One of the many lessons learned throughout the pandemic was the importance of sports fans. For over a year, soccer fans around the world were forced to watch games at home, creating eery silences in empty stadiums.
As the age-old saying goes, “soccer is nothing without fans”. Large groups of passionate soccer fans transform stadiums with jovial chants, roars of encouragement, and the occasional banter exchange with opposition supporters.
Some of the topics we touch on include:
- What it means to be a soccer fan
- Soccer fans around the world
- What countries have the most fans
- Soccer fan passion
- Soccer hooliganism and fan violence
This article covers every side of soccer fans around the world, including some of the more extreme side of fans near the end of the article.
What Is a Soccer Fan?
Simply put, a soccer fan is someone who enjoys or has an interest in the game of soccer. There are different levels of soccer fandom, with some supporters far more invested than others.
- Casual fans may take pleasure in watching high-level professional soccer involving the best players in the world, while major fanatics get their kicks studying the beautiful game from an amateur to a professional level.
Some fans are simply followers of the sport, holding no allegiance to a particular team. While they may have their favorite players and teams, they don’t become overly invested in just one club.
Contrastingly, other soccer fans are die-hard supporters of a single team. Whether their loyalty comes from their location or it’s passed down from a parent, passionate fans often spend their whole lives supporting one club, season after season.
When it comes to international soccer, the vast majority of fans support their home nation. Again, general soccer may take a liking to other national teams, but patriotism and pride of place make international soccer a unique aspect of the game.
Soccer Fan FAQs
Soccer Fans Worldwide
Soccer fans are different around the globe. Local culture and tradition bleed into the sport, giving fans from certain areas an element of uniqueness. What’s more, despite it being the most popular sport in the world, soccer is still a developing sport in some countries. Fan bases, team identities, and traditions need time to prosper.
Let’s take a look at the broad spectrum of soccer fans from different parts of the world.
U.S. Soccer Fans
Although soccer is still growing in the U.S., it is home to dedicated and passionate fans. The MLS has become a popular league in recent years, drawing the eyes of fans from all over the world. Its financial structure means it can now attract top players with large followings, like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Chicharito, Carlos Vela, and Lorenzo Insigne.
U.S. soccer fans are among the best in the world in terms of in-game attendance. MLS supporters rank in the top 10 for average game attendance:
Considering the variety of sports available to the U.S. market and how recent soccer arrived on American shores, these figures are impressive. Who knows where the U.S. soccer fans will rank five years from now?
The U.S. national team has an unofficial supporters’ group, known as “The American Outlaws”.
The group was started in 2007 to bring U.S. supporters together and create a better atmosphere at international games. They have a presence at all U.S. men’s and women’s games.
You can spot the Outlaws through their red members’ uniforms and American flag bandanas. They usually sit on either end of the stadium, behind one of the goals brandishing signs and banners.
Latin American Soccer Fans
Latin American fans are known for their passion. Soccer is a huge part of social life and culture in Latin American countries, providing an outlet in many poor regions.
The Mexican and Brazilian soccer leagues are two of the most-watched in the world according to TV viewership. What’s more, the games are also well-attended.
Latin American soccer fans bring music and rhythm to the sport. Their fans pack out stadiums, carrying drums and instruments, providing music and song throughout the entirety of a game.
- Perhaps the most famous Latin American fans are the Brazilians. As well as supporting one of the best and most consistent national teams, their fans are blessed with the samba spirit. Rhythm runs through Brazilian fans who don’t shy away from bringing a carnival atmosphere to their games.
Wherever you are in Latin America, it’s fair to say you’ll find extremely passionate fans.
European Soccer Fans
Europe is home to the highest level of club soccer in the world. The domestic leagues in England, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, and Portugal have some of the best players in world soccer. European soccer fans differ significantly, depending on the country.
One thing that European fans have in common is commitment. Supporters are dedicated to their teams and show up week-in-week-out to cheer on their teams.
Traveling fans are also a big deal in Europe. It’s quite common for loyal fans to follow their teams around the country for every game, regardless of the location.
European fans are very vocal. They invent creative songs and chants about their team, players, and occasionally, their opponents. German soccer fans have an excellent reputation in Europe. They boast the highest attendance rates, creating amazing atmospheres in their stadiums.
Borussia Dortmund has legendary supporters in their Westfalenstadion, stadium.
Since it’s the birthplace of soccer, England is also home to legendary fans. With so many local rivalries, fans engage in constant banter throughout games. They write imaginative songs about their players and their passion creates electrifying atmospheres.
Soccer is ingrained in English culture, making it a perfect destination for soccer fans. However, there are strong ties to violence and hooliganism among English fans, which we’ll touch on later.
African Soccer Fans
There is a huge soccer culture in Africa. It is undoubtedly the most popular sport on the continent. Apart from in South Africa, where cricket and rugby have a major following, soccer is believed to be the number one sport in every African country.
Today, some of the best players in the world are from Africa, increasing its profile even further. The African Cup of Nations tournament hit record views in 2021, with 65 million people tuning in for the final across free-to-air platforms in Africa. Some of the major African soccer stars in recent years include:
- Mohamed Salah
- Sadio Mane
- Samuel Eto’o
- Didier Drogba
- Edouard Mendy
- Riyad Mahrez
- Achraf Hakimi
- Yaya Toure
African fans are known for their jovial support at live games, with fans from different countries bringing unique sounds and cultures to the stands. Stadium fans sing and play drums throughout entire national games.
Soccer fans in Africa also support teams from other countries. For example, there are millions of Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona, and Real Madrid fans in Africa.
