One of the most tedious, pointless, and stupid debates in sports is “who is a real fan?” That’s a question with literally no answer - every one of us fans for our team(s) in our own way, and there’s no wrong way to do it. I mean, I guess if you wanted to take it to an extreme, dressing up in full Nazi regalia and sieg-heiling every time your team does something good might be a bit on the wrong side of things, but as a general rule, people can fan how they choose.
It’s in light of that “fan how you want” sentiment that I bring you the latest comments from Alexandre Lacazette. Asked how he was finding life in England, among other things, he said:
“I miss Ligue 1’s atmosphere. In England, the fans are more spectators than supporters. There’s a better atmosphere in French stadiums.”
Now, it’s important to note that he didn’t say this as an indictment, or in an angry way - he was just reflecting on how things are different. And I can totally see why he’d think that. The Emirates in particular isn’t exactly known for its raucous atmosphere, and the Premier League overall has changed a lot in the 25 years it’s been around, so while there are definitely chants and songs and flags and all the stereotypical markers of supporter-dom throughout England, the in-stadium experience is a different animal now than it was even 10 years ago.
The price of tickets is one factor in this, obviously, as is the general shift in how in-person sports are consumed these days, what with people on their phones taking pics and Instagram stories and things like that.
I have never been to a game in France, so I can’t attest to Lacazette’s claim of a better atmosphere, but I do tend to think that smaller leagues with smaller stadia probably do have a more organic, rooted supporter culture than a league with four or five massive teams that serve - and I don’t mean this as a pejorative, at all - as a tourist destination for people from all over the world.
I could be wrong, but I don’t think massive numbers of people organize trips to Guingamp or Amiens the way people do once-in-a-lifetime trips to London, Manchester, or Liverpool; outside of PSG and maybe Monaco, a great number of teams in France are probably catering to 99% locals, and that brings an entirely different type of atmosphere than visiting a ground like the Emirates, where a very large percentage of people in the ground have never been there before and may never go again.
Don’t misunderstand - I’m not saying that is a bad thing for the Emirates, or for Arsenal. Arsenal are who and where they are now because of worldwide support, and a great many of you reading this have never been to and may never go to the Emirates, and yet still identify as Arsenal fans.
But there definitely is a difference in intensity of experience that being a global club brings vs. being a club in the lower reaches of the French leagues, and that difference is what Lacazette was talking about. One isn’t better than the other; they’re just different ways of consuming the sport we all love.