It's been quite a week if, like millions of football fans, you had to process the shock news that your favourite football club was in the process of breaking away to form a lucrative new European Super League.
For supporters of the 12 would-be "founder" clubs, this was doubtless a source of great soul-searching for you -- yes, you, a supporter who has dedicated a significant portion of your life to following said club through thick and thin.
The entire Super League project may have imploded within 48 hours of going public but the fallout is set to hang over the upper echelons of the game like a foul miasma for a long time to come. True supporters are unlikely to ever forget, or fully forgive, the attempted power grab. Fans of the clubs involved have made their voices heard on social media and by publicly protesting. Most recently. Manchester United supporters broke into the club's Carrington training base on Thursday morning.
The anger and frustration (though not the trespassing) is perfectly understandable to all who love the game, but infuriated fans of the main offenders should not lose hope. Even if your (once) beloved football club don't appear to care about the distress they are causing you, there is a way forward.
We are all facing tough and uncertain times. For those fans suddenly left in the lurch by the 12 Super League founder clubs in question -- Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur in England, Spanish sides Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Italian trio AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus -- desperate times call for desperate measures.
Even if you're feeling jaded, and your relationship with the game has taken a significant hit, remember that the embers still smoulder and that your love of football will likely burn on forever. Perhaps it's time to do the unthinkable and start afresh, somewhere new? Thankfully, you still have options.
Football fans prove they have a voice as Super League crumbles
Craig Burley credits football fans around the world for their role in pressuring clubs to withdraw from the Super League.
Make the switch to your secret second team
This option is the most straightforward: simply formally shift your footballing allegiances to that secret second team you've always admired but never publicly admitted.
You know the one -- you still want your own club to beat them when they play each other, but outside of those meetings you're happy to see them doing well. Perhaps you admire the togetherness of their fans, the style of football they play, the way they bring through young players, or you just like their general vibe.
This could be the perfect time to sever ties and nail your colours to a different mast. Of course, ordinarily such conduct would be unthinkable, but don't forget that these are extraordinary times. Nobody would blame you given the circumstances.
Give your nearest 'big' club a go
Given the globe-striding nature of modern elite football, the vastly popular Super League clubs have all cultivated fans far beyond the confines of their own immediate local areas. Many supporters aren't fortunate to live in the direct vicinity of their favourite team and are therefore only able to offer their support remotely.
In that case, perhaps a trip to watch your local "big" side live may be the antidote. They may not have the star power of a Manchester City or an AC Milan, but at least they still ensure a decent spectacle on the pitch while also providing a vital focal point for the local community.
For example, should you be an avid Manchester United fan based in southern China then perhaps this is a perfect juncture to go all in on supporting your nearest big side -- reigning CSL champions Guangzhou FC. Barcelona supporters living in Doha, Qatar, could throw their full support behind Al Sadd, who are of course managed by Barca legend Xavi Hernandez. Liverpool fans residing in the city of Kolkata might be interested to find that Reds icon Robbie Fowler is currently in charge at Indian Super League side SC East Bengal.
You can still enjoy top-tier matches, continental competitions and some big names, but now you can watch them in person (as pandemic-enforced restrictions allow, of course).
Support your local non-league club
Anybody who has been to watch a non-league game will almost certainly espouse the myriad joys of the experience. Whether it be the cheap tickets and equally reasonable beer and food prices, or that you have a viewpoint close to the pitch from wherever you are in the ground, there is something about a non-league matchday that evokes a simpler, purer time in football's history. You get to see where your money goes when new fences get erected or the club house gets a new lick of paint, and all the while you feel part of a tight-knit community.
London-based Dulwich Hamlet are a fine example, with National League South club more than happy to welcome fans of bigger neighbouring Premier League and Football League clubs to their 500-seater Champion Hill ground for the genuine non-league experience.
"Dulwich has become a place for the displaced, especially over the last 10 years," Tom Cullen, the club's media and communications director, told ESPN. "We've welcomed fans from clubs all over the world, looking for an experience that's more visceral and authentic."
Being a West Ham supporter by birth, Cullen knows how it feels to leave the glitz and the glamour of football's upper echelons behind to drop down the leagues in search of authenticity: "We have Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, West Ham, Crystal Palace, Millwall and Charlton fans stood next to each other on the terraces every week. Everyone gets on because we're here for the Hamlet!"
Matchday at the Hamlet is a more informal affair than Premier League fans might be used to, with a far more relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
"There's not a lot of tension between home and away fans, in fact we normally swap ends at half-time depending on how full the ground is," Cullen adds. "Alcohol can be bought and drunk pitchside, and the atmosphere feels like a party most of the time.
