Fan culture

There was little to be positive about in 1985, the game’s year zero, till the founders of the FSA reinvented fan politics.  Adam Brown charts the body's highs and lows

It is now 20 years since the Football Supporters Association was formed by a handful of souls in a Merseyside pub and began to transform the landscape of fan politics in England. Before 1985 there was only the National Federation of Football Supporters’ Clubs, a federative body of officially sanctioned club organisations, their activities based on raising money for the club and organising travel. The “Nat Fed” was certainly not politically radical.

In the past four years the number of supporters’ trusts in  the lower divisions has rocketed. As Matthew Brown reports, eyes are now cast higher, for fan involvement even at the FA

Supporters Direct is the government-funded body that helps establish supporters’ trusts. Its annual conference at the end of October was hailed by its organisers as a moment for celebration. When it was set up four years ago only a handful of trusts existed and few had any real influence in their clubs, let alone board representation. Now, there are 122 supporters’ trusts at clubs in England, Wales and Scotland, 59 of which hold equity. At 39 clubs trusts are represented on the board and at eight (two in the League and six non-League) supporters have ownership or control.

Steve Menary looks into investing in football clubs

Football has provided a poor return for City investors, but for fans the stock market is an opportunity. Go to a stockbroker and for a flat fee as low as £12.50 you can buy shares in your club, whether they are listed on the Stock Exchange, the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) or Ofex, the less regulated third level of the UK stock markets.

In the first of a series of articles looking at how the tournament was received at home, Al Needham strokes his chin, sifts through the discarded plastic flagpoles and wonders where all those crosses of St George came from. And does it mean anything anyway?

It’s good for a country and its people to take stock and re-evaluate its sense of identity every now and then, and I did just that in a bus shelter last month, sitting next to an elderly Jamaican woman, watching the endless procession of cars with plastic white flags with red crosses clipped to their windows. Where had they come from? It wasn’t this bad in 2002. Had a giant sandcastle firm been made bankrupt, or something? Was it just a local thing? And what did it all mean? “Look at these fools,” said the Jamaican woman, all of a sudden. “They don’t know what it means to be patriotic. In Jamaica, we have the flag up all year round, not for some... pussyclaat football game.” Then she sucked her teeth. For a very long time.

Premiership crowds slipped a bit this season but, as John Morgan explains, it's boom time in Divisions One, Two, Three and beyond after yet another year of bumper attendances that put the rest of Europe to shame

The last thing you expect to find at a Dr Martens League Eastern Division game is a crowd. But when King’s Lynn played Histon in a top-of-the-table clash on Easter Monday there definitely was one: 1,617 people gathered together of their own free will in the same place. Empty seats in Lynn’s cavernous old wooden main stand were hard to find. The attendance might not seem much at first sight, but when you consider that the DML Eastern is on the seventh tier of English football, it becomes quite astonishing. It proved to be the highest gate of the season at that level, just one example of the attendance boom currently being experienced in England.

While today graffiti is a public method of making coded statements, in the 1970s it was about football and plain speaking, if not always great spelling, as  Jim Heath recalls

Apart from Arsenal fans spraying their hair red in honour of Freddie Ljungberg, it’s been a long time since spray paint played an active part in the football supporters’ repertoire. Football graffiti had its heyday in the early 1970s when it gave crumbling stadiums that extra, almost indefinable character, the worn brick and corrugated iron surrounds of the terraces being a per­fect canvas for budding artists. It wasn’t just re­stricted to the grounds themselves, with daubings on all points from the city centres and railway stations. Given its intimidatory presence which heightened the fear that you were going to get your head kicked in, it’s ironic that the graffiti trend was inspired mainly by the 1960s peace movement, who used it to protest against the Vietnam war and express support for Castro’s Cuba (“LBJ get out of Vietnam” was still visible on a wall opposite the Craven Cottage turnstiles into the 1980s).

The graffiti at Middlesbrough’s Ayresome Park was so extensive and in unexpected places that they opted to knock it down rather than clean it, as Harry Pearson explains

When Ayresome Park was finally eradicated the demolition men took with them a lot of bricks and a small slice of folk-art history. True, there was nothing that left its mark on the conscience of a generation like north London’s splendidly indelible “M Khan Is Bent”. Nor was there anything quite as archaic as the north-east’s oldest surviving product of bore­dom and testosterone, the carving on Hadrian’s Wall that depicts a giant penis hopping about on chicken’s legs (had a Roman Legionary had some ghastly premonition of Kieron Dyer?). But there was enough for us oldsters to get wistful over in much the same way our coevals in Leicester do when they recall the evil threats on the back wall of the away end at Filbert Street.

Footballers’ autographs are big business these days. Al Needham went to an exhibition at the NEC to snub Jimmy Greaves and see what an old Tony Woodcock would be worth

The first autograph I ever got was a signed photo of Tony Woodcock kneeling behind the League Cup, in exchange for my Dad moving house for him. I would dig it out now, but I chucked it away when he was transferred to Cologne. I filled up assorted notebooks with autographs purloined at the Nottingham Forest training ground and outside dressing rooms after matches. Brian Clough always wrote “Be good” after his name, Martin O’Neill always had a face like a smacked arse when he did his and John Robertson always said: “Jesus, not you again.”

Radio 5 Live gives football fans the chance to air their views on their post-match show 6.06 but are such shows just outlets for inane opinion?

Yes ~
You end up feeling sorry for the presenter. By the end of every football phone-in, I just want to hold the hand of the caged beast, as he has had a combination of heavy fatalism and non-punchlined anec­dote poured into his ear for hour after hour.

Ken Sproat went abroad for his holiday, but all he found was a thousand lousy replica shirts and the noise of inane Premiership chatter rining in his ears

Suitcase packed, passport and money checked a dozen times, now it’s time to think of the other hol­iday calculation – who to avoid. Some choices are straightforward – there’s the bloke who looks like Hitler, or the man who reads computer magazines, his swimming trunks almost in rubbing proximity with his thick grey socks. Plus work col­leagues and anyone who might be Rodney Marsh or Eric Hall.

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