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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Lycett

Arsenal Women supporters: The 12th player

From families to couples and those that started off going to games on their own; from fans of the men's team to post-Euros fans; from small businesses to known-neutral influencers. The supporters of Arsenal Women and those that simply follow the women's game know that the Red and White aim to be the 12th player in the stands, but everyone that joins in has a different experience. This project aims to tell just some of their stories, and share what makes supporting the Arsenal so special.


A joint-project by Rebecca Robinson (hair and makeup) and Suzy Lycett (photography and blog author).

 

The efforts of the Arsenal Women Supporters' Club and the Red and White AWFC have seen the culture in the fanbase for Arsenal Women come on leaps and bounds in recent months.


In the stands, the numbers are growing. Who would have thought before the Euros that the opening game against Liverpool would attract 54,000 people?


That fanbase is massive, and there's no "one-size fits all" approach to who is welcomed into the fold to add their support. Arsenal Women - and women’s football - is for everyone, but everyone's story is different.


So, to prove it, we wanted to share the story of some of the fans that support Arsenal Women, so you can see where your story could fit in too.


Everyone's support started somewhere.

 

Gerry started off watching the men's team.


Gerry the Hat is now a mainstay at Arsenal Women's games. His distinctive headwear makes him stand out - and his voice carries too.

"I went to Highbury as an eight-year-old to see the men play, and that was it, hooked for life to the Arsenal," says Gerry.


"When my middle daughter started playing, I was coaching their team. She asked if I would like to go and see some matches at Borehamwood. It was the Arsenal, it was a must."


Being a long-term supporter, he's one of the lucky ones that got to be in the stands with Maria Petri. Her singing inspired so many to continue her work to, build an atmosphere, and become the 12th player.


"'Sing it out loud for the Arsenal Ladies' was a favourite saying of Maria - and that's certainly what we all do for the team now!"


Lee is another long-term supporter of the men's team - and now the women's.

"Always loved Arsenal. I love the team so any game I can get to I will - including the women's games," says Lee.


Many will spot Lee in the crowd at games. Very tall, very passionate, and very vocal in his support, he's often joined by his twin too, for any confused people out there who think they're occasionally seeing double.


"The women’s players have such good support and such a strong fanbase which is vital - we need to get behind the team," he says. "Especially when competition is so fierce nowadays."


"The passion in the women's game is what I know women's football to be now. Seeing people have an interest, with the results meaning so much to them, is vital because it shows their love for the team." ~ Lee

For both Gerry and Lee, it was their dads that introduced them to football and the Arsenal (although, for Gerry, it was with reluctance, as Gerry's dad supports United…)


There are other families that became closer, through football, like Niamh and Ellie.


They're a mother and daughter duo that you’ll often see at games sporting their McCabe shirts and trailing an Irish flag in their wake.

Niamh’s husband is a childhood Arsenal men’s fan. He shared that passion with Ellie and her brothers, taking them to the men’s games from a young age.


That exposure meant that Ellie started to play football at just 5 years old - and got the chance to head to Meadow Park one day with her teammates.


That day meant the start of a mother / daughter bonding experience. Ellie and Niamh found a space at Arsenal Women’s games where they could do something that they both enjoy, together.


"It’s literally our life now and games come before any other event," says Niamh.


“I’ve always supported Arsenal - they’re my inspiration. I love going to games because there’s such a good atmosphere.” ~ Ellie

They've seen the growth of the game and joined in with the singing group, much to the delight of Ellie.


"We always enjoyed watching the girls play, but the atmosphere in the past year has brought so much more excitement and joy to the game,” says Niamh.


Some people joined more recently - and are a big part of that passion and family feel in the fanbase.


Oliver started following Arsenal Women a couple of seasons ago, having only followed the Lionesses before. In 2019, an invite to join a friend for a trip to Borehamwood cropped up - and now Oliver rarely misses a game.

"I find the players in the league more engaging than their male counterparts: funnier on socials, more honest about their game after a match - and some of the goals are spectacular," says Oliver.


"Arsenal Women's fanbase has been incredible this past year and a real and unrivalled group dynamic has developed."


The change in the past year is in part thanks to the concerted effort made through the Red and White AWFC singing group - and in part thanks to the Euros in the summer of 2022.


"Suddenly, everything changed," says Oliver.


The surge in interest post-Euros meant that Arsenal women are more popular than ever, with new fans joining.


One of those post-Euros fans of Arsenal Women, Rebecca, is now a regular voice on the fan-led podcast Inside the Red and White - and the talented make-up artist behind this photoshoot.

She's one of many that first went to a game after the Euros. She gave Arsenal Women a chance, attending a match with a friend. The friend didn't go again; Rebecca did.


"Women’s football is something special - a rare place where there truly is space for everyone, and the AWFC fanbase really exemplifies that," she says.


"When I first started following AWFC, I didn’t have any friends interested in women’s football, and, as an adult, it can be hard to find like-minded people. Walking into a space filled with AWFC fans just felt like being home."


Sarah was a new fan too this past season, with a first game at the Emirates to see Manchester United - brought along by her friend, Lee.


It was perhaps not the best game to join in on, considering the 2-3 loss, but it obviously didn't disappoint too much. She now gets to as many games as she can - despite living up in Scotland!