Asian Soccer Fans
Over 59% of the world’s population comes from Asia. Unsurprisingly it also has the highest number of soccer fans in the world.
Asians account for approximately one-third of the English Premier League viewership.
Fans are extremely devoted to their favorite teams, watching games in the middle of the night or early in the morning. They travel thousands of miles to experience live games all around the UK.
While domestic leagues in China, Korea, and Japan are growing in strength, Asian soccer fans focus predominantly on the stronger leagues around the world. Asian fans are particularly infatuated with the English Premier League. The league and its teams have many Asian sponsors, further demonstrating the keen interest.
What Are Soccer Fans Called in Europe?
Soccer fans in Europe are typically referred to simply as fans or supporters. However, supporters’ groups are often known as “ultras”. This term comes from Latin and essentially means “beyond”.
Ultras are the die-hard fans that lead the support from the bleachers with loud chants and songs. In many stadiums, the ultras occupy specific areas of the stadium. They usually convene behind one of the goals but their location can vary depending on the team.
Why Soccer Fans Are The Best?
As the most popular sport in the world, soccer is an inclusive game that incorporates a broad range of cultures. It is a unifying sport that triggers passionate support regardless of the background or location of the fan. Soccer fans are devoted to their teams, creating incredible atmospheres in every game.
As the great Liverpool coach, Bill Shankly once said:
“Some people believe football (soccer) is a matter of life and death. I’m very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”Bill Shankly, 1981
Although it’s difficult to say with certainty that soccer fans are the best in the world, it’s fair to assume that they’re up there. If not soccer fans, what other supporters could be considered the best?
What Country Likes Soccer The Most?
Technically, China has the most soccer fans in the world, with over 187 million reported fans. However, this is mainly down to the sheer size of the country.
In terms of popularity, the United Arab Emirates likes soccer the most. A reported 80% of the population is “interested” or “very interested” in the beautiful game.
Check out our in-depth article on the popularity of soccer worldwide.
Why Are soccer Fans So Passionate?
Soccer is an amazing sport that provides ups and downs, excitement, and moments of pure magic. Games take fans on emotional rollercoasters, providing them with an escape from their normal lives and an opportunity to let go of frustrations.
- As a global sport, soccer is accessible at all levels, meaning many fans often fall in love at an early age. Their childhoods are filled with memories of playing in the park, watching their favorite teams on TV, and attending their first live game.
Following a team is a form of tribalism. Soccer fans join a community of fellow supporters when they become fans of a team. In the social media age, global fans are more connected than ever. Supporting a team becomes an integral part of a fan’s life, driving their passion.
Game-going fans spend a lot of time and money watching their team play every week. They grow bonds with other supporters and family members through their traditions of going to live games.
Soccer is not just a hobby for many fans. It is an important part of their identity and social lives.
Why Are Soccer Fans So Violent?
Local rivalries or competitive rivalries are the main reasons for violence among soccer fans. Unfortunately, throughout the history of the sport, soccer has been associated with violence.
Rival fans often clash before, during, and after games, causing unsightly encounters. Violence among soccer fans is often referred to as hooliganism. Although violence has reduced significantly over the past few decades, it still exists. It is more prominent in certain areas or between particular sets of fans.
Some of the most violent rivalries in soccer today include:
- Boca Juniors vs River Plate (Argentina)
- Red Star Belgrade vs Partizan Belgrade (Serbia)
- Galatasaray vs Fenerbahce (Turkey)
- Rangers vs Celtic (Scotland)
- West Ham vs Milwall (England)
Soccer hooligans are essentially soccer gangs who frequently commit “civil disobedience” at soccer events or in relation to their soccer team. Hooliganism involves a spectrum of behavior that can range from obscene gestures to extreme violence.
Soccer hooliganism exists all over the world. Although the violence has been suppressed in many areas, we still see acts of extreme brutality on occasion, particularly in Latin American countries.
Are Ultras Hooligans?
Strictly speaking, ultras are not soccer hooligans. Since ultras are the most devoted supporters of a team, they often act with the sole intention of supporting their teams. However, with some sets of fans, ultras partake in hooliganism or violent behavior.
Why Are English Fans So Violent?
Soccer hooliganism is believed to have started in England. The history of violence means that this type of behavior still exists today. While most modern English fans are civilized, violent supporters still exist.
What Are Liverpool Ultras Called?
The most famous group of Liverpool ultras are known as “The Urchins”. While they operate on a much lower profile today, they were known as one of the most problematic hooligan firms in the United Kingdom.
What Are Italian Ultras?
The term ultras originated in Italy in the 1950s. Italian ultras are known to offer loud vocal support in the stadiums, light colorful flares in the bleachers, and brandish banners or signs. They take responsibility for creating an atmosphere in their stadium during live games.
Although most Italian ultras were started with good intentions, many became violent and created ties with the mafia. Some of the most famous ultras in Italy include:
- Irriducibili (Lazio)
- Fossa dei Leoni (AC Milan)
- Curva Nord Milano (Inter Milan)
- Drughi (Juventus)
Why Are Hooligans Called Firms?
In England, criminal gangs are commonly referred to as firms. Violent groups of supporters often acted similarly to gangs, earning them the same title. At some point, most teams in England had at least one type of firm.
Joel is a seasoned soccer journalist and analyst with many years of experience in the field. Joel specializes in game analysis, player profiles, transfer news, and has a keen eye for the tactical nuances of the game. He played at various levels in the game and coached teams - he is happy to share his insight with you.