constant diversification of the football fan is interest, and it's completely different from when I stood on the terraces as a young boy. We very rarely saw, if ever, any women on the terraces, and there has been a massive turnaround there. The Premier League and all-seater stadia has had a big impact on that.
I think the Lifers will always be the predominant supporter in terms of sticking with their club forever, through hail, rain or shine. But what you're getting now with social media and profile of players, it's easier to connect with these people.
If you're a young kid getting into football now, you may say: 'I support Ronaldo' or 'I support Messi' or 'I support Harry Kane' or 'I support Raheem Sterling' or you may have a foreign club you'll support as strongly as your British club.
The definition of... Expressionists
Football is about style and experiences – both of which the Expressionist has in abundance. You’re the first to know about the latest kit and boot drops, the best new music and the hottest restaurants. You always draw envy from your friends with your matchday outfits and can link any brand to their involvement in the game. A pro at social media, you create memories for your friends to enjoy and share. Your Football Fan Family is are all about the ‘gram and the glam.
The bottom line is there is so much more for youngsters to tap into these days when it comes to football, and that is no doubt why that keeps them a little bit more away from saying: 'Right, that's my team, I'll follow them' because they want to watch the best, see the best.
So, for me, what does it mean to be a Lifer?
For most lifer supporters, it's very difficult because unless you're very lucky to support the best clubs in the country, more often than not it brings more heartache than joy! I can certainly tell you that from my experience of being an Everton supporter as a kid, despite watching some great teams, and travelling to Wembley to see them win trophies.
But I've been lucky. Even though I say I'm a Lifer, I am obviously someone who changed clubs for obvious reasons: I support a club now who I think will always be there or thereabouts, challenging for trophies, and it has been absolutely fantastic watching Jurgen Klopp and his team achieve what they have.
Most supporters are realistic enough to know clubs aren't going to have massive success year in, year out, but it's the hope, the dream that one day it'll be your day, and that's what I think keeps a lot of football fans going.
And that's why, quite rightly, there is always this massive excitement and hope before a season starts, that it might just be your year.