Fulham FC top the unhealthy table
Sep 8 2010
FOOTBALL fans across the land are famed for their love of a pint and a pie but eyebrows were raised in the Chronicle office when Fulham supporters were named the unhealthiest in London. GREG Burns found out more.
THINK of Fulham Football Club and Jimmy Hill, Roy Hogdson and Mohammed Al Fayed are names that immediately spring to mind.
The image of drunk, pot-bellied, chain-smoking football fanatics does not.
But according to an NHS survey published last month, the Whites have the unhealthiest supporter base in the capital and one of the worst in the Premier League.
Topping the table is not something Fulham are used to in recent seasons but they are scaling the heights for all the wrong reasons after the NHS surveyed 25,000 football fans through an online Football Fans Fitness Challenge tool online in conjunction with The Men's Health Forum Charity.
Nearly half of all Fulham fans stopped were found to be overweight while 33 per cent smoked and 37 per cent regularly drank more alcohol than the recommended daily limit.
In terms of their overall condition, some 47 per cent of Fulham fans were judged to be unhealthy, behind only Sunderland, Everton, Wigan Athletic and Manchester City. Chelsea fared much better, with 38 per cent of supporters deemed unhealthy.
After visiting Craven Cottage a number of times, my image of the
Neil Springate, secretary of The Fulham FFC Supporters' Trust and member since 1986,
The 51-year-old said: "These figures do not surprise me to be honest although I was shocked to see we were so high in the table.
"Fulham is located in a wealthy suburb and the demographics of our fans play a key factor in our health.
"Most fans are all in stable jobs earning decent incomes so can afford to have a few nice bottles of wine or beer during the week and can eat out or more lavishly than others might be able to.
"You have to put these types of surveys into perspective and they are not extensive. But I do not think it is a misrepresentation of Fulham fans.
"There are also a wide variety of pubs scattered around Fulham and Putney for people to go to before the game. If there is a home weekend game (with a 3pm kick-off), fans will gather as early as 12pm in the pub to have a drink together.
"If it is a night game (kick-off 8pm) then we tend to meet up together in the middle of the afternoon."
But arrests and banning orders at the Fulham Palace Road club amount to only handful each season smashing the stereotype that filling up on alcohol before a game automatically leads to violence or disorder on the terraces.
"We are a very well behaved fan base and we pride ourselves on that," added Neil. "We are not binge drinking and then looking for a good punch-up. We just like to get together, enjoy a drink or two and then go and cheer on our team."
We all know that part of the football experience is a greasy burger or hot dog but with many fans spending every weekend following their beloved teams across the country that could become a staple of their weekly diet.
It means football supporters' bellies are bulging and their arteries clogging up.
Neil said: "You can't walk around Fulham on a match day without seeing burger joints or kebab shops full of people eating. Let's put it this way – we have some members who are portly to say the least!
"But, all joking aside, the NHS' warnings about over-indulgence in alcohol and poor-quality foods, coupled with a lack of healthy exercise, are very valid for the nation as a whole and not just for football fans."
Fulham enjoyed a dream year last season as Hodgson guided them to the Europa League final in Hamburg before losing in extra-time to Athletic Madrid in May.
The glory run meant Whites fans clocked up air and road miles across Europe taking in cities like Wolfsburg in Germany, Turin to take on Italian giants Juventus and the Ukrainian city of Donesk to take on 2008 winners Shaktar.
And Neil saw a major difference between the English fans and those on the continent.
He said: "I have been all around Europe with Fulham, especially last season, and one thing that I noticed was how much smaller and thinner the European fans are.
"I guess they must eat better and drink less beer because we were nearly double their size."
Fear not Fulham Football Club. Your carefully preserved family-friendly reputation is safe.
And if Danny Murphy, Bobby Zamora and Brede Hangeland rise the league table as well as their fans have then glory days could be just around the corner.
Unfortunately for some supporters, heart disease or other major health conditions could be waiting for them too.
Peter Baker, Men's Health Forum chief executive, said: "There is a serious message from the league table too and that is that many of these clubs are based in areas where too many men die prematurely."
HOW FFC FANS MEASURE UP:
Percentage of fans at an unhealthy weight
Man United: 36.4
#FOR anyone interested my results of the Football Fans Fitness Challenge valued me at £45m.
It said I am at a 'healthy' weight and that I drink within the recommended levels. Phew.
Have a go yourselves at http://www.nhs.uk/Tools/Pages/worldcup.aspx?WT.mc_id=71004