Nowadays, football fans don’t win over too many plaudits. Yes, Russia 2018 was hailed a success due to the lack of trouble in stadiums and host cities, but generally speaking, football matches aren’t renowned for being safe havens.
We’ve come a long way since the hooliganism of the 70s and 80s, when football firms terrorised towns and cities with threats and violence on match days. But even today, we see fans throwing objects at players and referees, chanting offensive slurs and even drinking excessively to the point where they start fighting with their fellow supporters.
Fortunately, as a Fulham supporter I rarely experience such trouble, as being situated in South West London we’re more known for sipping pinot grigio in the stands than we are for throwing flares onto the pitch. Not to boast by the way, but we’re also the only club in the football league to have a neutral section for tourists and vulnerable fans and were EFL Gold Award winners in engaging families on match days last year.
But as a child I was raised in a Manchester United mad family and my Dad would frequently take me to Old Trafford and other grounds across the UK, where the match day experiences were far less pleasant than at Fulham’s Craven Cottage! I would have to wear plain clothing and he would tell be to keep my head down when approaching and leaving the stadiums, and for good reason.
By and large, I never witnessed too much trouble, but when I did it wasn’t a savoury experience, especially if you’re a child. My Dad was a season ticket holder at United during his 20s and used to go to every game home and away, but when those Liverpool clashes came around he would feel uneasy about going. He would say it wasn’t worth it and he was probably right. Football matches back then could turn into brawls and even with so much being done to prevent violence at matches today, the idea of walking through hundreds of opposing fans can still make even the most hardcore of supporters feel uncomfortable.
So, to my pleasant surprise this week, I read about a football match in the Netherlands that truly tugged at my heartstrings. Eredivisie (the top Dutch league) rivals Feyenoord and Excelsior faced each other in Rotterdam. Excelsior were the visitors to the De Kuip stadium and their fans were situated in a stand above a section of home supporters, which was filled with poorly patients from the city’s Erasmus MC Sophia Children’s Hospital.
What happened next was simply classy from the Excelsior fans. The children, defying their illnesses to watch their favourite team play, were showered in plush toys from the Excelsior fans above. After hearing the children would be attending the game, the club organised to surprise them and make their day out that extra bit special by dropping hundreds of cuddly toys down onto them around 20 minutes into the match.
This is powerful PR by Excelsior and its fans and has garnered international media attention. A simple, yet kind gesture between two fierce rivals has sent out an impressive message to the football world on how match day experiences should be. It’s little moments like this that make me proud to be a football fan. Well done Excelsior for showing us the human side to the beautiful game. Cracking PR!