From Celtic, Rangers and St Mirren to Newcastle and the two Merseyside clubs, supporters’ groups have been coming together to assist people in their time of need
7 December ~ In October, football supporters’ groups met at St James’ Park for an event called Fans Supporting Foodbanks, where they heard how fans have been providing and enabling charitable donations to foodbanks, and explored ways to further build on those efforts. The Trussell Trust – who run 420 of the UK’s 1,100 foodbanks – helped more people in 2016 than in any previous year, with rising food costs and six-week waiting periods for initial Universal Credit payments thought to be leading to more referrals.
Fans of clubs throughout Britain have been working in conjunction with foodbanks to organise collections at matches for several years. Attendees at the event in Newcastle, which was convened by the Football Supporters’ Federation, heard about Newcastle, Celtic, Liverpool and Everton fans’ work. Sunderland, Aston Villa and Doncaster supporters were also represented at the event, alongside MPs Chi Onwurah and Ian Mearns, and community leaders.
Supporters’ groups at many other clubs, including – in Scotland alone – St Mirren, Rangers, Hiberian, Dundee and Dundee United, have also been organising collections. Celtic supporters work in conjunction with Glasgow North East Foodbank, who are located just a couple of streets away from Celtic Park. The set-up, operated by the Church of Scotland, provided over 3,500 three-day food packages to people in crisis in 2016. More than half of their donations in the last four years have come from collections at Celtic Park, and one at the home league match with Ross County this September took in almost five tonnes of food and 600 pairs of trainers, with schoolchildren joining regular volunteers to transport the donations to the charities involved.
Donations from that match also went to homelessness charity The Invisibles, and Refuweegee, who aim to welcome refugees to Glasgow in what they call “true Glaswegian style”, with essential donations, letters from locals and quintessentially Glaswegian items, from umbrellas to Tunnock’s teacakes. After that match, Tara Maguire of Glasgow North East Foodbank said: “We know that this is a recurring theme in the city and nationwide. Without such an immense desire to help, donate and volunteer to charities like the three groups involved today, the most vulnerable and isolated in our society would continue to feel excluded.”
Selina Hales from Refuweegee said: “With the donations that we’ve received, we’ll be able to give refugees arriving in the city the warm welcome that they deserve. The heartfelt welcome letters that we received from fans were, as ever, our favourite donation of all.”
And Michelle McFarlane from The Invisibles also commented: “At this time of year, there’s a massive demand for footwear – specifically trainers – among the homeless community. Being outside for 20-plus hours every day, walking miles in rainy streets, footwear soon gets ruined and a decent pair of trainers can make the world of difference.”
Newcastle fans organise collections at each home match for Newcastle West End Foodbank, the largest such effort in Britain, which helped to feed more than 40,000 people in 2016. Last season, Newcastle fans collected a tonne of donations before each game, although volumes have dropped at the start of this season. In October, Liverpool fans – encourage by the Spirit of Shankly supporters’ group – also made significant contributions when they visited St James’ Park in the league.
In Liverpool, the Everton Supporters Trust work together with Spirit of Shankly to make collections before each home match of both clubs, in partnership with North Liverpool Foodbank, who supplied more than 6,500 food packages last year.
Attendees at the Fans Supporting Foodbanks event agreed to set up a network to help participants work together, to develop a “toolkit” to help other supporters get involved, and to explore the possibility of a weekend of action on food poverty. The fact that volunteers should have to do this in lieu of government action is a sad comment on the state of the country, but a drive to further co-ordinate such efforts across Britain should at least provide vital help to people in need. Mark Poole