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Football For All

Football’s terrace culture doesn’t have to be misogynist cosplay…

Words by Tom Victor

Cover illustration by Leona Beth 

Ask about the oblique sexism at Premier League and EFL grounds and one answer will always emerge: it’s escapism. A place where (male) fans can get away from everything and be themselves. This is all too often code for ‘get away from the women in their life’, maybe throwing misogynistic chants the way of a woman who has deigned to buy a ticket to a football match.

The rhetoric is ingrained, to the point that it goes unchallenged – those who aren’t at the forefront and laughing along will often be too embarrassed or intimidated to speak up. But failure to challenge the behaviour allows it to continue.. It’s visible from the Premier League down to League 2, with few exceptions, but lower down the pyramid we’re seeing resistance.

If you head to Clapton FC’s Old Spotted Dog Ground on a Saturday you’ll be in for a solid 90 minutes of singing, with hundreds of fans making more noise than entire all-seater stands at higher-profile clubs. Clapton’s average attendance of more than 300 last season was higher than several National League South clubs, three tiers above them. And not only do they achieve this without the by-the-numbers über-masculinity seen higher up the pyramid, they arguably do so because of this.

Head to Clapton FC’s Old Spotted Dog Ground on a Saturday you’ll be in for a solid 90 minutes of singing, with hundreds of fans making more noise than entire all-seater stands at higher-profile clubs.

The crowd is much more diverse and inclusive than what some might expect from football in England, and many of those who turn up week after week do so because they feel excluded by Premier League and EFL clubs.

Clapton’s history comes into it, with Walter Tull – one of the first ever black British professional footballers – representing the club in the early 20th century and (to a degree) symbolising the inclusivity of those drawn to the Old Spotted Dog. However, things have been taken to a new level this decade by the activity of the Ultras, with new fans attracted to the club by their antifascist sensibilities.

The supporters have been vocal in helping avoid the things that caused fans to shun mainstream football clubs. There has been notable resistance to a growing trend of ‘day-trippers’, and as well as joining in, those in attendance are encouraged to start their own chants. And those chants? Always inventive, often funny, and generally positive, resisting the urge to act as a vehicle for cheap shots.

“Clapton was the first club I went to where I felt I had the opportunity to be treated like any other fan,” one female fan tells me. “I can just watch football and support the team and not worry about others thinking I don’t belong there.”

And those chants? Always inventive, often funny, and generally positive, resisting the urge to act as a vehicle for cheap shots.

Other clubs might be tempted to brush off these feelings of exclusion as part and parcel of a matchday experience, Clapton fans acknowledge that “[These matters] are cause for concern and show that we need to constantly make efforts to make the space inclusive for all”.

“The Clapton Ultras have provided a space unprecedented in the world of football in England – a genuinely accessible environment where women and minority genders are welcome and encouraged to participate,” another supporter tells me.

“While we still have work to do in challenging the hegemony of the structures in place in non-league football, such as being able to appoint a manager in line with our views, we are confident that we are making strides in making Clapton a football team for all.”

I still go to Premier League and EFL games, but there remains a sense of obligation and routine to the whole process, the surrounding area filled with individuals forcing themselves to live up to the archetype of ‘one of the lads’.

The Clapton Ultras have provided a space unprecedented in the world of football in England – a genuinely accessible environment where women and minority genders are welcome and encouraged to participate.

But therein lies the problem – with top-level football, there seems to be a binary of no atmosphere or an aggressively sexist atmosphere, with no middle-ground. Clapton shows that doesn’t have to be the case. We don’t have to accept a situation where the terraces are dominated by stale banter that leaves large swathes of genuine fans feeling unwelcome.

Clapton might be leading the way, along with a minority of other (mostly non-league) clubs, now it’s time for the rest of the game to follow suit.

 

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