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Fans for Diversity: Winter 2022 round-up

The Fans for Diversity campaign, a partnership between the FSA and Kick It Out, continues to assist supporters around the country, and this week we spoke to campaign lead Anwar Uddin about the campaign’s work this winter…

Watford supporters celebrate Hanukkah

Just before Christma Watford fans came together to celebrate Hanukkah – a Jewish religious holiday that lasts eight days in late December.

Led by the Watford FC Jewish Supporters Group, the first Jewish fan group in England and Wales, the event at Vicarage Road brought together 100 supporters to celebrate the Jewish community.

 

“It was a fantastic event,” Anwar says. “There were speeches, entertainment, loads of great traditional food.

“It wasn’t all Jewish fans, fans from all over the Watford supporter base came along to learn more about their jewish colleagues and their traditions.”

Anwar was joined at the event by former-teammate Sam Sloma, who played for Dagenham and Redbrige. Sam was one of the first Jewish players to play in the EFL when he gained promotion with the Daggers playing with Anwar back in 2006-08.

The teammates took to the stage to answer questions about their experiences as Muslim and Jewish players. “It was a privilege to speak at the event with Sam,” Anwar said. “And it was a really good opportunity to talk to people about our experiences and educate people.”

Ewood Park: My Club, My Shirt

Back in July, Blackburn Rovers became the latest club to promote the diversity of their supporters with a “My Club, My Shirt” project – celebrating their fans during their 2022-23 kit launch.

Rovers invited fans to be part of the kit launch photoshoot which took place across some of the town’s most iconic landmarks and locations, including Ewood Park itself.

And in October, Anwar attended an event at Ewood Park to promote working in the football industry to young people from Blackburn, while revisiting Rovers’s My Club, My Shirt exhibition before their match against Birmingham.

“This was a Raise Your Game event alongside Kick It Out with a panel discussion where we invited fans in to talk about working in the football industry and pathways into it,” Anwar said.

“It was an excellent discussion – covering pathways into working in football, diversity and the challenges people still face. The attendees took a lot away from it.”

At the event, the original participants in Blackburn’s My Club, My shirt project were presented with a large canvas print of their portraits.

Brisbane Road: Hub helps homeless

In east London, Leyton Orient have refurbished an old part of Brisbane Road to use as a welcoming space for new supporters with help from the Fans For Diversity campaign.

Since its refurbishment the redeveloped space at the ground, known as the Hub, has been used to encourage more people to get involved with the club.

Every Boxing Day the Hub is used as a focal point for a Fans for Diversity match at Brisbane Road and once again Anwar attended the event this year, where Leyton Orient hosted Stevenage.

“The Boxing Day fixtures are a highlight of the footballing calendar,” Anwar says. “And every year Orient open up the Hub to the local community to help them get to a game.

“This year they worked with East London homeless charities – so we have people from local homeless services, hostels, rough sleepers. All were welcome to come along, enjoy the game and get some food.

“There was a great atmosphere, real festive spirit. Over the last five years this has become one of my favourite events.”

The club continues to encourage a wide range of supporters and community groups to get in touch with them so they can make the most out of the new space.
“It shows another side to the Fans for Diversity, how it can make a real practical difference to clubs at all levels. It’s good to see how the Fans for Diversity fund has created something that is continually utilised.”

Qatar: Fans for Diversity groups experience first major tournament

December saw the World Cup held in winter for the first time which brought the domestic season to a halt, but for a number of groups representing fans from south asian communities here in England and Wales, it was a unique opportunity to experience tournament football.

Over the last three seasons three fan groups – Amar England, Apna England and Amar Cymru – have been helping supporters from south asian communities get into following their respective national teams.

That work continued and even developed further with the 2022 World Cup with supporter-led activity taking place both here and in the Gulf state.

“During the World Cup on the England side we had Amar and Apna England putting on events for every England game – a real mix of venues: bars, restaurants, community facilities and all sorts.

“They had 200 supporters backing England at these events and it was great to see a supporter group growing in confidence like this. And we also had Amar England who took a contingent out to Qatar for the whole tournament.”

Wales last qualified for a World Cup back in 1958 and Qatar was the first opportunity for a new generation of Wales fans to follow the team at a World Cup. Chief among them was Amar Cymru, established in 2021 with support from the Fans for Diversity fund.

“Amar Cymru had a brilliant World Cup experience,” Anwar says. “Not only did they have a contingent out in Qatar but they had events back home. There was a women’s only event for the Wales vs England game where 50 women from Wales’s south asian communities watched the match together.

“Events like this are a simple and effective way to get people into football – watching football with others in particular – where there may be barriers.”

“The three groups all had fantastic World Cups – they’ve done so well bringing together fans in places like the Midlands and Wales,” Anwar says. “For many of them it was their first taste of tournament football, that experience of being in one place with a whole load of other England and Wales fans.

“They’ve obviously gone to a World Cup host nation that often shares their religion and some of their cultural practices and norms – so that’s helped them step into tournament football.

“But I think they’ve been conscious of all the issues around the World Cup and understand that the ways in which Qatar was particularly welcoming for them made it unwelcoming for others – particularly around LGBT+ issues and alcohol.”

During the World Cup, the FSA put out statements condemning FIFA’s actions that prevented England and other teams expressing solidarity with LGBT+ communities. There were also stories of rainbow hats and scarves being confiscated and one Qatari World Cup ambassador making homophobic comments in the media.

Anwar said: “It’s been a big issue for our Fans for Diversity network. The network encompasses a whole range of views and experiences – there’s a real depth to it.

“So we’ve had some supporters from our network totally boycotting the competition, and others embracing it. Despite the differences there is an empathy and understanding there.

“It’s an interesting dilemma for us all but we’ll learn from it.”

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Funding partners

  • The Football Association
  • Premier Leage Fans Fund

Partners

  • Gamble Aware
  • Co-operatives UK
  • FSE
  • Kick It Out
  • Level Playing Field
  • Living Wage Foundation
  • Pledgeball