Recently I was asked how I thought being a football fan could be more aspirational. I was momentarily silenced, then replied about the growing number of football-fan-influencers or something like that, but it made me think about how and why we first become fans. Not in respect of who takes us to our first match, but what captures our imagination; what motivates us.
Growing up in Liverpool, it wasn’t what happened on the pitch that enticed me into football fandom, though eventually it would be. My very earliest memory is of me standing in a swaying crowd, not being able to see anything but other people’s legs and hearing Joey Jones’ name being sung over and over again. I was either in town or at St George’s Hall welcoming the team home with the cup. I’d never actually been inside Anfield at that point. Born and raised in South Liverpool (a Smithdown Red), I was just far enough away from the ground to think that North Liverpool was an entirely different city. As my Dad wasn’t really into football, my introduction to the game came from my Mum who used to take me to watch Liverpool’s serial parades, of which there were many in the 70s and 80s. As well as the noise and songs (“LIVERPOOL ARE MAGIC, EVERTON ARE TRAGIC”), I was completely entranced by this communal visual display; the home-made flags and torn Echo pages stuck to shop windows, the rosettes and spiral-cut paper hats (Google them).
Even though football is now commercially driven and some aspects of the game are seen as aspirational, it was partly those early, exciting memories, when I was on the fringe of football fandom, that inspired me to document modern fan culture for Girlfans. Each supporter, though part of a collective identity, builds and displays an individual culture of their own formed by a lifetime of experiences; the little girl in the My Little Pony dress and Man City scarf, or the young Everton supporter in shirt, tiara and pink Uggs. The mother and daughter at Anfield who posed with a “THIS BIRD IS GETTING BACK ON ITS PERCH” banner (we haven’t, yet) or two little Toffees outside Wembley waving a “ROSS IS BOSS” flag (he’s not anymore).
Jacqui McAssey takes part in the Soccerama discussion From Outside The Box at Liverpool Central Library on 13th July.