CAST Board member Sam White was one of five representatives from the UK & The Football Supporters Association in Brussels over last weekend for a Football Supporters Europe Erasmus+ project.
The project focuses on increasing the number of young people involved in democratic structures within supporters’ organisations and football clubs. It will run until Autumn of 2025, and involves supporter organisations and partners from five EU countries, England & Wales and Africa, through the continental fans organisation Sandlanders. The activity will be supported by research and insight gathered by the Netherlands’ only independent sports research entity, Mulier Instituut, which will also deliver tailored analysis for each partner country. A series of national and European youth forums will reinforce the research, learnings, and impact over the next two years.
The project seminar started on the Friday outlining the process and the foundation for discussions that would be drawn upon the following day. Key speakers and ‘experts’ came from the UK, Sweden, Germany (via USA) as well as Ireland – all experienced in football within their country but also the governing side of things. Initially experts spoke about how their country engages as many young fans as possible, with dedicated initiatives highlighted in Sweden that are quite eye-opening from the UK perspective. The expert from Germany talked about their grassroots experience in how they have to engage both young people but also their parents in order to change the culture at their club. The UK expert initially spoke about the governance of UK football in the EFL but also her experience in the difficulty of what the project should define as ‘youth’ when it comes to Youth Engagement- an issue that is ongoing!
Each of the representatives, around 23 in total, spoke briefly about their experiences but also how things worked in their respective league, geography and demographic- before the working group split into smaller break out groups in order to develop more understanding of the main issues in each country that create barriers to young people’s entry into not only their football club, but also their supporters group or trust. The project aims to develop a Toolkit for clubs, supporters’ groups/trusts and grassroots initiatives to be able to use in order to develop the engagement of under 30’s, as well as projects that specifically target individual younger fans to get involved in the ‘non-playing’ side of their team.
The long day finished with a much-needed pint and dinner where relationships were further grown and strengthened. Sam gained learning and insights into how the ‘Ultras’ demographic works in Sweden and how large it is over there, as well as their away day culture and the need to charter trains for supporters to reach games. In Tunisia football clubs are forbidden to be privately owned and therefore the Tunisian delegates had to find ways around putting money into their team rather than relying on their local government, who owned the club! Spanish delegates spoke about how many projects and initiatives get lost behind the bureaucracy and red tape, with their ownership models causing issues.
An early start proceeded on Saturday, with academics from the Mulier Instituut presenting their initial findings into young fan engagement as well as their noted ‘good practices’ that they have found in the initial literature reading. They highlighted what had been seen as ‘poor practises’ or barriers to entry, which many of the delegates had witnessed and experienced. The second toolkit development workshop started soon after, focussed on formulating three main priorities of the two year project. Discussions were open and frank about what the final product should look like come 2025 – with the academic research being reflective of what the toolkit aims to produce, but actual first hand methods with tried and tested initiatives and resources too. The Saturday afternoon session was very positive and went a long way to ensuring the project starts strongly, despite the delegates keenly checking their team’s scores in their home countries, it must be added!
Following on from the workshop, Swedish delegates and Sam, along with fellow UK representative Tom Ghee from the Blackpool Supporters Trust, took in some ‘field work’ and attended a match at RWD Molenbeek. In a twist of fate they were taking on Sint Truiden (infamous to Charlton fans as a fellow Duchatelet network club). The group joined the Ultras in the stands. Sam thought how fantastic it would be to have that level of chanting and engagement at The Valley, albeit somewhat dangerous to have two or three megaphone-wielding leaders jumping around the Covered End…
Sam will be reporting back with further ideas and thoughts to CAST so watch this space regarding development of this project.
With thanks to Jess & The FSA, as well as Niamh & Mattia from The FSE.