You don’t have to spend long in a stadium or online these days to realise that something is rotten in the world of football fandom.
Whether you look at shit-stirring tabloid ‘journalism’, fan TV channels preying on the vulnerable and angry, the overwhelming greed of football clubs stripping their fanbases down for parts, match-day crowds baying for the referee’s blood, the incoherent rage of Football Twitter, or anything else… the picture can be unpleasant.
You know what I mean. You’ve seen it. You’ve experienced it.
With all that acting as the mood music to football these days, it can feel like we’re not permitted to be friendly, or even fair, with fans of other teams. From there, it is too easy to slip from feeling that something is not permitted, into believing that something is not possible.
The atmosphere around the game encourages us to regard each other with suspicion – but why? Our group is made up of Manchester City supporters, but we have more in common with Scousers, Cockneys and Geordies than with those who pay for a match-day box at the Etihad. The walls between us are arbitrary and damaging. We are all being played against each other.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. We’re not lost yet. There is a world operating behind the raging gyre of Modern Football™ which takes friendship and community as its guiding lights, rather than the sound and the fury of hatred and resentment.
Fans Supporting Foodbanks (FSF) was set up five years ago to promote co-operation between working-class fanbases and use football as a conduit for something overwhelmingly positive. Under the slogan ‘hunger doesn’t wear club colours‘, people are encouraged to donate food and support their communities, pushing back against the crisis of food poverty created by a decade of austerity.
A network of fan foodbank collection groups across the country is busy reminding people that, off the pitch, what unites us is greater than what divides us. We’re not enemies. The truth is quite the opposite.
Despite the wet weather and the game being on telly, we still had a great collection today.
Thanks to all who came down, you make it what it is.
Next two collections are:
City Women Vs Arsenal on Sunday 2nd Feb
— MCFC Fans Foodbank Support (@MCFCfoodbank) January 26, 2020
Stories from the collections: Merseyside
‘Blue Union and Spirit of Shankly worked together collectively on the Twenty’s Plenty campaign with supporters groups across the country. Many of those fan groups commented that Scousers always stick together and stand as one in times of adversity.
‘This led to the creation of Fans Supporting Foodbanks which uses football as a vehicle to help the working class communities around our clubs, politicise food poverty and work with marginalised minority groups. We want fans to put aside tribal differences and work together in solidarity and collective strength.
‘At Goodison and Anfield we collect around a tonne of food per game, and have won many awards along the way. We have put food poverty and foodbanks on the agenda. We sleep easy at night because we know for a fact that fewer children are going to bed hungry. So that will do for me!
‘Unfortunately, we have a humanitarian crisis in every town and city in the UK. I would love to never stand outside a stadium collecting food ever again, but until things change we will continue doing so…’
Dave Kelly, Fans Supporting Foodbanks
The problem of food poverty in the UK is more severe than what is generally known. Figures provided to us last week by the Trussell Trust, a charity which works to stop food poverty in the UK by handing out food parcels, make for grim reading.
The Trust operates approximately 1,200 centres in the UK and handed out 1.6 million food parcels last year (each one equivalent to three days worth of food). To make matters worse, that is a 19% year-on-year increase in the number of food parcels handed out. In our region – Greater Manchester – the Trussell Trust saw a 23% annual increase in the amount of food it distributed last year.
Furthermore, the Trussell Trust estimates that there are another 800 foodbank centres run by other organisations, bringing the total to around 2,000. That means there are approximately 750 more sites distributing food parcels than there are branches of McDonalds in the UK.
If you’re wondering how bad things are getting out there, you have your answer. The next five years are sure to see those numbers climb even further as this feckless government continues to fail the people it is supposed to serve.
Stories from the collections: Newcastle
‘After finding out that 1,000 locals were reliant on a nearby foodbank, we took inspiration from Fans Supporting Foodbanks and decided to use the NUFC fanbase to help.
‘Since our first match against Derby in February 2017, we have collected over £100,000 in cash and 23 tonnes of food at St. James’ Park. We’re lucky to be able to make such a big difference to the West End Foodbank, and now supply 25% of their food & income thanks to the outstanding generosity of NUFC fans.
‘We were also delighted that the first ever Fans Supporting Foodbanks conference was held at St. James’ Park in October 2017 thanks to Newcastle United.
‘There’s a real feeling of “we’re in this together”, with our wonderful volunteers, heroic fans from around the world, NUFC staff, and players like Allan Saint-Maximin helping us.
The @NUFC Fans’ FoodBank is now open! We have a special guest all the way from Japan – Ken Narita – volunteering today. 🇯🇵 And we’ve had our first donation from @ChelseaFC fans. 👏 See you soon #GenerousGeordies @NUFC #NUFC 🏁 pic.twitter.com/oIdg7pn3yM
— NUFC Fans Food Bank (@nufcfoodbank) January 18, 2020
‘The message has been taken abroad in European media and the NY Times, and we were delighted to be named one of the Big Issue’s Top 100 ChangeMakers for 2020.’
Stuart Latimer, NUFC Fans’ Foodbank
Poverty is a brutal thing. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation describes it as ‘when your resources are well below your minimum needs’. When you can’t pay your rent, heat your home or buy the essentials. But that is only part of the story; poverty is more than simply not having enough to get by.
Political theorist Hannah Arendt gets to the heart of the matter in her seminal work, On Revolution. She argues that ‘poverty is more than deprivation, it is a state of constant want and acute misery whose ignominy consists in its dehumanising force’.
