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Football supporter groups: The fans building their own communities

BY Kate Beeden

18th Oct 2022 Sport

Football supporter groups: The fans building their own communities

Football supporters are a crucial part of football itself. Kate Beeden explores the world of football supporter groups—fans coming together to make football a more social, inclusive space

There’s something raw that comes with supporting a football team; a unique, almost tribal, passion tied into the battle cry chants that echo around stadiums across the country at 3pm each Saturday. Club colours are a mark of allegiance, shirts, and scarves a symbol as much as an item of clothing. 

The house system instils an “us and them” mentality that goes hand in hand with sporting competition from primary school onwards. Iconic Argentinian footballer Diego Maradona once claimed football “isn’t a game nor a sport; it’s a religion.” With this outlook, it could be easy to view sport as divisive. We hear of antagonistic chants passed back and forth across the terraces or, in the very worst cases, of hooliganism and violence.  

"Supporter groups are the heartbeat of a club"

These small minorities grab the headlines but dig a little deeper and you’ll discover every club has its own set of fans building strong bonds and working together to make football a more social, inclusive space. Supporter groups are the heartbeat of a club, and these communities are microcosms of the football-supporting world. 

What is the role of a supporter group? 

Some supporter groups are official and affiliated with the club while others are fully independent, but they all have the same aim—to bring together a group of people, usually those who have something specific in common beyond supporting the same club.  

Supporter groups bring football fans together

Football supporter groups bring fans together

This could be location—traditionally supporter groups ran from Working Men’s and Social Clubs which acted as hubs that transported coachloads of supporters to matches, both home and away. This later evolved, with clubs offering junior memberships for young supporters.

Disabled supporters’ groups are also well established, supported by organisations such as Level Playing Field and the National Association for Disabled Supporters. More recently there has been an increase in LGBTQ+ supporter groups, with more than 50 of the 92 Premier League and EFL clubs now boasting a group for LGBTQ+ fans and allies.  

"Supporter groups all have the same aim—to bring together a group of people"

Originally, supporter groups were advertised through a club’s match day magazine. Flicking through the pages of programmes from the 1980s, meat raffles, Christmas functions and Player of the Year awards ceremonies were common events. Now most new members find out about supporter groups through word of mouth, on social media or via online forums.  

What do fans get out of supporter groups? 

Many members of supporter groups find they forge new friendships which extend beyond football and matchdays. For marginalised communities, there’s both joy and power in coming together with others who share your passion. These pockets of fans become a part of each other’s matchday routines, and, for many, lasting friendships are formed.  

Mandy Oxtoby, a member of the Blackburn Rovers LGBTQ+ supporter group Proud Rovers, says, “It’s great to know there’s a group of likeminded people who support the same club and offer support to ensure we all feel safe and included.” This reassurance shouldn’t be necessary, but for LGBTQ+ supporters who may be subjected to homophobia at games, there is safety in numbers.  

Supporter groups also allow people who may otherwise feel distant from their club to strengthen their connection. Norwegian Therese Visnes is a member of the Manchester United Supporters Club Scandinavia, and Red Army Aalesund, a group based in her home city who gather at a local pub to watch matches together. “Some of us also travel to Manchester for games together or meet up over there to share the experience,” says Therese. “It’s a wonderful thing to be part of, the United family.” 

A force for togetherness 

This sense of togetherness is a common theme. Rainbow Blades, the Sheffield United LGBTQ+ Supporter group, formed in early 2020, coinciding with the first coronavirus pandemic lockdowns. Football was cancelled and in-person meet ups were out of the question, but this didn’t stop Rainbow Blades creating a tight-knit community. By regularly holding Zoom meetings, new friendships were formed at a time where people felt isolated. This has since evolved, with the group having a meet up before each home game.

Fan community

Supporter groups make football a more social experience

“Being part of Rainbow Blades made football a social experience for me,” explains Lewis Parker, a Rainbow Blades member who previously spent matchdays alone. “I now have a group of people with various shared interests who I look forward to seeing every couple of weeks. As quite a shy person, it’s helped me make close friends who I also meet outside of a football context.” 

"Supporter groups offer an inclusive, welcoming environment for all and an opportunity for fans to connect"

If you are considering joining a supporter group, Lewis recommends trying it. “It can be nervy the first time, but you know you’ve got at least one thing in common with everyone already.”   

That is why supporter groups are so important. They offer an inclusive, welcoming environment for all and an opportunity for fans to connect—with the sport, with the club but, most importantly, with each other. 

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