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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Lycett

How supporters of Arsenal WFC won the battle of the fans

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

I started this blog to write about what captures our imagination as fans. What do we talk about, week in, week out. But, importantly, I wrote it from the perspective of the Red and White AWFC, the group of fans with an aim of building the atmosphere at Arsenal WFC games and being the twelfth player for the team.

Anything that I write today won't do the past eight months justice.

And yet, I need to put pen to paper - or fingers to keyboard - because what this team and its fans have achieved is a story worth sharing.

Players, influencers, and journalists have been quick to name us the fans of the season. This hasn't happened by chance. The Red and White AWFC, AWFC Home and Away, and the Arsenal Women Supporters' Club have always aimed to match the ambitions of the Arsenal Women's team.

Together, we've put in just as much effort to build our reputation in the stands as the Club has put into selling tickets and building its profile. Here's the story of how we made it happen.

Our home ground was once known as Deadow Park.

I went to the first game this season, versus Brighton one cold, Friday night. I can confirm that every shout from the players could be heard. I wasn't the only one that noticed it was quiet. Building on that has been an ongoing project for a while.

The legendary Maria Petri started it all. Supporting Arsenal Women since 1987, most of the songs sung today were hers. Everything that the Red and White does in the stands continues the work that she started - in exactly the same spirit of support for the players.

AWFC Home and Away was the first group to build on her legacy. Created by fans of the men's team, Eve, Lauren, and co wanted to bring that atmosphere and tribal feeling to the women's game.

The injection of interest from the Euros kick started this group's ambitions in spectacular fashion.

More and more fans started trickling through the gates of Meadow Park. More of us started to travel to away games in England. And that's when like-minded fans started to bump into each other and discuss what could be.

An innocuous message dropped into the Arsenal Women Supporters Club group chat cajoled those that were interested in singing to join a new Whatsapp group chat. It all kicked off initially when Lewis, Ollie, and Sinead met up before a game. Lee joined in after the Leicester away game in November 2022 - and from those four, it ballooned to where it is today.

The Red and White didn't exist then - it was the Women Warblers.

Luckily, that name was dropped pretty sharpish. The aim of the group: to bring a positive, enjoyable, and loud atmosphere to Meadow Park and, eventually, Emirates.

Knowing the end goal was one thing. Reaching it was another. The first step was getting to know each other before getting into the stands. The Red and White, along with the Supporters' Club and Home and Away, organised meetups before the game, to practise chants at the pub.

Coming up with our songs can be off the cuff. Often, the funniest are.

For most, they go through many iterations in our group chat and practices in the pub before we crack them. Some work, some don't, but we have fun with it.

The first attempt to bring together the singers at the next WSL away game was versus Aston Villa, in Birmingham, and it was a success.

We brought some tickets together and, although we were still spread out in the block, knowing that we were with fellow singers gave us courage to try to sing - leading to a chant about Santa being a Gooner. He wears red and white, your honour, it was fair game.

A pub at an away game was also the setting for one of our biggest bonding experiences - the infamous postponed match in Crawley.

A frozen pitch led to a hoard of fans sitting at the pub drinking cranberry juice and beer, and eating crisps, funded by the ever-generous Lotte Wubben-Moy. It even made the BBC. Possibly a slow-news day, but it made it even more memorable nonetheless.

That trip will live on in our "We all follow the Arsenal" chant, thanks to how it helped us start to build the sense of family and community in the stands.

"We all follow the Arsenal, over land and sea - and CRAWLEY!"

Our respect for Lotte's gesture reinforced our goal of going the extra mile for the players.

Case in point - the West Ham away game. Stina Blackstenius's birthday. Fresh off the back of rumours that a swap of Stina for Manchester United's Alessia Russo had been proposed, we wanted to do something special for her and show her some love.

So, we learned Swedish chants to sing. We brought flags and drew on messages of support. We had Swedish flag face paints.

The game itself was a bust; the atmosphere was electric. An away game where all you could hear were us, the away fans. This was what it was all about. Positivity, regardless of whether the players win or lose. Backing the players in all instances.

Some of us even followed the Arsenal over sea too.

I've only been to one overseas away game, in Munich, but I know that the travelling fans got progressively louder. The last overseas game of the season was to watch Wolfsburg in Germany.

300 tickets sold - a record-breaking amount for Arsenal Women. That equated to more noise than ever before, more support than ever before.

Home games got better too - watching the Leeds game at Meadow Park was sheer joy.