"It's a proper mix of people, families, dogs, groups of friends young and old who have found us to be the glue that keeps our local community together. You'll make life-long friends, and be able to have a drink with the players in the bar after. It's a no brainer really."
For Manchester United and City fans seeking alternative matchday fare there are a number of semi-professional and non-league clubs dotted across the Greater Manchester area, with the likes of Stockport County, Droylsden FC, Hyde United, Curzon Ashton. Stalybridge Celtic all located within a few miles of the Etihad and/or Old Trafford. Closer still to United are West Didsbury & Chorlton AFC of the North West Counties League Division One South, whose Brookburn Road ground is little over a mile down the road from Old Trafford.
Liverpool and the surrounding area is also well stocked with non-league clubs like Southport FC, Marine AFC, and Prescot Cables all playing between steps six and eight in the English football pyramid. Down in London, disenchanted followers of Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham might seek a non-league refresher at local sides Barnet, Dulwich Hamlet, Haringey Borough, Hayes & Yeading United or Corinthian-Casuals.
Barcelona and rivals Espanyol command a large proportion of the fan base there are a number of district clubs in the Catalonian city such as UE Sant Andreu, CF Montanesa, and Club Esportiu Jupiter. Madrid's football scene may be dominated by Real and Atletico but it also boasts a number of smaller clubs too, with RCD Carabanchel arguably the most well-known by virtue of being the third oldest club in the Spanish capital (behind the aforementioned "big two"). Milan is famed for its fierce derby clashes between the Nerazzurri and the Rossoneri, but amateur regional club Brera Calcio also call the Italian city home.
Set up your own club
FC United is club that exists to provide authentic supporter owned, community-orientated football for those tired of modern football's constant pursuit of further riches at the expense of those who fund the game - the fans#FCUM— FC United of Manchester (@FCUnitedMcr) April 19, 2021
Should you be left feeling let down by the team you have always supported, one extreme course of action could be to form your very own football club. There are plenty of good precedents to follow, with FC United of Manchester and AFC Wimbledon two of the more renowned and successful recent examples in England.
In a situation reminiscent of the current climate, FC United were founded in 2005 by disenfranchised Manchester United fans opposed to the takeover of American billionaire Malcolm Glazer. FC United began life in the 10th tier of the English football pyramid, playing their home games at Gigg Lane. In 2015, they opened their own Broadhurst Park stadium with a friendly against Portuguese giants Benfica, and are now just three divisions below the full-professional ranks of the EFL.
We're delighted to have been nominated for @TheLFAOfficial Community Project of The Year Award!!💫 — Dons Local Action Group (@DonsLocalAction) April 20, 2021
Thanks to your support, we've been able to help our local community!!💛💙
Check out this article to see how far we've come!👇 https://t.co/exwYTtEqhL
AFC Wimbledon was launched in 2002 by former supporters of Wimbledon FC after the FA sanctioned the original club's controversial relocation from south-west London to Milton Keynes, a town 60 miles away on the other side of the capital, and rebrand as the MK Dons ("The Dons" being Wimbledon's traditional club nickname).
AFC began life in the Premier Division of the Combined Counties League (i.e. the ninth tier of English football) but thanks to a magnificent string of promotions, are now plying their trade in League One (the third tier) alongside MK Dons.
That's the beauty of football existing as an open competition. Theoretically, anybody could start a club tomorrow and go from strength to strength based on merit, and all while staying truly connected to the community of which they form an important part.
Answer the call from abroad
Dear AC Milan, Arsenal , Atlético, Chelsea, Barcelona, Internazionale, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Tottenham fans,— FC Spartak Moscow (@fcsm_eng) April 18, 2021
If you need a new club to support, we're always here for you.
FC Spartak Moscow.
As soon as the Super League bombshell dropped, several clubs put out calls for newly vagrant fans of the so-called "dirty dozen" to join their flock instead.
Spartak Moscow were among the first to do so, inviting despondent fans of the Super League splitters to seek sanctuary in the Russian Premier League.
"If you need a new club to support, we're always here for you," Spartak wrote in a cheeky message posted on social media.
Pick a team at random
If all else fails, then why not leave it to chance? Flip a coin. Pick a card. Close your eyes and stick a pin in a map. Pull names out of a hat. Consult the spirit realm with a football-based Ouija board. Use a random selector app. Spin the wheel of fortune. Rock, paper, scissors.
Let's face it, picking a club to support always carries an element of fortune anyway -- be it inherited family allegiances or an old-fashioned postcode lottery. We all choose, and most of the time we don't question the process too extensively.
Why not take your hands off the wheel entirely and let Lady Luck drive you to the next stadium?