Watching football can damage your empathy; attending a Supporters Summit can repair it. During a game, it feels good to support your side and to be part of the ‘us’ that’s battling against ‘them’. The damage occurs if you hold onto that attitude after the final whistle and start thinking of opposing supporters as enemies in real life. Meeting other fans at the summit on Saturday was a good way to dismantle stereotypes and see people as people.
I met a Liverpool fan, Richard Tur, who is a member of the FA Council. I tend to think of the FA as the body that has been too weak in its dealings with the Premier League so it was good to be reminded that it’s made up of people, some of them undoubtedly good people. Richard represents Oxford University Football Association on the FA Council and taught law there. He doesn’t believe that there’s a simple solution to what ails football. Although the government has talked about doing something, it won’t because it doesn’t know what to do; drafting legislation is a complex business.
At the session on Fans for Diversity I met a group I hadn’t come across before: the Gay Football Supporters’ Network. I have to admit, before this session, I hadn’t devoted a great deal of thought to the difficulties encountered by gay football fans or realised how intimidating homophobic chanting is for some of them. I’m fortunate that old, white women aren’t targeted at matches so I’ve never had people chanting slogans at me. But I would like football to be as inclusive as possible, with everyone feeling welcome, including members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
I didn’t end up agreeing with all the views I heard expressed at the summit. I met one young woman who was in favour of lifting the ban on pyrotechnics at football grounds. I enjoyed chatting to her but didn’t agree with her. The summit was not about everybody agreeing with each other but about talking and listening to each other. I came away with much to think about.