Supporters summit: celebrating the success of supporter movement

supporters summit away fans matter

Bobby Gardiner was one of two selected writers who won ‘Fans for Diversity’ journalism contracts. Alongside Isra Gabal, Bobby will be commenting on ‘Fans for Diversity’ events across the country. In his first piece, Bobby reflects on his time at the 2015 Supporters Summit...

“Football, really, is just a reflection of society” said Anwar Uddin to me during the ‘Pride in Football’ workshop at the 2015 Supporters Summit - organised by the FSF and Supporters Direct.

And nowhere was this truer than at this particular event; two-pronged in its intention to both highlight problems within ‘the game’ and celebrate the ongoing successes of supporter movements. An annual gathering that, in effect, is the footballing equivalent of Mulan’s lake scene.

The first thing any existentially contemplating fan can see in the game is inequality and, more broadly, unfairness. This is a sport ruled by a governing body swiftly becoming a textbook synonym for the word ‘corrupt’, one whose next two World Cups are in countries with a humanitarian record worse than England in penalty shoot-outs.

This is a sport where homophobic language is used commonly, race issues are still prevalent and one heavily weighted towards the interests of one gender. In a financial sense, few sports echo the political victories of neo-liberalism and the relentless prioritising of wealth accumulation quite like football does.

But, despite the garish ugliness of its honest lake reflection, this is a game that is changing, and that is exactly why this event exists.

Its opening panel focused on the global problem of FIFA. General mention of FIFA is met by the sort of scathing, illogical apathy that can only be rivalled by bringing up politicians to someone British: scathing in the widespread recognition of its corruption, illogical in the similarly widespread belief that nothing can be done about it.

FIFA can be forced to change, and sports ethics campaigner Jaimie Fuller championed the need for an independent commission to do this. On the topic of Qatar and Russia, Stephen Russell emphasised that there is still a chance for the disaster to be turned into a delivery of impetus for improvement. To simply take the competitions away would forego the chance to institute humanitarian change, for example on labour rights in Qatar.

“Most of them don’t care, they know fans will come anyway” was one of the more depressing notes of the ‘Away Fans Matter’ workshop I attended. By creating an empirical database of away fan experiences, the FSF aims to create leverage with which to improve the plight of the often ignored away fan. Much like reforming FIFA, the battle will be a long one.

It’s hard to convince clubs that action is needed when no revenue is lost either way. The biggest clubs, who know away fans will buy the full allocation regardless, regularly ranked lowest when it came to surveys of away supporters’ experiences. But the FSF are trying nonetheless, gradually arming themselves with the power of more and more away fans. Like in that which it reflects, corporate football’s greatest weakness is collective bargaining.

The aforementioned ‘Pride in Football’ workshop was wonderfully optimistic, with the group-task of idealising a football utopia forcing the symmetry between society and football from a peripheral parallel into the forefront of discussion. “What would a perfectly equal and inclusive football match look like?” asked Chris Paouros. Maybe it would look like what we imagine football matches look like.

It’s easy to do nothing. That scathing, illogical apathy is captivatingly contagious and it’s easy to say that the people uninfected, the ones ‘doing something’, are ‘better than us’; conveniently brushing away our own responsibilities. But the game is as much yours, or mine, as it is anyone else’s.

Behind the garish ugliness in the lake reflection is me in a Swansea kit – I, Bobby Gardiner, a football fan. I can do something. Whether it’s calmly explaining to a friend why not to use discriminatory terms, writing a letter to one of FIFA’s sponsors or filling out an away fans’ survey, I can do something. That’s what the annual Supporters Summit is all about.

The FSF blog is the space to challenge perceived wisdom, entertain readers and inform our members. The views expressed are those of the author and they don't necessarily represent FSF policy and (pay attention journalists) shouldn't be attributed to the FSF.