Maria Horner, the FSF’s newest member of staff, tells us why she wants to hear from fans, supporter groups and clubs to promote diversity at non-league level…
I’ve witnessed and been part of a group of people who want to tell the world how brilliant football is on so many levels; but for me the key is bringing people together using the medium of our national game to share that passion and build communities.
I realise I’m talking to people who already know that and are also fiercely proud and protective of their club and rightly demand respect of each club’s history and sacred features which have developed over decades.
By harnessing that passion; together with time and money made available thanks to the FA, Kick it Out and the FSF, supporters and clubs can work together to build and grow clubs which may not have had such attention before.
What you will learn about me is that I am new to football. I did not grow up with anyone who had an interest in the game. I have a son and despite my lack of football history I had a firm belief that if he was going to watch football he should be exposed to the live game in his home city.
I wanted him to engage with and support his home team, rather than just watching TV football and clubs he had no real connection with. We tried. It’s a long story, but over the past couple of years the game has become a family experience and as a mum I probably have a closer relationship and connection with my teenage young man; thanks to football and the mutual love of our club.
I’m a woman who didn’t find football until her mid-40’s. I’ll never dazzle anyone with an in-depth technical knowledge or encyclopaedic history of the game. What I do bring is experience in bringing fans together, setting up a successful supporters’ organisation which has close links with other fan groups and our club.
My strengths are in building relationships and getting people together to have a good time. I have learnt there are huge opportunities for clubs to engage with a wider pool of potential fans; if there is a willingness to be open-minded.
I’m not naive to the fact smaller clubs have neither the staff or the budget to concentrate on much else other than winning and surviving season to season if not week to week. Your clubs rely heavily on volunteers, but with the endorsement of the club just saying ‘yes’ to new ideas, great things can be achieved.
Our Fans for Diversity campaign lead by Anwar Uddin has been a huge success.
Numerous clubs have seen the benefit of welcoming and encouraging new support. In my case, eighteen months ago we started the Lady Imps Supporters Association (L.I.S.A).
It was simply a Facebook page creating a space for female fans to share their thoughts and joy about Lincoln City FC. It was an alternative to some of the other available sites. It grew very quickly into a social group, getting together for drinks, music, games etc. We also raise money for the club’s nominated local charities (over £8,000 to date).
We’ve dealt with misconceptions that we wanted ‘to create a block in the stands just for women’, that we’re either a bunch of knitters who want to ban swearing or wannabe ‘WAGS’ giggling over a player’s nice legs.
Like groups of supporters everywhere, there are all sorts; women that have dedicated their support to their club for decades (but were just a bit invisible), women that want to stand and bounce with the boys for 90 minutes, women getting their nails done in club colours, yes women who do want to get that last sleeve knitted, mums taking their kids and women with no-one to go with but who’ve met new friends at the match.
In fact we’ve all met new friends at the match and we’ve never looked to ‘sanitise’ the matchday experience.
Despite the name we’re not just a women’s group. We’ve always welcomed men who want to support and encourage women to enjoy football, so we have a really good mix at our socials. Our oldest members are in their 70’s and youngest in their mid-teens and everyone rocks at a L.I.S.A. night.
My feeling is that as a nation we are in a time where football is changing and developing – for the better. I grew up at a time when my experience of football was news coverage centred on hooliganism and players with a perm singing on Top of the Pops.
Clearly I’m not suggesting that summed up football and it wasn’t all bad. I also appreciate some may mourn the loss of times past, familiarity; the way things were. But if this is our national game and we want our clubs at all levels to thrive (and both grassroots and the National Game are key to that) then we would be wise to ensure it’s a welcoming exciting and engaging place to be. It may already be that at your club – but does everyone in your area know that? Does ‘Coke’ stop advertising because people already know about its product? Does it rely on the notion that people know what it is, where it is and if they want it they can come and find it?
We shouldn’t hesitate to take what’s good about football and share that with as many people as possible for the benefit of the game and our communities.
I look forward to hearing from you, supporter groups and clubs; particularly those in the National Game. Let’s talk about what we could do in your area.