One by One

One by One

Increasing support, one by one; adding all the big and small things together.

The question of how to increase your support is a common one amongst football clubs, particularly in the lower and non-leagues. Other than the obvious- winning football matches and playing entertaining football- there are all sorts of little things in the experience that get people hooked, and which in some ways mean as much or more than the three points. For me, these are things throughout your whole match day experience, from the moment you enter the ground.

There’s the atmosphere and vibe the other fans give, the short but enjoyable interactions with people as you enter the stadium and throughout the match; the vibe and camaraderie from the supporters in the stands; humour on the terraces about the events and characters on the pitch; maybe a bit of self-deprecation about T&M being by far the greatest team the world has never  seen; beer on the terraces in a relaxed atmosphere; witty banter with the opposition which hopefully doesn’t descend into hateful, socially frustrated abuse; getting to chat to away fans and directors in the bar (one such meeting led to me somewhat getting my head around the existence of FC Romania); the attitudes, personalities and characters of the managers and players on the pitch; hand-shakes between the fans and players at the end of matches; the connection between fans, players, managers and community in general. It was pleasing to recently hear one fan at the recent fans’ forum thank the players for coming over to shake our supporters’ hands at the end of matches. All this stuff makes the cheers and celebrations for goals louder and wilder.

Ideally, you want your clubs’ players not just to be good footballers, but also good blokes; people you want to support and can connect or identify with. Hopefully we’ve got that at TMUFC- a dressing room with several captains and good folk, and where young men are selected for being good characters, in addition to talented footballers. We can look for signs of team spirit as fans, and Spirit mentioned a few. The article discussed the interaction between the players on social media, and their public displays of support for one another. We now regularly see the videos and hear the players loudly singing in the dressing room after victories.

In the video of Razzaq Coleman’s last-minute winner against Northwood on Twitter, which I must have watched almost 100 times, you can see the subs go wild, which they say is always a sign of everyone on board, when the players not playing take delight in the group’s success. It’s a great video, both managers running down the touchline, Cornelius wildly waving his left arm in the air and then hurting someone with a hand-shake that turned into more of a slap, and also James Shaw running the length of the pitch to celebrate.

We had 5 players attend the fans forum- I don’t know if they were obliged to attend or not- but 5 players on a 10 person panel seems a generous offering to a club’s fans for a forum. Spirit discussed how James Shaw tweeted he was actually looking forward to a fans forum, an environment notorious for fans having expert opinions. Whether it’s the subs celebrating, Twitter interactions or loud singing, you can’t fake these things- they just don’t happen unless people are really on board and together as a group.

I’m sure all of our players are good lads, and that the vast majority of people you meet in life are good ‘uns, even if their outward behaviour might suggest otherwise! To me, it seems that problems in life occur not when people are being themselves, but when people aren’t being themselves enough; when people act as their false, inauthentic selves rather than their true authentic selves. In a world of social media and constant exposure, we see unending coverage of professional players- often (though perhaps understandably) giving bland interviews and not saying anything interesting, not expressing themselves. For me, really the world would be a much better place if people expressed themselves more and didn’t sit on the fence- unafraid, perhaps, of  being controversial. If people subsequently  react negatively, it’s often a reflection of their own insecurities, rather than those they’re responding to.

Fans can be fickle or uninformed, and no doubt all of our players have been irritated by supporters at some points in their careers- either at Tooting & Mitcham or elsewhere. But we’re not all that bad, really. Fans need to bring out the best of the players, and vice-versa; people need to bring out the best in each other, both fans and players need to do their bit to create an environment where people can express themselves. Assume the best in people, and you get the best; assume the worst, you get the worst.

It feels we generally have positive support at Imperial Fields, at least from where I stand to watch. We need it with the combination of exciting, but occasionally risky passing football. It’s inevitable that as a passing team, you’ll give away the occasional goal where you lose possession close to your own goal. However, in football- as well as life in general- the biggest risk is to take no risks. Our football is lovely to watch and working well at present, as long as the risks pay off more often than not, we’re moving forward.

Fans are of course entitled to their opinions, but we also need to acknowledge that Ashley and Cornelius are more qualified and know more about the team than we do. Not that fans can’t have informed opinions- they often do- and often know when players or managers aren’t up to it. But for me, those with the *most* wisdom in life are those who know and admit when they have none.

It’s now a world possibly with lots of distractions, more distractions than in 1959 when TMUFC attracted 14,000 to FA Cup ties at Sandy Lane. For me in 2019, going to matches at Imperial Fields is real, a genuine experience. It’s got to be about experience *with people*, rather than watching Soccer Saturday at home, or playing games online, or watching football take place miles away on TV. It’s connection with your community; a community working towards not only goals on the pitch, but goals off the pitch too. The goals off the pitch include community togetherness, being an environment for people to enjoy themselves socially and make friends, giving opportunities to young people to develop as players *and* people. Our community’s no doubt a better place for TMUFC, and for other footballing collectives like the wonderful St Matthew’s Project.

In terms of augmenting the support, it’s about growing the TMUFC community- creating new connections and strengthening existing ones. Bit by bit, person by person. The more people feel connected to the community and whoever’s part of the community, whether on the pitch, the boardroom or in the stands, the more will come and want to be a part of it. I think about all the people I’ve met at the club, and everyone’s done their little bit to contribute. You think about what it would be like if certain individuals weren’t a part of the club.

In May 2018, Tranmere Rovers dramatically returned to the Football League after winning their play-off final, and the next day one fan tweeted the owner Mark Palios that ‘the world is a better place today’. He was right; the world definitely did become a slightly better place for a club like Tranmere’s return to where it should be, and every slight little difference for the better counts towards the bigger picture.

I feel like the world is a better place for Tooting and Mitcham’s existence. The world’s got its fair few problems at the moment, but going to TMUFC matches, and enjoying experiences like Razzaq Coleman’s last-minute winner vs Northwood tell me things will all turn out just fine, it’s all gonna be alright.

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