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(This article was originally published in the WFC Programme in the 2002-03 season. It has not been changed, and may no longer be fully up-to date)
WFCSA ex-Chairman Paul Allison on why having a good reputation as supporters is important, and what WFCSA are doing about it.
Last year, when I started contributing semi-regularly to the programme (and before WFCSA was formed), I penned an article on how Worthing supporters were viewed by other fans, and what some of us were trying to do about it. Last season marked a watershed in how Worthing supporters were perceived by fans of other clubs, and in how we perceived ourselves.
We had big flags (and still do, with a new multi-national one making it’s debut last week), we had musical instruments (which occasionally resurface), we had witty songs (with a significant nod to Lennon and McCartney), and most of all, we had inflatable pikachus. The way the support was galvanised, and the way in which more people chose to stand behind the goal or in the bus stop has led to the Worthing support becoming closer-knit, and provided much of the energy used to launch the Supporters Association.
One of the initial aims of WFCSA was to promote the Football Club, both locally and to other clubs’ supporters. In the summer we turned out in force in Montague Street to provide shoppers with fixture list leaflets and to promote the Brighton friendly – and we know of at least one keen fan who was “recruited” as a direct result of this. We also liased closely with the Club’s Commercial Associate to set up a New Kit Launch evening, which proved to be a fantastic success, and enabled Worthing supporters to get hold of the new shirt ahead of the Brighton friendly match. As regards promoting Worthing to other clubs, we have invested in some souvenir WFCSA mini-pennants that we are leaving at each ground we visit this season. In addition to this, we invited our Sussex neighbours in the Ryman League to enter teams in the WFCSA Quiz (which, unfortunately, none of them did).
But why is it important to promote Worthing FC to fans of other clubs? After all, these people are already fans of other teams, so surely we can’t convert them? Well, none of this is about “converting” people, rather it is about them making more of an effort to come to the game their team plays at Woodside, or about letting them know about how friendly we are as a club, and as a group of supporters.
The traditional stereotype of Worthing as a serene seaside retirement community with more than it’s fair share of octogenarians (it’s true! No other town in England or Wales has a higher proportion of over-85 year-olds, according to the 2002 Government census) may be an outdated exaggeration, but Worthing does have an older average support than many other clubs in our division (and for everyone in the bus stop or behind the goal who doesn’t believe me – look up at the stand!). We also have a young support, with a number of teenagers and younger supporters, as well as a high proportion of female supporters. All of this makes for a real family environment – and one that you will not find at many non-league clubs – this is yet another selling point for promoting Worthing FC as a friendly club.
We are now approaching the stage where we can look to establish real links with other supporters’ groups. Whilst it was unfortunate that Lewes, Bognor and Horsham fans were not able to muster the enthusiasm or commitment to enter teams in the Quiz, this is still an avenue worth exploring, and we are already talking about hosting another Quiz evening in the Spring. Last season, the general behaviour of Worthing’s travelling fans brought numerous compliments, notably from Yeading FC and from Bishops Stortford supporters, and even at home, visiting fans from Aylesbury, Barking and Carshalton also spoke very highly of the club and the supporters. WFCSA are now looking to take this forward, and look to establish “Fans’ Friendships”.
Such friendships have been pioneered in Germany, where almost every Bundesliga club has a “twin”, usually from a different region. Such friendships include VFL Bochum and Bayern Munich, Schalke 04 and Nuremberg and 1860 Munich and Kaiserlautern, whilst Schalke 04 also have links to Glasgow Rangers, and both Borussia Dortmund and St Pauli have a friendship with Celtic, showing that such friendships can extend overseas. In some cases, fans of one club even make a special effort to attend the others – several Celtic supporters groups arrange trips to watch their German counterparts, and further afield, Ujpest fans in Hungary used to make twice-yearly trips to the now-defunct Italian club Fiorentina. More often than not, these friendships are officially sanctioned, and marked by merchandising such as twin-club scarves and badges sold in club shops.
Whilst the German fans have some very good ideas in terms of developing the supporters’ relationships with other clubs and the community, I’m not suggesting that we as Worthing fans embrace their football culture wholeheartedly. After all, not many of us would want to grow handlebar moustaches and mullets, wear denim jackets with Scorpions patches on the back and tie our scarves to our wrists (sorry for resorting to stereotyping for the second time in a single article!). However, there are definitely sensible reasons for adopting this approach.
One suggested has been Ruislip Manor, a Middlesex club once of the Isthmian League (when we had a very friendly relationship – admittedly before my time) but now plying their trade in the Spartan South Midlands Premier. As a pre-cursor to any kind of fans friendship scheme, we will keep a track of their results, starting with a rundown of their season so far in the next programme.
Remember, as Worthing fans first and foremost, we all have a role to play in promoting our Football Club as a friendly and atmospheric place to enjoy watching football.
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