"More that unites us than divides us"
Welcome to Tuesday Team Talk. Every week, the H+K Sports team will give a unique perspective on the week’s football action and the stories making the headlines across the beautiful game.
On Saturday football fans from across the country attended the Football Supporters Federation’s annual Supporters Summit at Wembley. The Football Supporters Federation is an incredible group representing the interests of football fans in everything from the “twenty’s plenty” campaign to cap away ticket prices to safer standing which is now being trialed at Celtic. I was there as part of my role with Pride in Football, an organisation that brings together LGBT fan groups from clubs all over the country. I am co-chair of Proud & Palace, the official Crystal Palace LGBT fan group and, as of Saturday, I am a member of the campaigns team for Pride in Football where we will be working on everything from Stonewall’s rainbow laces to LGBT fan safety at the forthcoming World Cups in Russia and Qatar.
It was a great day on Saturday and truly inspiring to see different supporters groups standing up and making their opinion heard with one shared purpose of making football better for fans. As we went through a day of workshops and then our group AGM what became most apparent was a resolve to work together, regardless of clubs. In a diversity workshop we talked to fans from Woking and AFC Wimbledon about what they can do increase their fan base through more diverse groups – even more important for smaller clubs where gate receipts and merchandise sales are their lifeblood, not TV deals. Large swathes of the population are currently not being engaged by football, and yet for a club the size of Woking, who I have visited regularly, an extra hundred fans at each game can make or break their finances. While Premier League clubs embark on pre-season tours all over the world to win over new fans, there is a huge opportunity to do so much closer to home.
Over the course of the day, Spurs and Arsenal fans took opportunities to make cheeky digs at each other but when we sat down for our AGM the support and cooperation was undeniable as they shared tips on training match day staff in tackling homophobic language. We enjoyed ribbing our counterparts from Charlton (“did you find your way to Wembley alright…?”) but applauded them for an incredible Football v Homophobia tournament they hosted at The Valley. We have a Norwich fan as chair, a Spurs fan as treasurer, a Leicester fan as secretary, a hat trick of Arsenal Palace and Leicester fans working on campaigns and overall 25 different clubs represented in our group. All working together with a shared purpose of inclusivity.
The day ended with an emotional speech from Roy Bentham of Liverpool supporters group Spirit of Shankly. Roy spoke about the tenacity of the families of the 96 in pursuing justice for their loved ones. He concluded with a heartfelt message of thanks to Everton fans, whose supporters trust were sat right at the front of the auditorium for his speech, and who unwaveringly stood by their rivals from across the city for 27 years. There is a lot being said at the moment about people’s differences, a lot of divisions appearing across the country and across the world. The beauty of football is that while the whole model is based on rivalries and supporting your team above all others, when it comes to the things that matter those rivalries are set aside in a heartbeat. Roy’s closing words to the Everton fans, “there is more that unites us than divides us” is an important lesson for us all.