Sheffield Wednesday Women’s Supporters Group formed in April 2023 and hit the headlines with some fantastic fundraising work earlier this season in response to an incident at Hillsborough. In one of our Fan Group In Focus features they explain more…
The FSA: What were the reasons behind your formation? Tell us a little about why there’s a growing appetite for women’s supporters’ groups.
SWWSG: The impetus for our group was the treatment we experienced as female fans during and shortly after a dedicated International Women’s Day fixture arranged by the women in football campaign HerGameToo.
As HerGameToo advocates for Sheffield Wednesday, our future members had excitedly helped promote the message with pitchside photos, and the campaign had provided HerGameToo branded warm up shirts and a flag, walked round the pitch by a local girls’ football team.
Despite a lot of positivity around the campaign, we noticed the young girls get booed by sections of the stadium, which was disheartening.
On our walk home from the game, we were met with chants from a large group of men passing us on the tram. These chants were so predictable that we were able to film them as they passed. After posting the video on social media, we were overwhelmed by the number of female fans who had had similar experiences in and around football.
It became apparent that lots of women at Wednesday needed both emotional and physical support when following the club, as well as a sense of safety and community in order to follow the team happily and comfortably. So the idea for the women’s supporters group was born!
How would you describe your membership base?
We have close to 300 members in the group. They get a regular newsletter about our activities and are entitled to a free badge if they find us at one of our meet-ups!
Around one-third of our members also opt to join our WhatsApp community where we provide more informal updates and members engage in general chit-chat about the club, as well as their personal lives.
Quite a few of our members live away from Sheffield – some even live abroad – so the online group provides a great way for everyone to feel part of the club and the fanbase, even if they can’t attend matches regularly.
Most of our members are women, but we’ve got a strong contingent of allies. Over 50 men have signed up to show their support, sometimes on behalf of their young daughters so that they can help make sure they grow up knowing that Sheffield Wednesday is a safe and supportive club for them in the future.
We try to make sure all of our meet-ups are family friendly – it’s always heartwarming when parents bring their kids along and we can share our inclusive space and values with the next generation of Wednesdayites!
And which individual supporters kickstarted the group?
Emma (SWWSG): I’ve been following Sheffield Wednesday since about 2004. I moved away from Sheffield for university and had become fairly detached from the club, but in lockdown I started following more closely and through social media I started connecting with other fans. It was on social media that I received my first taste of abuse as a female football fan, including some really nasty stuff that I ended up having to report to the police. It made me very passionate about equality in football on and off the field – I became an advocate for the HerGameToo campaign in 2022 and co-founded the group a year later.
Lauren (SWWSG): I’ve followed Wednesday since I can remember, I’ve had a season ticket for a few seasons now and travelled up and down the country following the team. Like Emma, I received a fair bit of abuse on social media which is when HerGameToo contacted me to help with this, I then became an advocate and through this I met Emma. It was clear we shared the same values and after a few months we decided we wanted something more, that’s when we founded the Women’s Supporters Group.
Bethany (SWWSG): I’m an S6 local from a long line of passionate Wednesday fans. I relocated to Manchester in 2017 and felt a disconnect as the distance accompanied turbulent play-off campaigns around the same time. England’s near-miss in the Euros final coinciding with the end of Covid restrictions – fans back in the grounds and watching matches with your friends which brought football back into my life. Ever since, I’ve been at Hillsborough as much as I can. I connected online with Emma and Lauren to offer some vaguely transferable skills from running a record label, and joined them in running the group shortly after our play-off at Wembley.
What are the group’s main goals?
We have three key areas that we focus on: community, safety and engagement.
We’re incredibly proud of the community we’ve built in the short time that we’ve been active. We have a thriving WhatsApp group where members discuss the club in a safe and inclusive online space. Through this we facilitate group travel and tickets so that members don’t have to attend games alone. We also host monthly meet-ups at home games.
To ensure the safety and comfort of women in football we liaise with the club’s equality, diversity and inclusion lead on a regular basis, reporting feedback from our members about their matchday experiences. We also sit on the club’s supporter engagement panel through which we can advocate for women and girls in regular meetings with senior club officials. We post incident reporting information before every game so that our members can feel reassured that their concerns can be reported and taken seriously.
We’re passionate about engagement with the club and the local community. We’ve partnered with a local charity, Mums In Need, who support women after they have left coercive controlling relationships. Eventually we want to expand what we offer to include mental health support to our members through non-match day meet-ups, and to facilitate information sessions and awareness campaigns around a host of issues that impact women, locally and beyond. Our members have raised significant amounts of money for other charitable campaigns, most notably the Bradley Lowery Foundation.
Speaking of Bradley Lowery that fundraiser really caught people’s attention – what happened and why did you feel it was something you had to do?
The fundraiser for The Bradley Lowery Foundation was set up by our member, Leanne Wood, following images online of two Wednesday fans taunting the away end with photos of Bradley Lowery, a young Sunderland supporter who lost his battle with neuroblastoma in 2017. The images upset our network, and desperate to offset the negativity, Leanne set up a fundraiser for the foundation in his name, with our support.
At the time of writing the fundraiser is just shy of £30,000, and has attracted national media attention. Alongside Wednesday and Sunderland fans, we received donations from SWFC players Barry Bannan and Will Vaulks, as well as from fans across the EFL, Europe and America.
The fundraiser highlighted that the community in football is so, so much stronger than a few bad eggs. With the money raised, alongside a reciprocal fundraiser from Sunderland fans for Jude Mellon-Jameson, the Bradley Lowery Foundation will build a holiday home in Scarborough, for respite and memory-building breaks for sick children and their families. We were extremely proud to facilitate and promote the fundraising efforts on Leanne’s behalf.
(FSA note: the fan in question was prosecuted and convicted of a public order offence – tragedy chanting has no place in football and the FSA will continue its work to make sure such incidents are stamped out).
Fantastic work. And what are your hopes for SWFC this season? It obviously looks like a perilous time on and off the pitch…
Our 2023/24 season has already been extremely turbulent! We are, however, enthused by the appointment of Danny Roehl and improved performances on the pitch (FSA note: this interview took place in late October). Members keenly debated where we’d finish in preseason optimism, but now, I think we’d all just be happy to put in some consistent performances, and stay in the Championship.
Off the pitch, we’re looking forward to continuing our programme of pre-game meet ups, holding a members Christmas party, and reaching our goal of raising £2023 in 2023 for our chosen fundraising partner, Mums In Need.
Regardless of on- and off-pitch perils, fostering a community of like-minded women and allies has been imperative in following the club this season. From Rotherham at home to Swansea away, it’s been reassuring to share the rollercoaster with our members and whatever happens at the end of the season – it’s nice to know we’ve got each other.
Join your local supporters’ organisation
Supporters’ groups across the country carry out fantastic work, and a lot of it is focused on the local community. We’d encourage all fans to join their local group – see a list of FSA member groups here.
You can join Sheffield Wednesday Women’s Supporters Group here.