Leeds were never going to win. We knew it, and so did they. The pressure was off - so, in the stands, we just had fun. The sun was shining, there were chants of "You've only come to swap shirts", and we won 9-0.

The Reading home game was the backdrop of the longest chant of "Jonas Eideval's red and white army" ever. Seven minutes non stop, growing in intensity, in contention for being the loudest song in the North Bank.

This season was made up of moments like that. Moments where we thought that we'd been loud before, that we'd had the most fun in the stands yet. Then we'd top it. Again and again.

Each time we're in the North Bank, the crowd grows.

People sidle over, asking if they can join in - or simply standing nearby to soak up the atmosphere. We get messages on Twitter asking how to get involved. Everyone in the group is always on hand to reply and make people feel comfortable enough to come along and give it a go.

People were starting to take notice. Players were starting to take notice. The compliments about fans started to slowly filter into the Club's narrative through social media posts, interviews with the players, comments in matchday programmes. We were loud. We were always there. And it was appreciated.

But we weren't done yet.

We wanted to build that vibe in the big stadiums.

The Chelsea game in January was the first Emirates game when the Red and White was pretty established.

We'd all booked tickets before we knew each other. A stadium packed with 40,000 people, and we were spread out, many sat on their own. We knew that attempting to get everyone to sing would be difficult. It turned out it was impossible.

Although players commented after that the fans were loud, we all knew how it was at Meadow Park and realised that it was nothing in comparison. Yes, more people made more noise when singing together. But that happened rarely. You could see tumbleweed for parts.

This was our next target and challenge - to make the Emirates experience just as fun and intense and loud as Borehamwood. We knew we needed to book tickets together.

We had a bit of a wait until the next game there - and the game against Chelsea started a run of poor results. The cursed month of February where shots on goal rarely went in.

The players were in a rut. Then came the Conti Cup final.

The injuries of previous games were catching up, and they were having to relearn tactics to compensate. Confidence was running low, and the Conti Cup final was make or break.

Were they going to lose to Chelsea twice in the space of a week? Or were they going to fight and get back to the winning ways that Arsenal was once known for?

The team chose the latter.

We knew that it wouldn't be easy for them to get there, so we put in the effort too.

Before the game, we had banners and face paints. A fan walk was organised, a procession of red and white, and flags and songs.

Singing North London Forever after we won, we could see that hit home with the players. Badge taps aplenty. A wall of fans singing with one voice. Leah turning around to sing with us.

The Red and White can't take credit for that alone, but we knew that was what we were aiming for. How could we make the team feel this much at home, wherever they played?

The away game against long-term rivals, Tottenham, was a test drive.

Could we make anywhere feel like home? The answer was a resounding yes.

From chants of "Tottenham get battered, everywhere they go" to a player goal celebration with us fans in the crowd and a 4-1 win - players and fans rose to the occasion and continued to deliver.

Goal celebrations at Tottenham

But the next challenge of bringing that support to the Emirates awaited. We bided our time, and booked together at the Emirates at the first chance we had. The game? The UEFA Women's Champions League (UWCL) quarter final.

It was the biggest crowd yet for a mid-week UWCL game.

Twenty thousand in the stands. We booked in one block, 120 seats altogether. The Red and White shared on social media where we'd be sat so that anyone that wanted to join us could book nearby.

Manu Zinsberger and Katie McCabe knew where to look for noise. At key moments, they turned our way and gestured that we needed to bring even more to lift the team. And we responded.

The game itself was incredible. A 2-0 second leg win against Bayern to catapult Arsenal into the semi-finals for the first time in 10 years. We were a part of that. We were the twelfth player. And we did it at the Emirates.

The next step in our story with the Club was at a game that's officially in the record books.

A sold out Emirates stadium for the Wolfsburg UWCL semi-finals. Arsenal's marketing of that game was immense. They had a goal in mind and they executed their plan well. Too well, some may say. The block where seats were initially reserved for our singing group opened to the public too early. Queue panic stations.

Arsenal Women think they're team players - they ain't got nothing on us. We needed 300 tickets. The plan had been to ring up and do a bulk booking. However, the tickets were released at 10pm - and the ticket office was closed.

We started buying tickets online, in batches of 20. We put our trust in each other and it paid off. 300 tickets all bought in one block, in the space of 30 minutes. Doling out tickets to everyone was a work of organisational mastery from Lewis. Crisis averted. The singing group was to ride again.

The day of the record-breaking game arrived.

Another fan walk was organised. A single moment that captured the essence of how women's football and fan culture doesn't necessarily fit the stereotype.

