“Chelsea has been my club for 48 years. I moved from the men’s game to the women’s game because it is more honest, more inclusive, with a friendlier atmosphere. In short terms; the women’s game is better both on and off the pitch.” – Ricky Maurice
We all have our reasons for supporting a team, and we all have our reasons for supporting either the men’s side or the women’s side. Or both. But this piece is devoted to Chelsea FC Women and their supporters; Chelsea Women Supporters Group – the ONLY unofficial official supporters’ group.
AllThingsChelsea had the opportunity to talk to Mark Pycraft and Kerrie Evans, two everyday heroes and heavy enthusiasts that give so much of themselves every single day to Chelsea and the women’s team. How they do it? By creating an honest, more inclusive and friendly atmosphere for the Chelsea Women supporters.
“What was originally an attempt to see if there was anyone else out there who was interested in Chelsea Women and women’s football in general, led to Chelsea Women Supporters Group. With a lot of work, slowly but surely, a community came together.” Kerrie says.
“I always kept an eye on the women’s results where possible, but it wasn’t until 2014 when the team played an FA Cup semi-final vs Arsenal down the road from me in Woking that I finally decided to go to a game. Even though we lost, it had me hooked. I went to the next game with my partner and then went to an away game, and I have never looked back.”
“I looked online for more info on the team and supporters and found pretty much nothing – I thought more people should know about it. That’s when we first started the group on Facebook and started giving out flyers about the group at games, and it snowballed from there. We now have Twitter and Instagram accounts and organize everything from banners and songbooks to away travel, players awards much more”.
The dedication to keeping this community together demands hard work, and it can’t be overlooked. Mark and Kerrie both have their own reasons as to why they are passionate Chelsea supporters;
“During the 2015 Women’s World Cup, my dad suggested I should start going to women’s league games. I looked on the FA Women Super League website to see what my closest team was – Chelsea. I started attending games at Wheatsheaf Park, and I’ve never had a reason to doubt my choice of team to support.” Kerrie tells us.
For Mark, it goes way back;
“I became a Chelsea supporter at the age of 3 when I watched my first Match of the Day with my father – Chelsea were playing Man Utd, and I liked their blue kit. Then I found out they were pretty much my local professional team, so that was it. Over the years, I’ve followed the fortunes of all the various associated teams, like the U23’s and Youth, so it made sense to follow the women’s team as well.”
What makes a faithful supporter of the women’s team?
“Anyone who takes an interest and goes to a game fits the bill,” according to Mark.
“But I guess I haven’t missed more than a couple of games home and away for the last five or so years including in Europe so that probably counts for something!”
If there are any differences between the women’s and men’s game, they’re usually expressed in a negative way, to describe why you shouldn’t watch women play football. A visit to Kingsmeadow during one of Chelsea Women’s home games will change that view. Can you call yourself a Chelsea supporter all the way if you haven’t visited yet? The atmosphere is warm, and the Chelsea Women Supporters Group always welcomes you. So is there any difference between the men’s and the women’s game, or is it just the same, according to Mark and Kerrie?
“The women’s game is slowly feeling more and more like the men’s, which I’m not sure is necessarily a good thing,” Mark reflects before he continues;
“There are a lot of positives, but some niggly negatives amongst rival fans. As for differences, generally I feel it’s a lot friendlier and more laid back supporting the women. The passion is growing at every game and most importantly, away fans are becoming a more significant thing which adds massively to the atmosphere at games. People also like to get involved, and there is a lot more humility among the players, which encourages fans to become part of the whole culture more.”
“The women’s game has grown so much in the last five years overall; the set up is more professional on and off the field. There are higher attendances and more media covering the games now. But I still feel that we have more friendly banter compared to the men’s team supporters, as sometimes it can cause arguments throughout and after matches. We sing at each other and can mostly laugh about it. We can sit around each other without it causing problems, even though we mostly like to be segregated to give it more of a competitive edge and keep it how football should be.” she says.
Hearing these two talk, it’s easy to believe that this group of people have no problems or challenges to face. But with success, expectations will come.
“There are constant challenges and headaches, but that’s true of most things in life. Supporters groups are a relatively new thing in the women’s game, as are players being used to people showing up to games and taking an interest, so it’s a learning curve for clubs as well as fans. It’s mostly going in the right direction, and we are getting bigger and stronger all the time.” Mark explains.
Mark steers the ship that sails in the ocean of Chelsea Women supporters who like to experience a game IRL whether it’s home or away. He would like to point out that Kerrie and himself are just two of many that are involved in sorting things and that they have a wonderful army of helpers that get involved with putting the banners up, handing things out, organizing tickets etc;
“We couldn’t do it without them and they are what make it all so special. Being amongst like-minded people in the stands at Kingsmeadow seems like a strong motivation for him. “I think the women’s game has improved the way it conducts itself and is viewed by the general public outside of the die-hard chauvinist men’s supporters. Again not everything is for the good of the game, but players are young and want to be football stars like the ones they grew up watching, in both the men’s and women’s games.”
“Chelsea’s crowd numbers have grown since I started watching, and from talking to those that followed the team long before me, we have gone from a couple of hundred at home games and the odd ones away to a good average of 2.500 at home games and up to 300 away.” Mark tells.
That sports, in general, unite people is a well-known fact for everyone that has either participated in the play themselves or joined a group of people, taking their place in the stands to unite in a mission to support their favourite teams or players together. Some of us feel like we’re coming home when we find those who think the same. It might even become your second family.
“Our group means a strong bond between people who might usually be seen as slight oddballs for following what is still a minority sport. It’s essential for us that our group is about passion, friendship and unity.” Mark says.
Kerrie feels the same.
“I’m proud of what this group stands for. Chelsea Women Supporters Group is about everyone and not individuals. We are a family – one big crazy blue family.”