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You only sing when you're camping.

Byline: By Anthony Vickers Evening Gazette

The typical Boro fan spends pounds 1,001 a year following the team, twice as much on lager and a whopping pounds 324 per annum on parmos.

He reads Red Square and the Gazette, listens to U2 and Perfecto All Stars, shops in TK Maxx, watches dodgy Lord of the Rings DVDs from the car boot and drives his other half up the wall dissecting possible line-ups and tactics for Norwich over tea - usually a Newbolds saveloy.

He spends pounds 167 a year on male grooming products, pounds 122 on 'daft quids' on the match and pounds 54 on phone calls to the Three Legends.

He owns a pounds 200 jacket from Psyche, two mobile phones and a CIU card and spends his annual holiday in Cala Millor.

Not really, I just made it all up.

But it is as accurate as anything published this week purporting to be a definitive statistical picture of the world of the modern football fan.

The Barclays Fans' Spending Survey published this week made a big splash in the tabloid press with sweeping claims to be a comprehensive picture of the lifestyle of the 21st century football fan.

But it bears very little resemblance to the realities of most supporters I know.

The survey dipped into the spending data of 275,000 Barclays' customers and classified anyone who had used a credit card in a club shop or to buy a season ticket as a 'typical fan' - then analysed everything else bought on their plastic over the season.

There are two problems that immediately arise with this all-inclusive methodology.

Firstly that your Nana nipping in to buying the kids a cuddly Roary for Christmas from MFC Retail at Captain Cook may find that her expenditure on flowers, Alma Cogan CDs and those furry slippers with the zips on is lumped in with that of the Stone Island casuals and official ra-ra foam finger crowd who spend every spare penny in the club shop.

And if your dad does you a favour and puts your Red Book on his credit card in June - "pay me back monthly" - his shrubbery and spades bought at Peter Barrett's and the caravan at the Blue Dolphin become classed as your 'lifestyle choices.'

Secondly the survey excludes cash spent. That disenfranchises the hundreds of thousands of supporters who use old-fashioned money to pay for their tickets on a week-to-week basis or for goods and services in everyday life.

Once again the traditional low income working class core fans are air-brushed out of the cosy picture of a new football demographic.

It also effectively cuts out from the survey the kind of spending more directly linked to the real matchday experience - the pint and the pie, the fanzine, the punt on the first scorer, the half-and-half Lazio scarf.

Those - and tickets - are the real costs of fandom.

Any real survey must calculate that, rather than completely unrelated spending that can only ever really just reflect the basic regional differences in the standard of living.

Of course, these surveys are 'just a bit of fun' and easy PR. They get the company's name in the paper while throwing up little nuggets of trivia that can give us all a laugh.

Bolton fans, for instance, spend pounds 411 on average a year on camping and caravanning, perhaps hinting at why they are called the Wanderers.

It doesn't say how much they spend on sensible cardigans and sturdy footware.

Arsenal fans are 'the most romantic' spending pounds 71 a year on flowers - although it could just be that daffs are very expensive in trendy Islington.

Pining Manchester United fans' most-bought book last year was the latest Beckham autobiography, My Side.

Portsmouth fans are the biggest cinema goers; Palace fans spend the most on CDs; Fulham's the most on clothes; Norwich fans the least in restaurants; Boro fans spend more than Geordies on petrol... but so what?

Some of the conclusions from the unscientifically collated data are just unbelievable.

For instance, the survey shows that Boro fans are 'among the most thrifty when it comes to mobile phone use'.

That is staggering when you consider the number of people who spend entire games texting their mates saying: "cn u c me on tv?"

The figures can't take the Millennium Stadium into account where every single Boro supporter seemed to be pointing their camera-phone towards the scoreboard on the whistle - then all four major networks crashed as they tried to phone home the good news.

It just means most of us here buy top-up cards with cash.

There is also a highly suspect claim that Boro fans 'top' holiday destination is Holland.

Now I see the temptation to link the Red Army with pilgrimages to the birthplace of Bolo, George, Jerel and Zig.

But I just don't buy the notion that there is a mass summer exodus from Teesside Airport to the salubrious sun spots of Utrecht and Vollendam.

Majorca, Ibiza, Falaraki, Kos and Florida yes, but Holland? Yerjokingarntyer?

That doesn't mean that all surveys are flawed by broad-based superficiality of course.

Last month a review of football travelling costs showed those from the region with the lowest average disposable income - that's us - pay by far the most to follow the team they love to away matches.

Research by Co-operative Financial Services showed Newcastle and Boro fans were punished for being geographically isolated and paid more to travel to away fixtures.

Yes, we know that. But the figures are interesting.

Newcastle fans are the biggest losers - take that any way you want - shelling out more than pounds 2,000 a year to follow their team around the country.

Birmingham fans are the winners financially, being handy for everywhere.

Fans of London clubs Arsenal and Chelsea and followers of Manchester United (who naturally mainly live near the capital) also get off lightly.

A Geordie who goes to every Toon game will travel a total of 8,482 miles, equivalent to a round-the-world trip.

Going by train would cost pounds 2,053 while taking the car would cost pounds 957.07 in petrol and getting a coach pounds 780 over the course of a season.

Boro fans don't fare much better. They cover 7,142 miles and would fork out pounds 999.90 for the train, pounds 805.87 in petrol or pounds 302 on the coach.

In contrast Brummies cover just 4,354 miles and stump up pounds 620 on the train, pounds 491.29 in petrol or pounds 218 on the bus.

The longest single journey, Newcastle's game at Portsmouth - a round trip of 678 miles - could cost pounds 72 in petrol on average, pounds 105 for a standard return train ticket and pounds 53 for coach travel.

Boro's trip to Pompey would be just a few bob cheaper.

The shortest journey is that between Everton and Liverpool. The Mersey rivals are separated only by Stanley Park - a distance of less than a mile and one that barely registers on petrol costs, although you may need to pay pounds 5 to a scally to 'watch yer car mister?'
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Title Annotation:Sport Boro
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Jan 22, 2005
Words:1188
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