Poverty not only starves the body; it oppresses the mind and destroys the will. Any society which puts people in this state, or is happy to leave them in it, is no society at all.
It is in this that the full horror of our current government is revealed, perpetuating poverty as a useful wedge to keep us divided. A political system which allows this has failed utterly.
And so we have a choice: to accept this miserable reality, or to reject it and build something better, with and for each other.
Stories from the collections: West Ham
‘After meeting Dave Kelly and Ian Byrne [now the MP for Liverpool West Derbyshire] from Fans Supporting Foodbanks, I felt that West Ham fans could make a positive contribution towards the growing demand for foodbank contributions in East London. With over a million fans attending games at the London Stadium over the season, we have the chance to make a difference to foodbank supplies in London, which has the 3rd highest demand for emergency foodbank aid in Britain.
‘We linked up with Newham Foodbank in Beckton and it took just weeks to secure a suitable collection point. Newham Council, LS185 and the London Legacy Development Corporation were on board from day one, and we now have support from the WHU Foundation and the club too.
‘We are set to collect at all first-team home games for the season and beyond, for as long as we are needed. Our first collection just after Christmas raised over £400 in cash plus approximately 150 kg of food donations.
‘Moving forward, the WHU Foundation is keen to explore other ways of supporting Newham Foodbank.’
John Ratomski, Irons Supporting Foodbanks
Football has a unique power which makes it the perfect stage on which to do something good in our shared communities: it mobilises people like nothing else. Working from the capacity of the 20 Premier League grounds, every set of fixtures sees an average of 400,000 people attend games across the country in the top tier alone. Teams in the EFL saw 18.4 million visits over the 2018/19 season – the highest figure in 60 years.
What’s more, those figures don’t include people watching on the telly, or those who attend non-league matches.
Together, football fans make up a bigger body of people than any other organised group in the UK. Our potential power is limitless if we get together and pull in the same direction.
Imagine the impact if every club had a fan foodbank collection point, and every match-going fan brought a tin of food with them. Imagine the implications if everyone watching our games on telly across the country and around the world donated a pound to an organisation like the Trussell Trust every week.
Imagine what we football fans could achieve by trading tribalism, division and austerity for community, friendship and solidarity.
Stories from the collections: Burnley
‘Clarets for Foodbanks launched in August 2019. It followed a chance remark I made in a meeting, but it had been inspired by what was happening at other clubs, most notably Everton and Liverpool.
‘The foodbank in Burnley is actually run by the football club’s charity, Burnley FC in the Community, and is part of the Burnley Community Kitchen in the town centre. We’ve built up a good relationship with them since last summer, and I know from their words and seeing it for myself, that we are making a big difference helping those in our area most in need.
‘It really is building a positive relationship between fanbases. We’ve been overwhelmed by the support we’ve received at some games from the away supporters, and like to think we’ve been able to offer some help on our visits to other grounds. It is a real positive when fans of different clubs can work together on something so important.’
Tony Scholes, Burnley FC Supporters Groups
Big thanks to @BurnleyOfficial & @NorwichCityFC fans who donated last Sat. Clarets for Foodbanks will be back this Sunday ahead of the @Arsenal game this Sunday from 12:30 pm with @BoundaryClarets #twitterclarets #BurnleyFC #UTC #ClaretsforFoodbanks #HungerDoesntWearClubColours pic.twitter.com/uo1vJAH0d6
— Burnley FC Supporters Groups (@burnleyfcsg) January 27, 2020
We live in a country where immiseration and division are imposed on us from on high. Schools are underfunded; the welfare state safety net is in tatters; libraries are shuttered; youth centres are left to rot; social housing has been decimated; the idea of widespread funding for grassroots art and sport is an echo of a lost future.
The overriding message is that things can’t get better. That the way things are now is as good as they could ever possibly be, and that the best we can hope for is to make do and get by on our own until we die. But we’re not dead yet, are we? To borrow a line from Mark Fisher: we are alive and we don’t agree.
None of us involved in Fans Supporting Foodbanks accept any of what is being done to our communities as inevitable. We do not accept that nothing can be done. We do not accept that this is all we can hope for.
As football fans, we have a unique platform and power, and the Fans Supporting Foodbanks initiative is a way that all of us can put aside our differences and help our communities at a time when it is needed most.
The fact that thousands upon thousands of people can’t afford to eat in one of the richest countries in the history of the world is enraging. The thought of it turns my blood to lava and my eyes Sauronic. We shouldn’t have to do this. None of this should fall on the shoulders of ordinary people. We don’t want to be stood outside grounds in the pissing rain and biting cold.
The dream of Fans Supporting Foodbanks is to help create a world where none of this is needed. We want to be redundant. We want to be shut down.
Unfortunately, in the here and now, that is not our reality. But if we choose to do something, together as football fans rather than standing apart as separate tribes, we can change that reality and make a better one.
Most of all, we need your help to do it. No matter who you support – high or low, big or small – you can get out there, make a difference and help us push the veil of misery back.
It’s not charity, it’s solidarity. Hunger doesn’t wear club colours. Everything is possible.
If you are looking for more information on Fans Supporting Foodbanks, or want to get involved but aren’t sure where to start, get in touch with any groups currently up and running and they will be happy to help.
If you’d like to find your nearest foodbank and help them out directly, put your postcode into the Trussell Trust website here and give your nearest centre a call – they are always in need of volunteers and donations.
We are alive and we don’t agree.