Watching the World Cup from Australia (and briefly in Vanuatu) has been a novel, and revealing, experience. This tournament (and other recent mega events such as the Summer and Winter Olympic Games) has given me an insight into Australian sports fans.
With this particular competition being played in South America, geography and the resulting time difference, means that games have typically been starting in the early hours of the morning. Football fans in Australia (or fans of Australian sporting teams playing overseas) are frequently required to go without sleep in order to follow their favourite sport or team. The reality of this was recently brought home to me on one Thursday during the tournament.
This particular Thursday was June 19 and Australia played the Netherlands in a group match. For the majority of the world, this match took place on Wednesday June 18; for Australians this match started at 2am on Thursday.
As I tuned in to watch this match I was surprised by the volume of social media messages flying back and forth between my teammates from my local club (Bangor FC). Nearly all of the team were up watching this match, all had to go to work the next morning. We were not alone in this, almost one million Australians tuned in to watch the match.
With such dedication I have started to wonder whether Australian fans are the best in the world.
Simply the best?
This is perhaps a bold statement. Many nations may claim to having the best fans. Australian fans are certainly not the loudest, this record is held by American fans. American fans may also lay claim to being the most dedicated attendees as the National Football League (NFL) has the highest average match attendance of any professional sports league.
So how do I reach the conclusion that Australian fans may be the best? To start with, for Australians the need to stay up late (or get up early) to watch sport is not uncommon. Given that the majority of major sporting events tend to be played in Europe or the Americas Australians are frequently required to sacrifice sleep to follow their favourite team or sport.
During the tournament Australian fans were loud, passionate, and loyal. This degree of support was in spite of the fact that the Australian team headed into the World Cup as the lowest ranked team in the tournament.
Many Australian fans are not content with watching on TV. An estimated 15,000 fans followed the Australian team to Cuiaba to watch their opening game against Chile. Prior to the tournament Australian fans had bought over 52,000 tickets for matches at the World Cup – the 7th highest number of tickets by nation. Distance is no obstacle for Australian fans.
So here it is, this is why I have reached my conclusion; Australian fans endure levels of sleep deprivation that other fans are not faced with. They travel vast distances in large numbers. They remain loyal to a team that may have little hope of winning. I have experienced this for just three weeks and I am exhausted. Many of my friends and teammates have been doing this for years – I don’t know how they do it!