Fan entitlement and begging signs: Why it needs to stop
On Friday's Arsenal versus Leicester match, with 10 minutes of injury time still to go, the pitchside railings were swarming with fans. They were vying for a spot along the front, on the off chance that the players might wander over to spend some time with them.
Prompted by the shouts from the North Bank that the ball was still in play and that we now couldn't see the pitch, the steward stalked up and down, corralling children and teenagers back into the stands before the final whistle blew.
This is a growing sight at women's games, normally accompanied by a sea of signs asking for the players' shirts.
Fans flooding the barriers before full time shows their lack of investment and engagement in the game. Many are children, some are not. Some are legitimately there to meet their sporting heroes. Others simply want bragging rights - or a signed shirt to put on ebay. Regardless, it gets in the way of those that are still watching and spoils the experience.
Begging signs in particular leave annoyed supporters in their wake. Huge sheets of cardboard obscuring the view for those that are fully invested in the game - and have paid good money to be there.
These signs rile up supporters in much the same way as Mexican waves. They are distracting, especially when held up while the game is still ongoing.
The begging signs highlight the sense of entitlement that many fans now have.
It's a player's decision to give up their shirt. They pay for their kit themselves, or at least it's reported that they do in the Premier League.
They can of course choose to give things to a fan that's holding a sign if they want too. But it's their choice. Children - or their parents - shouldn't get angry if a player doesn't heed their demands.
The men's Ajax team banned shirt signs in 2022. They deemed them "fire hazards" and highlighted that players would be criticised as "arrogant" if they didn't hand over their clothing.
A player's contract involves playing football. I'd bet my life savings that "speaking to fans after every game" or "giving out shirts to 60,063 people" is not something they commit to.
Anyone that follows the women's game knows that players have traditionally made time for their fans, simply as a kind gesture.
"The stadiums are usually much smaller so we're used to being able to see everyone, sign shirts and take pictures, connect with everyone," says Manchester United forward, Ella Toone.
Arsenal's Katie McCabe has spoken about her love of meeting fans after the games. "Even though the women’s game is getting bigger and bigger, I think that relationship we have with the selfies after the game, signing autographs, signing shirts – that’s what makes the women’s game," she says.
The engagement is indeed part of what makes the women's game special.
On Friday, Arsenal goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese asked the Red and White to sing something for the team's new striker, Jodie Taylor - a specific song that midfielder Victoria Pelova had suggested.
Kaylan leant across the barrier and shouted her proposal across to us. We listened and 30 seconds later were chanting the new tune - much to the delight of the players, warming up within earshot.
Kaylan's interaction with us for the song request was made more special because it was unexpected. Normally, our support of the players is simply reciprocated when they clap us all at the end of each game, in a show of mutual respect.
We don't expect that direct engagement but, when we get it, it's really appreciated by all of us.
The logistics of a larger stadium mean that the direct engagement will fade.
"As [the game] continues to grow, that's not sustainable any more," says Toone, about meeting fans after the game. "It's about finding different ways to connect."
The growth in the women's game is therefore making it less possible for fans to meet the team - but it coincides with the growth in the popularity of the players. Therein lies the issue.
The generosity of the players has been seized upon and blown out of proportion.
The fame of some players has created a cult, celebrity following. Many fans now attend games simply for the chance to have a selfie with someone famous.
As much as Arsenal fans want an excuse to laugh at Spurs, the fact that their club appears to have fewer fans comes down to their lack of a starting lioness in their squad.
The visibility from the Euros has created a surge in the number of fans that want to meet their favourite celebrity - and the clubs and sponsors appear to encourage this.
Much of the marketing focuses on the signs that young children hold up.
The women's game has historically been promoted as family friendly. It was a niche to differentiate it from the men's game as it grew, and it's worked so far.
Showing pictures of the younger fans in the stands was a visual cue to others to understand that it's a safe space for all ages.
However, showing a sea of signs begging for shirts is only encouraging more people to try their luck, to the detriment of those that want to watch the game.
It creates a self-perpetuating narrative that players are there to meet the demands of fans - and it's escalating.
The sense of entitlement is no longer limited to the stadium grounds.
Tales abound of players being followed to their cars, with taunts and jeers in their wake.
Sometimes those jeers turn to threats. Now, reportedly, objects were thrown at one player that chose not to stop to speak to fans.
Begging signs were already enough. This is another step too far. The players are all human and don't deserve that abuse. This type of behaviour will simply push players to stop meeting fans at all - the minority giving the majority a bad name.
The sense of entitlement therefore needs to stop.
Children shouldn't be deprived of their chance to meet their heroes. Leah Williamson was inspired by hers - and we wouldn't want to rewrite that story. And some signs are meant 100% in the right way, showing support and not asking for anything in return.
But there's a line between wanting to show your respect and appreciation of a player after a game, and feeling angry that your favourite player hasn't given you their undivided attention.
Fans simply need to understand that they're not owed anything.
"I'm a supporter of women's football, I'm not a fan," a friend said to me recently, and this hits the nail on the head. As supporters of Arsenal Women, we're not there to treat the players like celebrities or make unwarranted demands.
Stewards can help set expectations too. More consistency in stopping fans running to the front before the final whistle will be a step in the right direction.
After that final whistle, it's up to the players.
If players want to come over to have a chat or meet us after the game, they can - and the people they meet should appreciate the time that the players have given to do so.
If they want to simply clap and go home, after a long and intense day's work, that's their prerogative.
Pure and simple.