Chelsea Women Supporters Group celebrated being nominated for an award recognising its work promoting inclusivity at a ceremony in Shoreditch last week.
The group was shortlisted in the Women’s Game category at the inaugural Fans for Diversity Awards, run in partnership by the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA), the national membership organisation for football fans and Kick It Out, (KIO) English football’s equality and inclusion organisation.
The group was recognised for its passion in organising and celebrating supporters of the women’s game; subsidising away travel, creating banners, encouraging young fans, and showing solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community alongside fellow supporters at Pride in London.
Mark Pycraft, founder of Chelsea Women Supporters Group, said: “It’s a bit surreal being nominated. We kind of do our own thing and for the FSA to come out and realise we’re doing something decent, especially to be among the great groups here today, it’s just really nice and it makes us feel included.
“We are all supporters and when you’re going to support the team, you don’t feel like you are supporters for a cause and with these awards you just feel like part of the wider football community and part of something bigger, it’s great.”
Although the women’s game prize was ultimately awarded to Gold Diggers FC, Chelsea Women Supporters Group’s nomination is the culmination of five years hard work promoting the women’s game.
The independent group was set up in 2014 by Mark Pycraft, after he attended a Chelsea Women’s game, when they came to play at his local ground in Woking.
Mark said: “I have supported Chelsea all my life and even though I read the women’s results in the papers, I never got around to going to watch them. I went to this game and got hooked straight away.
“I didn’t know anybody else who was into women’s football or anybody who supported the team. I just thought well, I’ll start up a group on Facebook, expecting nobody to be interested but they were and it just snowballed from there and it’s been growing every year since.”
The Facebook group has 2,500 members, and around 1,500 followers on Instagram and Twitter.
The group aims to create a safe space for supporters online and has a clear stance on discrimination in their social media policy.
Mark said: “We’re a closed group on Facebook just to try and protect the people that are in it because with football, amongst other things, there’s so many people trolled. We can just stamp out any trouble straight away.”
The main activities of the group centre on matches, with many fans travelling together to away games on mini buses and coaches.
They make banners and merchandise, share and adapt Chelsea football songs and chants, and organise events.
Chelsea Women Supporters Group have seen fan attendance swell at their first games this season; this increase has in part been attributed to the opening game of the season being played at Stamford Bridge, and also a legacy of the Lionesses’ performance at the world cup in France this summer.
Mark said “I think there have been a lot more people at the first games. Putting our first game on at Stamford Bridge, that’s made a difference I think, but we’ll wait and see further in the season how much of a difference it’s made or whether it’s all a bit of a novelty.”
Joining Mark at the Fans for Diversity Awards ceremony were fellow group members Chris Newell and Kerrie Evans.
Kerrie said the best thing about starting the group has been making new friends.
Chris was a Chelsea men’s season ticket holder for a number of years, but, such is his dedication to the women’s game, Chris has now given his men’s season ticket to his son and holds a Chelsea women’s season ticket.
One figure that connects the men and women’s teams is long time Chelsea captain and legend John Terry, president of Chelsea Women’s club.
Chris said: “Going back to 2008, the club actually cut the women’s funding, and John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole, they put some of their own money back into what was then, Chelsea ladies, and John was made president and he’s been there ever since.
“The players know us, so if they see us, they’ll come over at the end of the game and acknowledge our support. You don’t get that with the men’s game.
“I used to sit in a certain place at Stamford Bridge; even if you saw someone every Saturday at the men’s game, you’d just go your separate ways afterwards. With the women’s game supporters, we are just like one big family; we want to do other things together.”
Mark said: “I do still follow the men’s game and go to see Chelsea occasionally, but it’s hard to feel part of that. It’s got to the point where we’re so invested in the women’s team, it just feels more genuine.
“You feel part of it and the people around it are a real community. My heart is with the women’s team now.”
Maria Horner the FSA’s Fans for Diversity Campaign Officer said: “At the first Fans for Diversity Awards, it was vital for us to include a category for the Women’s Game; where we hope to engage more supporters in our campaign and build the network of those passionate in addressing key discrimination issues.
“We were delighted that Chelsea Women Supporters Group were shortlisted and attended our event and we very much hope to work with them in the future.”
Feature image (left to right): Mark Pycraft, Chris Newell, Kerrie Evans.