Super-fans: Travelling miles for heartache


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Loving a football team or a band can lead people to spend thousands of pounds and precious free time on their passion. But what drives super-fans to devote themselves to something that will not love them back and may often cause them misery?

In the week Arsene Wenger presided over his 1,000th Arsenal game, football fan Phil Beeton was attending his 2,000th consecutive Leeds United league match.

On Tuesday evening the 61-year-old, from Garforth, West Yorkshire, celebrated the milestone when he travelled to the other side of the country to watch his beloved team play AFC Bournemouth.

While Wenger has been in charge of the Gunners since October 1996, Mr Beeton's run began 29 years earlier.

"It was a game against Manchester City in March 1967 - it was round about the 18th of March, I think," he said.

"All those games at that time always seemed the same. It was the great Don Revie team and we just expected a win."

Phil Beeton Phil Beeton was named the Football League's Capital One Supporter Of The Year in January

The match that started Mr Beeton's unbroken league run, however, was not his first. That came 10 years earlier in 1957 with a 1-1 draw at home to West Bromwich Albion.

"From what I can remember I was quite keen because I wanted to go again afterwards," he said.

Start Quote

I love supporting Leeds as much as I did on day one”

End Quote Phil Beeton Devoted Leeds fan

"My father was a keen supporter and I guess he waited till he thought I was old enough to go down with him.

"It made an impression on me instantly - it got in the blood."

Over 48 seasons his dedication to Leeds United has outlived 20 managers there, not including the caretaker managers in between.

Between 1968 and 1992 Leeds won four league titles, as well as enjoying success in the FA Cup, League Cup, Charity Shield and Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.

Ever since, however, the trophy cabinet has remained largely empty.

In 2004, just three years after reaching the Champions League semi-finals, the club was relegated to the Championship, where it has remained. Even worse, it then spent a spell in the third tier of English football between 2007 and 2010.

Despite the trials and tribulations, Mr Beeton remains committed.

"I love supporting Leeds as much as I did on day one," he says.

Leeds United managers Leeds United has had 20 full-time managers since Phil Beeton started watching them, including Eddie Gray who took charge twice

To mark Mr Beeton's decades of dedication, Leeds United have announced they will present him with a five-year season ticket before the club's next home match on 29 March.

"Phil has shown remarkable loyalty and we were keen to recognise his support and dedication," says David Haugh, Leeds United's managing director.

"Phil has seen all the highs and lows at this club over the years and even after some difficult times his commitment remains as strong as ever."

Mr Beeton's unwavering support has also been recognised by the Football League who named him Capital One Supporter Of The Year in January.

A fan of another club - Mark Goodwin - shares that dedication.

The 50-year-old Aston Villa fan has attended 1,568 consecutive domestic league and cup games since 1980.

Mark Goodwin and Villa Park Mark Goodwin, from Sutton Coldfield, has been supporting Aston Villa since 1972

The self-employed design engineer from Sutton Coldfield has even in the past flown home from a family holiday in Portugal to catch a plane to Iceland to watch his beloved club play.

He has also shelled out £400 for the number plate V111A MG.

But, he says, his devotion revolves around more than just a weekly dose of the beautiful game.

"It's not just the football, it's the whole day out - from a few drinks before the game to meeting the opposition fans," he says.

'Rhythm of match day'

Wolverhampton Wanderers super-fan Paul Abbott, from Ipswich, hit the headlines in October 2013 when he was forced to miss his first home game since 1976 to attend his stepdaughter's wedding.

When the club heard about Mr Abbott's dilemma they sent the club's record goal-scorer Steve Bull along to the wedding as a surprise.

Sociologists who have studied the cult of the super-fan say the concept can often be bred from a desire for "routine and community".

"For certain supporters - not all - [following a team] offers meaning, structure and routine," says Professor Matt Taylor, from De Montfort University's International Centre for Sports History and Culture.

"In some cases it might simply be the rhythm of match day.

"It gives structure to parts of the week where there is no structure - due to the absence of work - and that is something that people enjoy."

Sally Frith poses for a photo with Les Miserables star Samantha Barks, who has played Eponine on stage and screen Les Miserables fan Sally Frith will see the musical for the 1,000th time later this year

He says that in many cases, the joy involved with following a team is "not about success".

"It may well be that some clubs are successful, but, in actual fact, it is more about connecting," he says.

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You can't really grasp all of it the first time you see it. You have to see it a couple of times to get the story and, for me, it just grew from there”

End Quote Sally Frith Les Miserables fan

"A lot of the culture of football supporting occurs off the pitch. What happens on the pitch is not unimportant but it occurs elsewhere and that is increasing with the various platforms for discussion."

However, the devotion of the super-fan is not is restricted to football.

Sally Frith, from near Stroud in Gloucestershire, really loves Les Miserables.

On 7 June she is due to see the hit musical based on Victor Hugo's 19th Century novel for the 1,000th time and estimates she has so far spent £50,000 indulging her passion.

"I love the show, love the music - I love everything about it," she says.

Ms Frith first saw the show in 1988 in London and has since travelled to theatres as far away as Sweden and New York to watch performances.

"I go and see it every two to three weeks," she says.

"You can't really grasp all of it the first time you see it.

"You have to see it a couple of times to get the story and, for me, it just grew from there."

'Biggest thing'

In 2011, Jane Fogg, from Nottingham, cited her love of Irish boyband Westlife as the reason her marriage broke down.

She said she had spent about £30,000 supporting the group and had tattoos of the band members on her legs.

Speaking at the time she said: "I just love Westlife too much.

"I love them more than I loved him. It is the biggest thing in my life."

Westlife fan Jane Fogg displays one of her tattoos Jane Fogg, from Nottingham, spent thousands of pounds following Irish boy band Westlife

Two other super-fans from the city also took extreme measures that year, allowing their loves to take over their lives.

Superhero enthusiast Daniel Knox-Hewson became Emperor Spiderman Gandalf Wolverine Skywalker Optimus Prime Goku Sonic Xavier Ryu Cloud Superman Heman Batman Thrash - Emperor Thrash for short - by deed poll.

His friend Kelvin Borbidge, meanwhile, changed his name to Baron Venom Balrog Sabretooth Vader Megatron Vegeta Robotnik Magneto Bison Sephiroth Lex Luthor Skeletor Joker Grind (or Baron Grind for short).

Whatever the passion is that envelopes someone's entire life, Professor Taylor says the main event is actually often a sideline when it comes to their interest.

"It is the culture around the event as much as the event itself," he says.

"Fandom is a culture which is made by the supporters themselves. It is a whole world."

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