Fans and Anoraks

Sport and transport have an interesting characteristic in common. No, it’s not that the latter has an extra four letters at the front, although that might be a useful fact for someone who writes word puzzles. The characteristic that has captured my attention is how both have an extraordinary capacity to attract people with a certain type of obsessive trait. So much so, that at times it is assumed that anyone who has any substantial involvement in sport or transport is likely to be such an obsessive.

The obsessive trait to which I refer is that distinct capacity to be what is called in sport a ‘fan’, short for ‘fanatic’ and in transport, an ‘anorak’.

I’m not thinking of the people who might like to watch the highlight show and occasional match on TV nor the people who admit that they enjoy travelling by train and approve of Thomas and Friends as quality children’s programming. (I’d hold my hands up to being that sort of person in an instant.)

I’m thinking of the people who memorise stats about their favourite teams going back decades before they were born. Or people who stand on railway bridges at unsociable hours to get pictures of diesel engines that have much less obvious aesthetic appeal than the cartoon steam engines.

Fans and anoraks baffle me. I struggle to empathise with someone who spends obscene amounts of money and time on tickets, travel, analysis and angst in honour of a bunch of men wearing a particular colour jersey. Likewise, the appeal of memorising motorway junctions and driving without a destination is beyond me. I know someone who does both of these things, but that has not helped me understand why.

Other areas of human endeavour do attract similar obsessive tendencies, but not, it seems, enough to attract the same stereotypes.

Popular music groups have groupies, but they are never assumed to be a large proportion of those attending a concert. Most may be fans, but it is never assumed that their loyalty is to that group only. Yet the majority of those in many a professional sports stadium are season ticket holders, and it would be considered unusual to attend a game without having pledged your commitment to support to one or the other of the teams playing exclusively.

Likewise, quiz shows like Mastermind demonstrate that people retain obscure knowledge about innumerable subjects. Yet somehow, being an expert on most subjects do not garner enough of a reputation to gain nicknames like ‘trainspotter’ or ‘motorhead’ or ‘lycra lout’. At least those obsessed with buses are rare enough to have avoided a derogatory title, and those into planes are presumably too cool for such pigeonholing.

Furthermore, football fans are often assumed to be hooligans, whilst transport anoraks are assumed to be nerdy and anti-social. Generalisations about a person’s character based on their interests, even if they are extreme, is an unfortunate aspect of this characteristic that sport and transport share. One can have a passion and regularly act on it without it affecting life’s other, daily interactions.

Even more difficult is the impact of these assumptions and stereotypes on those of us who have a passion, but in a much broader sense. I like sports without being a fan, indeed without even supporting a particular team or club. I am dedicated to the importance of integrated and multi-modal transport without having any particular interest in bus model numbers or ever wanting to go faster than 12 miles/hour whilst cycling. You don’t have to be an anorak to be a dedicated transport planner any more than you have to be a fan to watch a game or match. Perhaps it’s time to loosen the stranglehold of generalisation and reputation and think about what both sport and transport contribute to our society.

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