"I didn’t expect to see such a good atmosphere from the fans as I’d never seen it at another woman’s game like that before," says Sarah.


"I really enjoyed watching Frida Maanum play, love the way she handles the ball. Since then, I’ve found a love for the Club."

"It’s not so much women’s football I love, it’s just football at the end of the day, no matter the gender. I just love football and primarily Arsenal Women." ~ Sarah

The post-Euros growth has even helped some combine their passion for the game with a new business venture.


Art from the Arsenal girls Becca and Jade both fell into the women's game fully during the Euros. "We just got hooked," says Becca.

"Beth Mead and Leah Williamson became our favourite players during that summer, so when we learned they played for Arsenal, it was a no-brainer – we became Arsenal Women supporters."


Since then, their support hasn't diminished. “Arsenal Women in particular have such a welcoming community, and the team embodies more than just football," says Jade.


Now married, the duo created a business off the back of heightened interest for Becca's drawings of the players - which some players like and share too.


This has grown into a clothing line and art print sales, with a quirky style that just hits the spot at a time when bigger brands have yet to see the full commercial potential of the women's game.

"It’s just nice having your art recognised and it spurs you on a bit too," says Becca, the artist behind the imagery.


"When it comes to Arsenal Women's fanbase, it's truly special. It feels like we're all one big family and that's just so heartwarming to be a part of." ~ Becca

"We sometimes have a little convo with Beth on Instagram, and she wears our merch too. Things like that really help motivate us. And, of course, we get so much interaction from the community. We can’t have picked a better football team!"


The Euros didn't just ignite the passion of new fans. It helped reignite a passion for football in some that had followed the Arsenal in their youth.


Farah is now the Vice-Chair of the Arsenal Women Supporters' Club, elected in a vote before the start of the season.


When she was younger, she played to a high level, and even had some interaction with Arsenal at the Academy level.


She stopped playing football, in the era when it didn't have the career prospects it does today, but has since found her way back, both watching and playing.

She got the chance to see, among other players, Rachel Yankey at Borehamwood. "Arsenal Women have such a rich heritage," says Farah. "They were - and still are - the team that every female footballer looked to."


And, with the fanbase growing, that connection has continued.


"I've met so many people from different backgrounds and walks of life at the games, and we've all become such good friends."


Now, she uses her voice to work alongside the FA too - ensuring that inclusivity stays in the fanbase through her role as Vice-Chair of the Arsenal Women's Supporters Club.


"With Arsenal Women, it's so much more than just a fanbase, there's a real family feel - and that showcases what Arsenal Women are all about." ~ Farah

Even if you're not a die-hard fan of a single team, neutrals of the game can feel at home with Arsenal Women supporters too.


Nancy Baker, women's football influencer (@NancyBaker on X or @nancebaker_ on Instagram), goes to a lot of games across the WSL, often alone.


When she's covering the Arsenal games, she'll regularly come and hang with the fans.


"Whenever I'm at Meadow Park or the Emirates, I feel really welcomed by everyone," she says. "I feel I can get involved [...] and people enjoy having me there. I can just have a laugh with people."

 

So, when it comes down to it, what does it actually mean to be an Arsenal fan - and the 12th player?


"Everything that this fanbase does - I've never seen anything like it," says Farah. "You see other fanbases doing incredible things, but Arsenal's fanbase is what people look to."


"We don't stop. Even if our team is losing or they have a dip in form, we're going to be there every step of the way to lift them back up. That runs through our fanbase. We all think the same. Everyone's happy to help each other."


Becca echoes this sentiment, sharing how the "unity and camaraderie go beyond the game."


"Players and fans work together to not only grow the game but strive to make change, both within and outside the sport," she says.


The Red and White AWFC and the Supporters' Club have worked hard to build this positive and inclusive atmosphere. Jonas asked for help in making Emirates a fortress, before the Villa game, and that's what the Red and White fanbase strives to do.


The players give their all, every game, and that's what we aim to bring in the stands. They deserve our support, and we do everything we can to help make a difference and give them a boost.


In becoming that 12th player, the fans have found something more.


To pull together this project, I asked everyone involved what they loved about Arsenal. Nearly every person, independently, said it was the sense of family that so many have found - you may have noticed that's a theme throughout.


It's no coincidence that Arsenal's documentary series was entitled "Togetherness". What the players have found with each other, we've forged those same connections and that sense of camaraderie in the stands too.


It's not just the fans that can see it; influencer Nancy can too.


"I don't think you lot ever stop!" she says. "You're just always cheering on your team and having a laugh. And it's not just the North Bank, you're always bringing in others. The togetherness of the fans is really special."


So, if you want to get involved, I'm going to leave Gerry to give a call to arms for the Arsenal, to ask you to become the 12th player:


"I say to you, anyone that's looking at joining our family: just do it. Whether you're entirely new to the game, or want to support Arsenal and the Club more - it's for you."


I hope you recognise your story amongst the few we've shared today - and we hope to see you soon.


Follow the Red and White on X and Instagram

Follow the Arsenal Women Supporters Club on X and Instagram

 

With thanks to all the fans that modelled and shared their stories; Nancy Baker for joining to create additional content; Il Makiage as product sponsor; and the support of the Arsenal Women's Supporter's Club and Red and White AWFC.


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