Supporters of women's football have passion.

Through the red smoke of flares walked the next generation of football fans who wanted to be as passionate, loud, and supportive of their team as the men's fans.

The best advertising agency in the world couldn't have mapped out a better advertisement for women's football than that game.

The team left everything on that pitch and everyone in the stands rose to the occasion too. Despite the loss, Lotte's Instagram post declared that she'd never had more fun on the football pitch - and I can see why.

60,063 people (minus a couple of Wolfsburg supporters) were behind our team. Not just physically but vocally.

The crowd saw seven goals in total, even if two were disallowed. We went into a nail-biting extra time, with an excruciating final goal for Wolfsburg.

Not the result that we wanted, but this was a glimpse of the future. It's where the Arsenal women deserve to be. And they deserve that same support at every game.

Goal celebrations at the UWCL semi-final

The final few games of the season, the girls were flagging, but there were still stand-out moments.

Katie's worldie to beat Manchester City and keep our dreams of qualifying for the UWCL next season alive involved the loudest ever chant of "We've got McCabe". That sound resounds in my head to this day. Manu was dancing to Laura Wienroither's song, and Jonas was singing along to "North London Forever".

Everton were the most consistently loud home fans I've encountered. They had a drum - unfortunately - but they were still constantly singing, when their team was 4-0 down.

That's when team's need it the most. It's easy showing support when they're winning. It's when they're losing that the fans need to step up. That's what the Red and White is all about. So, hats off to them.

Chelsea was the final away game of the season.

We were louder than we've ever been. The main feedback from that game was that it sounded like a home game. The media team were laughing at our chanting as Chelsea's Emma Hayes was being interviewed. The steward started mouthing along to our songs.

Yes, we lost the game - the number of injuries this team has had, it was inevitable that it would catch up with us at some point. But we won the battle of the fans.

And then, the last game at home against Aston Villa.

The biggest crowd at Meadow Park of the season. A packed out North Bank with no room to move, but nobody cared. Influencers chose to attend our game over the games that were title and relegation deciders. They know where they can find the good vibes.

Unfortunately, it was a flat game on the pitch. The intensity wasn't there. We had an 11-goal buffer to play with before we needed to be concerned about qualifying for the UWCL next season, and the girls looked, understandably, tired. We lost 2-0 - but won a crack at European football next year.

The celebrations felt like the culmination of our work throughout the season.

The players had the Conti Cup on show. They came to the North Bank to raise it high and show their appreciation of our support while we chanted from the stands.

Jonas Eidevall, the coaching staff, and the players have sung our praises numerous times throughout the season, nearly as loudly as we sing the player songs.

Everton player Izzy Christianson told us directly that we were the best away fans they'd had. Members of the press and influencers have pointed to us as the example to follow.

It's thanks to this group of Arsenal players that we have been able to give our utmost at every game.

The determination that they've shown at every twist and turn has always given us something to cheer for - which we do, win or lose.

That's the point of the twelfth player. You don't just sing when you're winning. You sing regardless of the scoreline. You sing to bring your players energy, to give them that boost that might result in a moment of magic that could change the game.

The Arsenal women are special, and their togetherness on the pitch is reflected in the family that we've built in the stands.

Football is a bonding experience, but what we've created with the support of the Club goes beyond that. Many of us have gone from attending games on our own, to finding a real sense of belonging with the Red and White and Supporters' Club.

Personally, I've had one of the best years of my life thanks to this group. I now celebrate birthdays with the people I've met and the friends I've made. We're planning trips over the off season, and we can't wait to all be back in the stands, together.

I know that's just one perspective - but I also know that I'm not alone in feeling like this.

We have fun. It's that simple.

Everyone that comes to watch a game with us always comes back for more. The Red and White was created to bring together a group of people to create an incredible experience for players and fans. No one can say that we haven't done that.

As fans, we've come out of this season with hands bruised from clapping, voices croaky from chanting, and a sense of nothing but pride for this team - and how we've played a small part in helping them on their way.

Come next season, I've no doubt we'll top it. We all know each other now - and know that more people will want to join in. We know what's expected of us and that we have a target on our backs, put there by the other fans.

I say, come at us.

We want to see other fans bring the noise. We want to be challenged.

We're only going to get louder. If you support other clubs, you're going to have to step up your game. You think Arsenal Women and their fan base are massive now? Just you wait.

Anyone wants to continue to follow our story or get involved? Head to the Red and White AWFC on Twitter, or subscribe to our new podcast.

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